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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

About a decade ago my local library sponsored a different kind of a book club: one where people talked about the different books they had read recently. After one woman described how much and why she hated one particular book, I knew I had to read it! (Yes, I was that kid who would get up to eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip just to prove that somebody could eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip. And, by the way, I really loved Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, just as expected.)

My husband Sherman and I read books aloud to each other at night—it’s a great way to spend time together—and have someone else keep you from staying up reading all night. Usually we take turns being the Sensible One in the matter. Thanks to reading together this way, we really do have our own little book club, although quite frankly, with the craziness of our own lives, we have been more attracted to formulaic mystery book series than ever before. These days we often don’t want to care about the person who is the Body in those stories that much, if you know what I mean.

You’re probably asking why I’m writing certain phrases in caps. I’m going to blame the most recent book we read—the one we just can’t stop discussing: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Turns out there are a lot of people out there on the Internet who can’t wait to tell you why they hate this book, which probably explains just why we couldn’t put it down, even now that we’ve finished it.

Now, maybe one of the things we like about the book is that the narrator seems to think in that oh-so-very-wordy way people who have ADD do. Let’s just say maybe we speak that language, if you know what I mean. Or, maybe, as Sherman suggested, it’s a lot easier to read that kind of language out loud versus silently. True, Sherman has a lot more trouble reading the long sentences than I do. I may be not only experienced but also gifted in Speaking ADD. That’s not bragging, is it? (I think I just admitted that the only reason I can follow this language pattern is because it is so familiar to me.)

The book runs over 500 pages so you know we didn’t get through it quickly, even if we were a wee bit obsessed with reading it. Lucky for us, after we’d been reading it for a couple weeks, we went on a close to 950 mile-round-trip road trip by ourselves. But reading it took longer than planned because we kept stopping and discussing the “what ifs” of the plot. We did not finish the story by the time we arrived home, but, since Sherman had taken off the day after we returned, we finished the book the next morning.

Now, of course, we both want to reread various sections and keep discussing possibilities.

Apparently the possibilities are one of the reasons many people hate this book—which is funny since at one point in the book one of the characters talks about how Americans despise ambiguity in their literature, preferring instead to tie up stories into neat little endings. Maybe it’s the English major in me and the computer science major who studied a lot of Philosophy in Sherman, but we don’t expect to know all the answers at the end of a story. In fact, maybe we like the chance to dig into the possibilities—trust me, I always preferred essay tests over multiple choice and/or True/False tests.

The final chapter really is a Final Exam, tying up the theme that began in the form of a syllabus with required reading. Some readers suggest the author is pretentious for sliding in erudite references throughout the story. They expected something different from a story with a narrator who is a gifted student attending Harvard and who was raised a little too closely by her professor father?

Hey, I enjoy many stories written for the masses, but when someone can throw literary references into tales with compelling plots, I am especially hooked. Believe it or not, but many of us continue to apply the lessons from college days to our everyday lives—heresy in these times when so many are suggesting students should only study practical degree programs such as engineering, science, and business—as if the liberal arts do not apply in any way to lifelong learning, especially in the work place.

And, if those critics read closely, they’ll see that though the narrator read constantly, her canon ranged from high brow tomes to books with numbers on them that she could find in any grocery store.

What she learned was that in so many ways Life is literature and vice versa.

Anyway, I remain intrigued by the book and am not quite ready to stop thinking about the imaginary people and happenings created within it—and the clues as to Who Really Done It and why.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert
Sherman says I’ve been on a reading binge since the kids graduated—almost two months ago (yikes—I’m afraid I’m going to have to get tough with them so our friends and family will receive notes of gratitude before they go off to college!) He’s probably right about the reading part, but at least I am behaving somewhat and sticking with library books.

I just ventured out in the heat (95 degrees—ugh!) to the library so the weekend wouldn’t find me without anything to read. I’ve been working through the list of books I compiled but later rejected for my book club meeting last December. So far the last two on the list remain check-free since they are still not available. On to Plan B—after all, there are always plenty of books that will capture my interest.

Our local library in Englewood only gets one copy of popular books, but sometimes, it’s easier to find that one copy than any of the twenty or more located in Denver’s various branches.

Yes, I scored Joshilyn Jackson’s Backseat Saints. Jackson has long belonged to Momwriters, a listserv where I count at least ten years of membership, even though most of the activity these days has morphed to Facebook and other venues. She demonstrates the same great use of voice in e-mail messages and blog posts as she does in her novels—although she has to keep explaining to readers that she is not the same person as her characters—just because they might do something such as kill someone, doesn’t mean she would do the same. Anyway, I’m afraid to pick up that book because then my family is going to accuse me of ignoring them and I will be guilty as charged.

But, one book never feels like enough to me. I go to the library for a particular book and pretty soon I’m walking the stacks, judging books by their covers until I feel compelled to grab a book off the shelf. Then after reading the book’s cover copy I decide whether I’ll just have to see if the book is as good to read as the cover makes me think.

So today I picked up a few, based on their titles, but ultimately rejected them. Finally, the cover copy seemed to match well with a title and I settled on a debut novel, Balancing Acts, by Zoe Fishman about yoga and friendship.

Two books should have been enough, but wait, I saw another title I liked.

As soon as I seized When She Flew, I knew I was going to have to take it home with me. You see, the author, Jennie Shortridge used to live in Colorado and still has family here. Once I heard her speak to my writing group, Colorado Authors’ League, and later decided to see if she would be in town any time around when I was hosting book club. She would, so Shortridge brought her sister with her to our meeting and shared our potluck food (including a creation straight out of her book!) a lot of great insights about Eating Heaven, which is still my favorite book of hers—unless the newest book will convince me otherwise.

So, where to begin? I don’t know, but I feel a little like Eleanor, the food writer protagonist in Eating Heaven. She had a bit of an eating addiction and, boy, could I almost taste her anticipation as she gathered the ingredients and then put her ideas into practice. Eleanor savored new food creations just as much as I savor reading a new book—or two or three.

I’m afraid this will not be the weekend my reading binge ends. Bon appétit, no?

I am hosting the next book club and, for once, I have been stumped by what book to choose for the group. Some of the problem is that my mind feels like Swiss cheese after dealing with so many emotions/life changes in my own world. Everyone knows me as a voracious reader, but I haven’t had much of chance to be a very focused reader lately. I haven’t gotten to the library very often and I’ve been trying to buy fewer books since I don’t really have much space.

What I have been doing is picking up books around the house; however, that doesn’t mean I find those books good for discussion or for our particular group. It’s a rather diverse reading list to be sure—maybe even more eclectic than my usual choices. I re-read the whole Harry Potter series this fall. I also ended up with some of my mother’s books I haven’t read before. Christy. The Children of Henry the VIII by Alison Weir. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days. And, because there’s a movie coming out, I re-read my own Love in the Time of Cholera.

None of those books fits my criteria for book club. I want a book that pulls me into the story, where I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters. On the other hand, it’s been a hard year or so—I don’t want something that is too hard on my heart. Over the last year our book club has read about war, genocide, repression of women, mental health and suicide, the pre-Civil Rights era, the Depression, you name it. Unlike my husband, I don’t mind stepping into difficult territory, as long as I can feel improvement by the end. But sometimes that improvement can be tempered by the “rest of the story,” as in knowing that the seemingly reasonable ending in The Bell Jar was followed by Sylvia Plath’s suicide soon after the book’s publication.

Then my practical side doesn’t want anyone to have to purchase a hardback book, myself included. I’d like my book to be available at the library, but most of the “it” list books are checked out, even if the libraries hold many copies.

And then, somehow, I just want the holiday season to reflect peace and goodwill. I don’t want to read something too dark in a year that has been dominated by negative headlines in the newspapers and personal turmoil in our own home. I crave something with the proverbial happy ending, but am too much of a literature major to accept a story where happiness is too easily won.

I always favor tales of redemption, but this year I personally need something in which to believe. I need to believe that problems can be resolved and perhaps I need to be reminded of people’s ability to choose good when faced with adversity.

Book club doesn’t meet until just after the new year—but before Epiphany. At least in my house we will still be celebrating Christmas. I decided I’d choose an official book, but give another option for those who want to read both.

My Christmas book of choice is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I recite lines from it no matter the season, trying to “honour Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year long,” just as Ebenezer Scrooge pledged. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I still need to treat you with that Christmas in my heart.

I had posted on Facebook that I didn’t want any Oprah-style books where we read of an awful life and then at the end, life seems no better. My friend Dawn asked why that view is so common in modern literature.

I submit that it is because so many don’t believe in redemption and, instead, choose edginess while focusing on hopelessness. Charles Dickens didn’t shy away from hopelessness, yet he still could find redemption when redemption seemed hopeless. OK, I don’t think I’m going to choose Bleak House, Great Expectations, or anything that dark, but . . . it’s OK to be reminded of people who need help.

For that reason, in addition to A Christmas Carol, I chose Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I haven’t read it, but my FB friend Cynthia was far from the first to recommend it to me. You can’t necessarily change the world, but you can work on changing outcomes for one person, one family, or one village at a time.

That gives me hope—and renews my spirit.

(c), 2009, Christiana Lambert

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