Observations on the last five books I read:
- All but one of the last five books I have read are hardback
- Two of them are nonfiction
- All five are written by women and about women
- One was written by a new author
- Their covers are shades of blue, white, and gold
- Three of the books were written in 2017. One in 2016, one in 2014
Of the five, all are well-written page turners that left me feeling something at the end of the experience.
- Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit. Found this book while visiting Burlington, Vermont. Men explain things to me often, so the title drew me in. Read this book to ignite your voice. If you are a women you may be feeling defeated in this New World Order. Solint’s book is a rallying cry: We will Persist!
- A Word for Love, Emily Robbins. The book arrived in my monthly subscription box. The author went to college in my town, won a lot of prestigious awards, and makes me feel like a sloth. A page-turner because the story (set in the Middle East) took me out of my known world. Good for the beach or subway-ride reading.
- South and West: From a Notebook, Joan Didion. While in Cleveland, Ohio I paid a visit to a bookstore that employed a cat to greet and chase mice. The cat sat at my feet while I paged through Didion’s book. The cat kept interrupting me to force me to pet him. A nearby clerk reminded me it was International Women’s Day. To celebrate I bought the book. I find Didion’s prose relaxing, like finding shade on a porch after during a smoldering hot day. She (and I) spent more time in the South then the West, but that was fine by me. This is Didion–and why you read this book.
- All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg. Another book that arrived in my monthly subscription service, along with a candle we had to toss because the smell made me want to puke. The characters in the novel are strong, fully developed, and familiar. I’d recommend this to any Gen-Xer still trying to figure out who they are and where they are going.
- Transit, Rachel Cusk. Cusk is my current author crush. I want to be her intelligent protagonists. Her novel’s themes are always moving and reflective. What most intrigues me about Cusk’s writing is her use of the protagonist as a conduit of non-reactive observation on the characters around her.
Once I belonged to a book group. Mostly women, we met every six weeks to discuss the book we democratically agreed upon. After a decade of participating in this group I learned a few things about book groups:
- More people will not have finished the book than have
- Division between who liked it and who didn’t will occur
- You will be forced to read books you normally would never pick up
- The best discussions come when readers identify with the characters
When I read The Muse I thought, I wish I had a book group for this novel! Burton writes very compelling characters who are complicated, not always likable, but are driven by passion. In many of the characters I found I could identify. Who among us has not wanted to belong, fell in love, suffered frustration over the limitations of your gender, was ambitious? You may walk away from this story with more questions than answers, which is just one reason The Muse will make for a satisfying discussion.
Here are the 7 discussion questions I’d want to chat about over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
- Why do you think Isaac accepted the arrangement with Olive?
- Why do you think Burton made Odell Caribbean émigré? How is that important to the story?
- The Muse is a story about poverty and privilege. How do these complicated societal systems play into the narrative?
- Talk about the relationships between Olive and Teresa, Marjorie Quick and Odell. How were the relationships similar/different? How did these relationship make you feel?
- Do you think The Muse is a feminist novel? Why or why not?
- Ambition is another important theme in the novel. How does ambition affect the characters? The story?
- The novel is filled with secrets and deceptions, with Odell in the role of detective. Why do you think it was important to Odell to figure this mystery out? Why was she so driven to do so?
If you have read The Muse I’d love to hear your thoughts to the questions above. Happy reading!
I joined Muse Monthly because of the promise of a page-turning read and a good cup of tea–they have yet to disappoint. July’s box contained a copy of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana, raised in Alabama, graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. This was the book I had been waiting for all summer. Before my tea had steeped I was in deep. A novel whose narrative clings so tightly you don’t want to breathe for fear of letting go. Well developed characters who occupy your brain long after you placed your bookmark. Below are my four reasons you really ought to read this book.
- You will learn something about history. Forget what you think you know. This is a different perspective, grown out of the stories of Effie and Esi, two half sisters born into different villages. Fated journeys without choice have set the wheels in motion for generations to come: one woman becomes a slave and is sent to America, the other woman marries an English slave trader and remains in Africa.
- This is a story of hope. Each generation faces, head-on, the past and the present as they collide into their current circumstance. Along with the evils of slavery and racism shaping the lives and histories of these characters, goodness and love are in the world, too. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I think I need to read a book like this to remember what is possible.”
- Homegoing will make for a good book group discussion. The issues at the core of the novel most of us aren’t comfortable talking about–slavery, racism, freedom, sin–but need to be discussed. You will also find individual struggles, meaning of family, love, tenacity, fear, and survival. When I finished the novel I couldn’t wait to discuss this with someone else.
- Homegoing is exceptional story-telling. Good stories are why we come to fiction. We want to be transported away from our own lives to temporarily live someone else’s, even if the story is uncomfortable or foreign to our experiences. You will cancel plans, be happy the train is running late, forget the wait in the doctor’s office– you will loose yourself in this story.
I welcome your thoughts on Homegoing. Please share them in the comments section here.