Happy Passover and Easter to those celebrating! If you're looking for an Easter service, my family has been enjoying our church's services on YouTube.
I'm looking forward to "seeing" you this Wednesday to discuss Writers & Lovers by Lily King. Suggested discussion questions below. I think my favorite part is when Casey says during her teaching interview:
This resonates with me because this is what I'm trying to do with my blog most of the time -- to go beyond a book review to where I try to apply the author's ideas to our lives. Anyway...
Looking forward to our discussion!
1. What did you like / dislike?
2. Did the beginning remind you of Sweetbitter? Did the interspersed observations about life remind you of The Little Paris Bookshop?
3. In what ways do artists show their vulnerability? ("I stood against the railing while behind me people creaked into the old rocking chairs and passed out beers and raised their bottles to the filmmaker, who was giggling psychopathethically, the way you do when you've exposed yourself through art." p.29)
4. When did you start liking Casey? (For me, it was when she didn't get back with Luke.)
5. What do you make of Casey's observation that "success rests more easily on men"? (p.69) And how does her comment about authors' photos play into that? ("Why do men always want to look like that [menacing] in their author photos?...Whereas with women...they have to be pleasing." p.51) What of her other observations on the differences between men and women? ("Oscar is studying me. He's make decisions already. I can feel this. Between our call and today he talked himself out of me, and now he is coming back around. I squat there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that's hard to unravel." p.130)
6. Is it possible to have a lover and write well? ("Did David write his book?" I ask. "He didn't even start it." She blows on her tea. "And I've written two hundred and sixty pages since he left." p.61; plus, when Casey was with Luke, she didn't write a thing) When is a lover a muse, and when is a lover an impediment / distraction?
7. What did you make of the commentary on money and responsibility in this book? (pointing out the middle school friend was supported by the men in her life; ignoring debt collectors; yet not embracing freedom of simplicity either -- p. 84-5: "It's the scent of freedom in here, Casey. You won't be able to smell it till you've lost it." / Actually I could smell it. It was the scent of black mold and gasoline that came in from the garage.")
8. What role does writing play in therapy? (Thinking of Casey's writing; her friend's 260 pages after her boyfriend moves out; and the writers' stories she shares on p.86-8 where sometimes they are forbidden to write -- by a family member, by a clinic for nervous disorders.)
9. What is the role of research in this novel -- on Casey's part (Cuba)? On Lily King's part (other writers / titles)?
10. What do you make of the geese? (p.4-5, p.92 -- "chinstraps pale blue" - like her mother's necklace?, p.171, p.189)
11. What is up with Adam, her landlord? Why keep writing about him when so many other characters come and go? (On a related note, that was a critique I had for the book -- since I am character-driven when reading a novel, I had a hard time knowing which characters to invest in with this read.)
12. What is this book about? (The back of the book says "grief". Are the car accident, doctors' visits extraneous information? What did you want less of?)
13. Was p.118-121 a little late to learn about her father and golf? Should we have gotten her story earlier?
14. Is this book a commentary on writing novels? On novels themselves? ("A novel is a long story with something wrong with it." p.138; "Kay Boyle said once that a good story is both an allegory and a slice of life. Most writers are good at one, not the other. But you are doing both so beautifully here." p.167; "Have you always been such an enthusiastic reader?" / "Not really. I liked reading, but I was picky about books. I think the enthusiasm came when I started writing. Then I understood how hard it is to re-create in words what you see and feel in your head. That's what I love about Bernhard in the book. He manages to simulate consciousness, and it's contagious because while you're reading it rubs off on you and your mind starts working like that for a while. I love that. That reverberation for me is what is most important about literature. Not themes or symbols or the rest of that crap they teach in high school." p. 270)
15. Were you rooting for Silas or Oscar or neither?
16. Why set this story in the 90s? To be more dramatic without cell phones??
17. Harvard Square...MFA...Walden Pond...Silas's apartment in North Cambridge!!!! Where there other local haunts you wanted to see Casey visit? :)
So nice to see you guys last night to discuss Writers & Lovers by Lily King. While we found it a fairly easy, compelling read, we appreciated the nuanced characters, especially Casey who drew us into her dreams and had us celebrating with her at the (fairytale) end.
Before we discussed the book though, I asked everyone what they were doing these days to help them feel normal.
My answers: packing kids' lunches the night before (to avoid being a short order cook all day long), reading before bed, and saying hi to my neighbors across the driveway.
You said: riding the Peloton, taking virtual exercise classes (kickboxing seemed particularly appropriate), running (with or without mask)... Hm...exercise seems to be a theme...
Still, it was hard to come up with those responses.
Today, as my kids and I gunned it out of Cambridge along Route 2 on our way to hike Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Mass, we listened to the soundtrack from Dreamworks' 1998 production of The Prince of Egypt. "Purgatory" seemed like the right tone for today...this week...and was reflected in the music itself as the cast belted out:
"Elohim, Adonai, can you hear your people cry?
Help us now!
Listen now, and deliver us!"
Once we made it to the hike, I held my breath as my kids shimmied in and out of rock crevices too narrow for me to follow. I kept calling after them, Marco Polo style, trying to locate them in the jumble of granite as I skittered back over boulders to try to meet them on the other side of a rock wall. After an hour of this, three of my kids chose to climb out of the chasm a different way from the way we entered. The fourth refused to go that way. ("Too dangerous.") So I made a choice -- I climbed up the cliff with the three kids, saw that they knew to follow the yellow markers back to the parking lot (they hiked there first with Dan last Saturday), and sent them off on their own. Then I descended down to the fourth child, and together, he and I retraced our steps back out to the chasm's entrance.
On the drive home (refueled with pretzels and last year's Halloween candy), filled with the satisfaction of having done something hard, we listened to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston belt out:
"There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
Its hard to kill
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe somehow you will
You will when you believe"
Dan started a new job today...after five months of uncertainty about whether there would be a next paycheck...and where it would come from. Those five months were preceded by my mom's chemotherapy, and followed by coronavirus. It's been almost of year of uncertainty in my family, and now, with the virus, it seems there is no end in sight. In this, I know I'm not alone. Some of you know people who are sick. Some of you are afraid of losing your mothers. I have a long and growing prayer list during this time. Please let me know if I can add you to it. While you may not think prayer is for you, I firmly believe that God answers prayers. I also believe that through the act of prayer, we strengthen our faith...and in doing so, find we can grasp more firmly to the hope that too often seems just out of reach.
And if that was all too much for you, please join us anyway next month when we discuss Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Our protagonist is a girl who tries to sneak time to write while isolated in a decrepit castle with weird family members. Hmm... Forgive me if I picked a book that I feel describes me too well right now.
Hope to see you there!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.