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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Sunday, January 22, 2017

RRNN Book Discussion Group Navigates the Currents of Cane River

The Book Club gathered on Martin Luther King Day to discuss Cane River, by Lalita Tademy, a fictionalized history of 7 generations of a real family descended from Negro slaves in the United States. The book told the stories from 1790 to a few years past the author’s birth in 1948. The book included copies of written documents the author had available; the fiction was obviously researched to represent the likely relationships, life events, and personal stories of the family members in such a way as to form a readable story.

The most important theme that Pam noted from the book, as she led the discussion, was the relationships between the characters. Pam asked us to discuss mother/daughter relationships, father/children relationships, those among siblings, and master/slave relationships. The combination of the master/slave relationship with all the other relationships made the book unique and historical.

Carla started the discussion with comments about about T.O., who wasn’t born until toward the end of the book. T.O. was unique in that he had a somewhat contentious attitude toward the rest of the family after emancipation. By the time T.O. was born, the family had evolved to include more member of later generations with lighter skin colors. Although there was a tacit and spoken preference in the family for the younger generations to continue to perpetuate the pattern toward lighter skin, by marrying spouses with lighter skin and thereby having lighter-colored children; T.O. purposely chose a dark-skinned black woman to marry. The narrative about T.O.’s introducing this woman into the family was a fascinating compilation of some of the complex attitudes the black family lived with. The mothers in the family, especially, valued lighter skin for their children, because they loved their children and wanted the easiest life possible for these children. Life was indeed easier for those with lighter-colored skin, especially those who could “pass for white” some or all of the time in post-slavery society. But the family also evolved with lots of familial love; so, the matriarchal treatment of T.O.’s choice of wife was subtly accepting and loving, even with and especially at first, a reluctance to embrace and accept the new darker woman as a young daughter and mother of the next generation.

Pam noted the relationship between 2 half-sisters in the family, Bet and Emily. The 2 girls didn’t meet until Emily was already grown. Bet had been taken away from the girls’ mother, Philomene, early and without Philomene even knowing that Bet was alive. Emily had grown up in the family with Philomene, her mother. The young ladies’ relationship showed that each envied the other from the time they met, but there was also a lot of respect and love between them.  Emily felt Bet had every reason to envy her (Emily light/Bet dark; Emily could read/Bet could not), yet it was Emily who felt jealous because Bet had a bond with their mother and “the Greats”, a bond Emily did not have with them (quilting together etc). As grown women, after emancipation, Bet and Emily learned to appreciate each other’s individuality.

These relationships were described with a lot of subtlety as the family evolved. The chapters with masters and slaves included Oreline, who was a white daughter of slave owners, who grew up with Philomene sleeping on a palate in her bedroom. The relationships depicted included those between the women in the family and male slave owners and other men who were white and privileged, such as Narcisse, a Frenchman. As Peggy mentioned, Narcisse forced Philomene into pregnancy over and over again. He mixed love and lust in fathering 8 children with Philomene and then mixed love and pride with the raising of these children. Joyce noted that slaves’ relationships, whether with family or whites, were fragile, because slave owners could destroy their own relationships with the women through brutality or could destroy the women’s relationships with friends or family, by selling slaves and moving them away from loved ones. Carla gave an example of when someone asked about the apparent disappearance of slave Clement, Philomene’s beloved mate; the answer was, “Oh, we sold him.”

Pam gave us a chart to help us understand the history of color and the Census. When the matriarch of the family in Cane River met the Census taker who knocked on the door, it was the Census taker who decided what colors of people to list on the Census. Pam reminded us how closely the Census rules were related to rules of property and inheritance. The rules were also behind a theme in the story, when the father of Emily’s children and then Emily and her son, T.O., tried hard to allow the children to inherit the father’s wealth and property. A bystander at the Barnes & Noble cafĂ© even offered the comment that under the Napoleonic code, an illegitimate child acknowledged by the father can inherit from that father. Anyone get the bystander’s email address so we can invite her to another book discussion?

Our group had some discussion about the history of the Census and the changes over the years as to how various skin colors were described. Dennis remembered that the census in Nazi Germany had rules about how to describe Jews similar to the rules in the United States about the Negroes and also about native Americans. Pam’s chart said that it was in the Census for the year 2000 that the term “African-American” was used for the first time. 

Thoughts continued to the end of the discussion. Jay liked our discussing this book about racial history on Martin Luther King Day. Shirley wondered whether blood transfusion changes someone’s DNA. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” Carol told us a quote from Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Media Programming mentioned during the discussion: Lemony Snicket’s ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’, on Netflix
‘Emerald City’ on NBC
Hidden Figures – Feature Film

Notes written by Pam are in red. Thanks to Pam

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Memorable Discussion of the Classic Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury, was first published as a book in 1957. Portions had been published as early as 1946. During our discussion, Jay suggested that the book might have been written as separate stories all about the same group of characters, and he was right. Looking at the title page shows the various years of publication of various parts of the book in various magazines. We read and discussed Dandelion Wine as a single book.

Perhaps the episodic nature of the chapters was what a few of our members didn’t like about the book. Most liked it. Some complained that there was no plot, and someone said the reading was slow and unexciting.

Leading the discussion, Ken asked us which were our favorite parts of the book. Morna said that her favorite parts were the tennis shoes that symbolized the beginning of the summer and the way the author could express the feelings of a happy childhood. She also liked the chapter about Grandmother being a fabulous cook in a messy kitchen but unable to cook after the kitchen was cleaned. Pam noticed that the characters filled and stored 90 bottles of dandelion wine, 1 for each day of summer. Dennis noted that Bradbury showed the way kids tend to feel that they are immortal. Frank said he was moved to tears by the episode in which middle-aged Mr. Forrester and elderly Miss Loomis met and became close as kindred souls in spite of their vast age difference. The chapter had a bittersweet ending, as did several of the stories in the book. I was touched by the difficulty that Doug and John Huff had when John was moving away, because it reminded me of when my next-door neighbors, whom I had played with almost daily for years, moved across the country when we were around 9 years old. Carla’s favorite part of the book was when the green machine created the expectation that the future would get better. Shirley liked being reminded of deviled ham sandwiches, and when the young girls refused to believe that Helen Bentley had ever been young.

The book brought out memories for most of us. Joyce said that when she was young, she wrote on the same kind of typewriter that Bradbury used for his first novel.  Ken remembered the rumbleseat, which was at the back of cars. He said that the children sitting on the rumbleseat, outside; and the parents sitting inside the car was a good arrangement. Jay mentioned a memoir by Sally Mann, which says that memories change as we age; and when we go back to a memory, we change it. Pam remembered that when her father would spend long days farming, the rest of the family would await his return anxiously, because nothing is guaranteed; and that once he had arrived, she would be a little angry at her father for being so late. Ken remembered feeling alive when a neighbor let him use her orchard when he mowed her lawn.

We talked of memories and the magic of childhood as it was in the 1950s. Bradbury’s characters, stories, and rich descriptive writing style all inspired memories.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Story Brings an Old Painting to New Life

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, was my favorite novel of the last few years! I found the characters to be realistic, the writing to be smooth, the action to be exciting, the issues to be deep, and the story to be compelling and touching. I had so many emotional reactions to the characters, their predicaments, and the story line while reading The Goldfinch, that to start the discussion, I asked everyone to express the thoughts and/or feelings they noticed while reading the book. We never did get a count as to how many Book Club members "liked" The Goldfinch. The discussion seemed to indicate a spread of opinions. Several loved the book, some had dispassionate criticisms or analyses of the book, and some didn't finish the book and didn't seem inclined to finish.

Although there were many possible discussion points about this book, our taking turns telling our personal thoughts about the book took most of our discussion time. Here are the basics:

Morna volunteered to start and mentioned that she had noticed adverse publicity about this Pulitzer Prize winning book before reading it. Morna noticed that the author was praised for her ability to burrow into the souls of the characters and that the book displayed humanistic aspects. Morna recommended Donna Tartt's other books, both of which she had read.

Cindy V. was at the part of the book when Theo was at college. She was enjoying the book and was reminded of The Catcher in the Rye, perhaps the quintessential coming-of-age story, and had an urge to reread that book.

Cindy T. liked the beginning of the book but after a while didn't care about the characters and was uncomfortable with the excessive drug use. She acknowledged that the author dealt with the drug use as a realistic problem.

Flo said that there was too much philosophy at the end of the book, but that she wanted to reread that part.

Lydia loved reading the book. She felt that Theo deserved the reader's sympathy but not admiration. She thought Theo was a good example of a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Carla didn't enjoy much of the book but liked the references to the artists. She thought readers more familiar with New York city would enjoy the book more.

Linda H. called the book a 'downer,' but didn't pass judgment on this quality. She reminded us that classic literature is not full of happy endings. She wanted to root for Theo and Pippa and saw them as damaged but felt that the author did not have much hope for them. She thought that Theo might have had more hope for healing had he stayed with the Barbours. She thought that not necessarily Boris, but Theo's father was most to blame for Theo's problems. She said it was ironic that Theo loved his mother more but grew up to be more like his father, with his dishonest business dealings and drugs and alcohol. Linda had the insight that the characters in the story were damaged, and Hobie repaired old damaged furniture.

Priscilla had read the whole book in 2014 and remembered enjoying the read but thinking of it as a 'downer.'

Jan especially enjoyed reading the parts about the relationship between Theo and Pippa.

Susan found the book tragic. She said the explosion reminded her that people in Aleppo, Syria are currently experiencing daily life like the explosion. She could relate to the characters who suffered the loss of a parent while young. Susan complimented the author and was very impressed with her use of language.  She commented on the resilience of young people in tragic circumstances.

Ken, too, was impressed with the author's ability to write. He could identify with Theo. He said skipping a grade was not always fun, and he admired how the author expressed the thought patterns of the adolescent boys. Ken spent his career working with damaged children.

Dennis read the book slowly because he was distracted by researching the artists who were mentioned. His favorite character was Boris.

As nominator of The Goldfinch, I find that neither my Barnes & Noble account nor my memory are clear as to what attracted me to the book, exactly when I bought it for my Nook, or how long it took me to read it. I remember seeing the cover often at the Barnes & Noble store and online before I read it. It is near the top of my list of "books that look good." It's considered a 'coming-of-age story,' which is a genre I tend to enjoy. It's on my list of "books read" as completed in November 2014. In my job as a part-time Editor, I completed 20 projects during all of 2014 and 32 in 2015 before August; which indicates that I had more time to read in 2014. The Goldfinch has an extremely exciting beginning, which might have given me the start I needed to dig into the book. I guess these are reasons for my reading The Goldfinch, and I know it took me longer than 2 months to read it. I was impressed and pleased that so many Book Club members completed or even began this long novel during the 2 months between my nominating it in August and our discussion last Monday, October 19th.

I will add photos of 2 posters I made to help our discussion about this long book stay on track.

Historical notes about The Goldfinch:

The painting, 'The Goldfinch' (in photo on poster) was completed in 1654 by Carel Pietersz Fabritius (1622-1654), a Dutch carpenter and painter who studied with Rembrandt. 'The Goldfinch' depicts a pet bird chained to a little perch. History tells that people often had pet goldfinches because these birds could be trained to dip a small pail into a bowl of water and carry the water. The painting was originally called 'Little Weller,' referring to the pail and a well. The artwork is housed in the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague, Netherlands. After the book was published, the painting was on display in New York City for a while.

The artist, Fabritius, was killed by an explosion in Delft, called 'The Delft Thunderclap.

'The Dutch army had stored gunpowder to defend the city, and the storage facility blew up. Several similar explosions occurred in Dutch cities over the years. This particular explosion involved 22.5 tons of TNT and destroyed a quarter of the city of Delft, killing many. Church deacon Simon Decker died with Fabritius, and it is not clear whether Tartt named her main character, Theo Decker, after him.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sneak Preview



Hello Fellow Readers,
At our October 17th we will choose one of these best-selling books for discussion on January 16th.  Presented below in alphabetical order.  Must be present October 17th to vote.


CANE RIVER  by Lalita Tademy, 2005.  First book; bestselling novel.  Set in Louisiana between 1830 and 1930.  For 2 years Tademy researched her Mother’s family, then wrote this novel about 4 generations of her slave-born ancestors.  Fiction, but based on real family history.  Divided into 4 “books” (Elizabeth, Suzette, Philomena, Emily).  Subjects include “passing” as white. Includes genealogy charts, real photos, documents.  An Oprah’s Book Club Selection.

THE KITCHEN HOUSE  by Kathleen Grissom, 2010.  First book; bestselling novel. Historical fiction.  Tobacco plantation in Virginia in the late 1700s.  Narrated from 2 perspectives:  by Belle, the kitchen house cook (the master's illegitimate mulatto daughter); and Lavinia, a young, Irish orphan girl who becomes an indentured servant, first placed under the care and supervision of Belle, then later invited into the big house to care for the ailing mistress.

UNCLE TOM’s CABIN  by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852. Author’s 2nd book; best-selling novel of the 19th century.  Cotton plantations in Kentucky and Louisiana.  Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln credited Stowe for having started the Civil War with the publication of this book.  Characters include Uncle Tom, George and Eliza Harris, Eva St Clare, and Simon Legree.  Central themes include the evils and inhumanity of slavery and therefore its conflict with Christianity.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Secret Spy Ring Key to American Democracy

Carla asked, "What surprised you in this book?" to open the discussion of George Washington's Secret Six, by Brian Kilmeade. Patty was surprised that some of the dialog seemed too modern and unlikely to have been historically accurate for that time. Ken said he hadn't realized how important espionage was in 18th century warfare. He thought it was all exciting fighting and hadn't expected spy networks with femmes fatales working in the background. Carla had known about Benedict Arnold but hadn't realized how close the United States came to losing West Point to the British. This brought some consideration of the possibility that if things had been different, maybe if George Washington hadn't created his spy ring, our government would still be British. It was that close! Pam and I were surprised that the process of rebelling and fighting and establishing a new country had taken as many years as were listed in George Washington's Secret Six. From what we had learned in school, it seemed that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and the country was on its way. In George Washington's Secret Six, we saw that it was another 10 years before the British left New York, signifying defeat. Cindy T. was surprised that the spies really used codes and invisible ink. These have been the stuff of children's toys for many years, although they were very real and still are in some forms.

We were all interested in who might have been the female spy, Agent 355. Although there is no proof as to who it was, there were a number of possible women mentioned in one edition of the book. Speculation included Dennis saying she might have been a sister of one of the spies. Cindy said that there was no confirmation in the book that Agent 355 had been in prison and that any of the women in the list of possibilities in the book would have had a prison sentence attached to her history, since much was known about those women.

Cindy V. noted that while reading, she was thinking about how the spies made the decision to accept the dangerous responsibilities involved with the spy ring. She suggested it might have been easier for a woman to choose espionage because they might have been less likely to have a job and might have had less public and monetary status to lose. Carla asked all of us to consider whether we would have accepted a position as a spy for George Washington. Washington's charisma was mentioned, but Pam said that Washington and the spies were actually separated by secrecy; so working with the great General might not have been a lure. Lydia suggested that if British soldiers had taken over one's house, one might have been moved to work against the British.

The end of the discussion included some comments about the differences between this book and a factual history and also the differences between choosing a journalist's book and a historian's book. Ken said that he found some deliberate fictionalization in the book; there had been a Culper ring but that they had nothing to do with George Washington deciding to fake an attack on New York to fool the British. I said that without having gained a solid background in history, it's hard to tackle history books. Dennis, Jay, and Ken agreed that history books often contain too much information presented in a boring manner. Then they recommended some history books they had enjoyed. Frank said that journalism and popular writings are better suited to sparking interest and imagination and are gateway books, leading readers to more factual histories. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Spies in the American Revolution

For September, we are reading a book about Washington's spy ring in the New York area (by Kilmeade, who is, alas, a Fox News hack). If you are interested in learning more about the subject, I might recommend The Fox and The Hound, by Donald Markle (currently in the sales area of Barnes & Noble!), which covers spy operations in all campaigns of the war. For an even more comprehensive look, check out Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War, by Kenneth Daigler (available in paperback as well as Nook). Too interesting a topic to be given as shallow a presentation as Kilmeade.
-Dennis