Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events:
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The TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL will be held in and around the Capitol Building November 4-6 2016

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If You Can Get the Smithsonian TV Channel, You Can Watch "Sinking the Lusitania: An American Tragedy"

The sinking of the Lusitania and the impact it had in determining the fate of World War I is widely known. But few know the stories of the passengers and crew aboard the doomed luxury liner, or the German commander who ordered the deadly attack on May 7, 1915. Follow the final voyage of the massive ship, from her celebrated exit from New York's Pier 54 to her 18-minute plummet off the coast of Ireland. Through firsthand accounts, meet the men, women, and children who rode the "Greyhound of the Seas" into a war zone, and into history.
The show will be on the Smithsonian Channel August 11th at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM and August 21 at 4:00 PM. There are several video clips you can watch - they're good!! http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/shows/sinking-the-lusitania-an-american-tragedy/0/3420538

(Thanks to Peggy for this information.)
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Georgetown Library Presents author Karen Mahajan, who wrote The Association of Small Bombs, November 2, 2:00 pm. $15.00 ADMISSION. More information soon or contact the Georgetown Public Library

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Goldfinch suggestion

When you are reading The Goldfinch, I suggest that each time an artist is mentioned, you image search for works by that artist. As an example, she mentioned Adriaen Coorte, a Dutch artist I was not familiar with. His still lives are well worth examining.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"I Used To Dream About Escaping My Ordinary Life, But My Life Was Never Ordinary. I Had Simply Failed To Notice How Extraordinary ..."

A bunch of Book Club members had read the popular book for young adults, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. We met on a rainy Monday to discuss the book. Some had read the second and third books in the series, too.

Shirley introduced the book and started the conversation with a question: "What did you think of the photos?" Joyce provided the first answer: she thought the photos were significant and had been surprised to find that they were real. Carla agreed that the photos were real, but she added that at that time in history, photographers produced a lot of illusions and special effects. Dennis believed the photos were real. Speaking of the niche in history, Linda mentioned that during the Civil War, it was not uncommon for photos to feature dead soldiers, propped up. The conversation stayed in a macabre tone, with Dennis mentioning that his daughter, as a child, liked to look at a book he had of photos of biological anomalies. Shirley reminded us of the topic at hand, by saying that the photo of Emma makes her look older than she is in the story.

Shirley thought the author was clever to use the photos and build the story around them. But she found the photos "creepy;" inadvertently, I thought, establishing creepiness as the theme behind the book, or even the trilogy. Linda H. said that some of the photos were made by double exposures. Joyce said they were photos of freaks. Dennis remembered that when he was a teenager, if he forgot to advance his camera when taking snapshots, he would get double exposures. I, too remember double exposures as what happened when you forgot to advance the film. I never thought of the double exposures as being interesting or something to experiment with; just as a mistake, with the punishment being a loss of control over the photographing of reality that I was attempting. Apparently this was stodgy and unoriginal thinking, as some of the photos in the book were clearly successful experiments and purposeful uses of the double exposure. Cindy T. said that the popularity of the photos combined with their creepiness highlights the fact that it is human nature to find those photos interesting.

The photos were indeed "peculiar." Shirley said that "peculiar" was a word often used to describe Jews. Other than the Jews being scapegoats for criticism and ridicule and being historically and during World War II targeted, terrorized, and persecuted...the Nazi theme of the book is implicit but not expanded. The persecution of Jacob's grandfather clearly implied and reminded mature readers of the Nazi regime, yet the author made this fictitious story sidestep the Nazis and focus instead on the fictitious "peculiar" people with their own specific characteristics that would be categorized as science fiction rather than based on history.

Some interesting and unique insights from the discussion:

Cindy V. noted that when the book supposedly took place, in 1942, people didn't live long and started showing their age during their teenage years. Thus, though members of the group in the story found eternal youth when they joined the group, some were teenagers by the time they joined the others and already showed some age. Lydia noted that the Peculiars would age if they left their loop, and the group left the loop at the end of the book. Carla said they were on their way to the next loop, so they didn't age much. Lydia said that the book, or her interpretation of it, ran out of steam toward the end. Jacob seemed like a teenager at first but seemed more like an adult after he experienced killing. Joyce said that a weakness of the book was that there was too much setting up for the next book. She would have preferred some resolution, and Jacob should have had some insights.


Books and media that we compared Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to:

A Tim Burton movie, basically any Tim Burton movie, but especially his version of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," a movie to be released on September 30th.

Harry Potter books - They differ from the Peculiar Children trilogy in that each book has a conclusion, but they are part of a series with a similarly common overall goal and ongoing struggle.

Time-travel stories in general

Lost Horizon, by James Hilton

Science Fiction parallel universes, particularly the Roger Zelazny Amber series, in which there is movement between fictitious worlds.

The TV series, "Grimm"

"Flash Gordon"

"Dr. Who" TV series

"Groundhog Day" movie

"Star Wars" movies

Joseph Campbell's writings about the hero's journey, in which someone of seemingly little consequence seems to be failing but ends up succeeding.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dead Wake Was Too Late to Warn Lusitania Passengers of Jeopardy

20 Book Club members played Jeopardy, with all the questions on topics about Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Thanks to Cindy T., the game was lots of fun and brought out main points from the book. Correct answers brought taffy candies, and there were more prizes at the end. The prizes were a book Christmas Carols, to symbolize the loss on the Lusitania of an original manuscript of Dickens' Christmas Carol and a book of drawings to symbolize the loss on the Lusitania of drawings by William Makepeace Thackeray. Dennis won first prize, Ken won second, and Carla was third...congratulations! The questions were challenging!

Here are some of the answers and the questions that went with them. Remember, this was Jeopardy!
26 knots: How fast could the Lusitania go?
A Roman province on the Iberian peninsula: What was Lusitania?
The world must be safe for democracy: What was the reason Woodrow Wilson gave for asking in a speech to Congress and his Cabinet  in 1917 that the U.S. declare war?
2 days after World War 1 began, this woman died of Bright's disease: Who was Woodrow Wilson's wife?
These were found by the Russians and were given to the British Admiralty and used in Room 40 in London for intercepting messages and translating them: What were code books?
The North Channel: What new route open to civilian liners did the Admiralty fail to transmit information about to the Lusitania?
Woodrow Wilson was doing this daily activity when he heard the first report about the deaths of Americans on the Lusitania: What was the daily walk around the green areas of the golf course?
This young Austrian soldier wrote about a stalemate during the second battle of Belgium where poison gas was used and people died: Who was Corporal Adolph Hitler?
These parts of the Lusitania had a design flaw that made the ship relatively easy to sink: What were coal bunkers?
And the Final Jeopardy answer/question that caused some confusion and discussion about interpretation was the following: A dead wake from a ship or torpedo leaves this kind of trail: What is a fading disturbance? Cindy T. researched this further after the meeting and wrote in an email message, "On page 440, the author states that dead wake is a maritime term for the disturbance that lingers on the sea long after the passage of a vessel.  This term resonates in other ways which might be the lesson of the book."

After finishing the game, we talked some more about parts of the book that had impressed us and were left somewhat unresolved. We talked about the potential conspiracy among the British officials, including Winston Churchill, to allow harm's way to intersect with the Lusitania to encourage America to enter the war. Another issue not handled clearly was Turner's guilt as the ship's Captain. It seemed he didn't really make a mistake but he suffered a lot of blame. Wilson's interest in a declaration of war after the sinking of the Lusitania even though the United States had been staying out it of also brought questions. And then there were the infamous 2 supposed explosions, of which only 1 was noticed.

An interesting discussion involved our answers to the question of whether we would have boarded the Lusitania if we had tickets for that fateful voyage. Carla said that she probably would have gone on the trip, without the hindsight we now have, because it's fun to travel and go on cruises. Dennis said that new ships were always considered dangerous, and that the Titanic had been a new ship, so he probably would not have bought a ticket on the new ship. Ken said the ship's design made it very topheavy, so it would keep its stability only if it didn't leak and stow a heavy amount of water. Linda said that since Britain was at war, the news probably would have allowed people to know that ships were being sunk, so that would have dissuaded her. Marla said that Americans tend to think they will always be safe or will have exceptions made for them, such as making space for them on a crowded lifeboat, if they say that they are Americans. Joyce said that the travelers were not necessarily on vacation but were traveling for business or to visit family.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Amazing Summary Claudia!

WOW, I was at the meeting and wondered how Claudia would approach blogging the discussion.  I just read the blog entry and am wowed   Thanks Claudia!  ...Another thing I took away from what Frank had us think about is how editing is not what it used to be and there are far fewer editors.  I appreciated Frank's perspective very much and will myself take it to heart in the future when reading fiction.  However as Frank said, in nonfiction, I will expect to be able to take facts presented to the bank.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

If It's Fiction, Suspend Disbelief

Our discussion of The Shipkiller, by Justin Scott, started with some questioning of the factual aspects of this thriller and ended with an opportunity to gain some new perspective. We noticed immediately that the only Book Club member who is currently involved with sailing and might give us valid critique or praise of the nautical terminology in the story, Ken, was absent from the meeting. Even without Ken, most of us agreed that we had neither learned about the nautical terms by researching every unfamiliar word nor minded suspending disbelief and skipping over the nautical terms and accepting their contributions to the story. Since the book had been published in 1978, the technology in the book might have become somewhat obsolete by now, anyway. The story seemed to appeal to most of those attending, as most had read the book. The experience of reading that book tends to be one of immersion and page turning to see what happens!

Criticism of the book started with Linda H. suggesting that it could have been edited more carefully. Lydia said she had noticed that although there was just a small amount of Arabic in the book, it was inaccurately presented. Linda B. expanded on the inaccuracy theme, saying that she had noticed that all the military information in the book was so inaccurate that she questioned all the sailing information. She said specifically that the sailor, Hardin, a civilian, had gathered army materials and that this wouldn't be possible. Dennis agreed that the story had some far-fetched aspects, starting with Hardin's anger about the super-tanker. Though what happened to Hardin and his wife, Carolyn, was indeed terrible, blaming it on the super-tanker Leviathan was unfounded. Dennis noted that the Leviathan was such a huge ship that everyone should understand, and anyone on the water should know, that it can't stop or change direction at all quickly and that staying out of its way would be of utmost importance to anyone remotely in its way. Again considering the size of Leviathan, Dennis said that it would have been unrealistic to plan to sink it with one device, even the Dragon. Marcia agreed that plotting to sink the Leviathan was not realistic. There was a David versus Goliath aspect to the story.

Some discussion praised the story. Cindy T. said that every ship has some vulnerability, and that the story showed that Hardin set up a 'perfect storm' to 'kill' the Leviathan. Cindy V. said that she thought arresting a ship was interesting and had researched it but not found much information. Shirley thought that Donner's change of heart was merited, because Donner's bosses had made it clear that he had no other choice, and Linda B. agreed. Linda B. also explained the potential impossibility of the Leviathan getting into the position it did after going around the cape and into the bay, by suggesting that the captain of the Leviathan, Ogilvy, had been shown to be highly skilled and have a lot of experience; so it was logical and perhaps part of the story and development of the Ogilvy character that it was his outstanding skill that allowed the ship to get into that vulnerable position. Cindy V. and I (Claudia) at first questioned why Hardin and the author kept calling the sailboat "The Swan," when Hardin had named it "Carolyn." Dennis informed us that 'Swan' was the type of boat it was, thus validating the many referrals in the book to 'The Swan.'

After we had questioned the editing and the facts in The Shipkiller, Frank gave us an explanation from the bookseller's viewpoint. He said that the book probably originated by the author, who had written and cowritten numerous successful thrillers, suggesting to the publisher that he would write a story that would combine Moby Dick, Jaws, a small sailboat and a giant tanker. The publisher would have been delighted and would have set a quick deadline. Frank said that the many comments listed on the advertising pages of a book such as The Shipkiller are written by other well-known authors to sell the book, and that this is all part of the publishing business. Because the book was fiction (a crucial aspect of the bookseller's point of view), time and money were not wasted on careful editing. There was no Internet to search when this book was published! Frank suggested that when we read a thriller, we suspend disbelief and just enjoy it as if it were creating an alternative realistic but fictitious universe. He reminded us that if the author had explained a lot of detailed information, the book would have been boring instead of thrilling. Frank assured us that nonfiction is more thoroughly edited.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Coxville Zoo, USDA-regulated zoo vs roadside zoo & question for Lydia

What is the difference between a zoo/aquarium that is USDA regulated and one that is not? One of the main differences is that Zoos regulated by the USDA do not allow members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards; conversely roadside zoos ENCOURAGE and PROMOTE the public's handling of any and all animals (photo ops).

"Coxville Zoo" IS the seedy place Frank recalled with a gas station and roadside monkeys in cages.  The internet says it was located at the intersection of Yeager** Lane and Lamar on the south west corner of the intersection along Lamar, although I thought it was further north than that. As Claudia said, it closed in 1969 but was there many decades. Growing up in Pflugerville, we drove down Lamar MANY times (IH 35 in Austin didn't open until I was 9 years old). I recall Coxville Zoo fondly, although it was the only "zoo" I had been to so nothing to compare to; I was probably just excited to see animals in the flesh that I had only seen in books. **In the old days what is now Yager Lane was YEAGER Lane, much like Parmer and Palmer, but as a local, don't get me started....

Regarding the exotic animal acreage I mentioned Northeast of Pflugerville, it is at the SW corner of the intersection of Rowe and Hodde Lanes. The last few times I drove by it I did not see any animals. Previously it held some exotic animals. I googled quite a bit but didn't find anything out about it.

LYDIA if you are reading this, the question that everyone seemed to want to hear an answer from you on was why did you pick this particular children's book to nominate. Don't get me wrong, as Claudia said, 100% of those of us who read it, liked it, but we were curious why it was one of the 3 you nominated.


Thanks for the great writeup Claudia.  Look forward to Leviathan and Luisitania discussions.
Pam

Monday, May 23, 2016

Children's Book Introduces Animal Rights and Animal Conservation Issues

Among 13 of us at the discussion, 11 had read and liked The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Castelao.

Lydia nominated the book but was out of town on the day of our meeting, so she sent her discussion notes to Pam, who led the discussion, asking questions from Lydia's notes and adding some of her own. The discussion moved from specific details about the story to broader issues about animal conservation, animal rights, zoos, and habitat scarcity.

The first question Lydia listed was, "Why did the Big Top Mall sign show Ivan as angry and fierce?" Answers:  I (Claudia) was taking notes on my new tablet computer, so I figured that while everything was working, I would contribute an answer; so I said that the fierce gorilla was a stereotype that travelers would want to see. Jay said the sign was to attract attention. Pam said that the sign depicted the opposite of what travelers would see at most roadside zoos, which is usually a petting zoo with opportunities for family photos among the friendly animals.

Another question was, "What are the contradictions in Mack's character?" Mack, the owner of the mall zoo, seemed to care about the animals, having literally traded his marriage for keeping the young Ivan at his home; but he did not call a veterinarian quickly enough to cure Stella from an obvious infection, and he was cruel to the new baby elephant, Ruby. Angie noticed a contradiction when Mack showed anger about Ruby refusing to perform, even though Mack had been patient with the animals in the past. Carol said that Mack was under pressure to bring in more customers and more money, which was why he was impatient with Ruby's refusing to learn tricks quickly. Patty suggested that Stella's death because of Mack's neglecting to call a vet might have been a mistake Mack made, but that it was indirectly caused by Mack's financial difficulty. Mack's likely regret and frustration at losing Stella might have contributed to his displacing anger toward Ruby, though there was also the potential contradiction of Mack reasoning that Ruby would eat less than Stella and thus cost less to keep alive.

The discussion moved away from the details of the story toward roadside zoos. According to Pam's research, there are currently 3000 roadside zoos in 43 states. Local Austin-area animals include a wildlife preserve Pam mentioned in Pflugerville, which she thinks could be raising the animals to send to places that have customers pay to hunt the animals. Frank reminded us of Coxville Zoo in North Austin (off Lamar) (1939-1969) which Pam had visited quite a few times as a child. Frank said it was a roadside zoo, apparently as part of a gas station. While Pam had considered this a zoo, Frank recalled it as a nasty place with animals crammed in small cages. Video of Abandoned Coxville Zoo Frank also mentioned a roadside zoo off of 2222 in Austin that had a lot of snakes. He said there was an old gas station on North Lamar that was seedy and creepy and had a roadside monkey house.

The evolution of zoos has moved alongside the evolution of wildlife preserves. For many years, good zoos have been creating habitat to mimic the natural habitat of the animals. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work one summer with 6 other young women from my college as zoo guides at the Bronx Zoo. We had an entire week of training, learning how the animals were cared for and how the enclosures and outdoor habitats were created and maintained to serve the animals. After seeing these beginnings in the rethinking and redesign of zoos, I noticed that the Central Park Zoo in New York City, just a few subway stops away from the Bronx Zoo, was mostly made of small cages with hard surfaces and dirty water. The Central Park Zoo was renovated about 10 years later. It's quite lovely now.

Laura grew up near the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus's winter home in Florida. Last November, the big top came down. This was partly because of publicity and complaints about treatment of the animals. The circus had to quit having elephant acts, their main attraction. Laura said she never thought the animals were treated cruelly. She suggests that we can help animals in small ways by supporting zoos and donating useful items to local animal shelters.

You can watch a video about the current home of the Ringling circus animals: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/01/us/ringling-bros-elephants-last-show/  If you continue watching, the next video is about Hanako, an elephant who is 69 years old; although life  expectancy of zoo elephants is 40 years. She is a killer elephant so has to be alone. The next video after that is about some acreage in Cambodia for endangered species. There is plenty of information about animals on the Internet!

Patty gave us a good report about the San Diego Zoo, which teaches children and families and everyone about animals, including some extinct or endangered ones and allows many children to participate in field trips. One of the zoo's purposes is to bring more awareness about animals to the public. Patty feels that the animals in good zoo environments are protected better then they would be in the wild.

From Lydia's notes: Animal welfare has been in the news recently.  Just a few weeks ago, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circuses announced they were retiring their elephants.  This is after legislation outlawing bullhooks and animal performances.  SeaWorld Orlando’s revenues were damaged by a 2013 documentary called “Blackfish”, calling for the end of keeping orcas in captivity.  Last week they announced the retirement of their performing killer whales.  On a lighter note, Inky the Octopus, formerly of New Zealand’s National Aquarium became a global celebrity via the Internet when he slipped through a gap at the of his enclosure, squeezed into a small drain and made his way back into the Pacific Ocean.

The gorilla in the story we read, Ivan, was real. His story was adapted for young people to read, but the book wasn't far from the truth. Ivan did have trouble getting used to his new home among gorillas, but think about how his life had been for 27 years and whether he was actually better off in his new social habitat at the Atlanta Zoo. He lived there until dying at the age of 50 in approximately 2011. See more information and photos and video of Ivan here: Ivan at Atlanta Zoo 

Poaching is a big killer of animals. When our Book Club discussed In the Heart of the Sea, we talked about the killing of whales for their oil and ambergris. We learned that whale killing continues but because of publicity, a lot of people have lost interest in killing whales, especially for food. Poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa is a problem. Many animals are killed for their tusks or teeth or horns. Recently, in the news, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya set fire to 105 tons of elephant ivory that has been seized from poachers, to show how important it is to stop poaching and to make a statement against trade in ivory. This president burned $100 million worth of animal parts that had been poached. For the story, click here: http://www.dw.com/en/kenya-lights-worlds-biggest-ivory-bonfire/a-19226823

From Lydia's notes: According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 900 gorillas left in the wild. 35,000 elephants were killed last year, up from 25,000 the previous year.  Lions have lost 85% of their habitat, so now live closer to humans, prey on their livestock and are killed by farmers.  At current poaching rates, elephants, rhinos and gorillas may be gone within our lifetime. It seems zoos are the only hope to save endangered species. Money, of course, is the root of the poaching and also plays a large part in conservation.  A visit to Austin Zoo costs $11 for an adult and $8 for a child. Atlanta Zoo, where Ivan spent the rest of his days, charges an adult $25 and a child $17. And San Diego Zoo costs an adult $50 and a child $40 – they have pandas. The Austin Zoo is rescue zoo, containing only rescued animals.

The spread of humans has decimated the animal habitat all over the world. The consensus at our meeting was that reputable zoos and preserves are many animals' only chance of long-term survival except, as Dennis pointed out, the complete annihilation of humans.

Movie mentioned at the meeting: Madagascar. Another cartoon about animal abuse: Tarzan.