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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The Round Rock Public Library Summer Reading Program Continues; Prizes are Possible! Visit the Library or its Web page.


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.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Here is a photo of a 40' sloop. It has one mast, with the mainsail behind (and attacked to) the mast and the jib in front, supported by the jib stay (the line that runs up from the nose to the top of the mast). If the jib overlaps the mast, it is a genoa jib. If a spinnaker is used, it is a sail that balloons out in front of the jib stay, and may have one corner held out by a spinnaker pole (that pivots against the mast).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

We Read About Chechnya As a Complex and War Torn Society

I liked the way Marla introduced A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra. She said the author painted a picture of what it was like to live in war-torn Chechnya. She said that ordinary people were forced to experience extraordinary situations, often as part of what theoretically should have been ordinary daily life. The characters in the stories faced physical dangers, possibilities for betrayal that could lead to death or extreme suffering, and moral decisions in addition to the daily pursuit of food and shelter and safety for themselves and their families.

In the book, the title of the book is listed as a Russian dictionary's definition of life. Thia is thought-provoking, as were many of the characters' deeds and descriptions. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Holds together but is made up of parts, scientific but also imaginative.

Marla led us into a discussion by asking questions but also by describing the book. At one point, she said that the characters were striving to find normalcy within the war-torn life that they were surrounded by and forced into. Dennis said that he liked the writing style of the author but found the war to be an unpleasant situation that he didn't like reading about. Carla said that she got involved in the book and wanted to continue reading to find out what would happen to the characters, but that she knew they would have bad and sad things happen to them.

Pam said that the characters would have had their own personalities whether or not there had been a war surrounding them. Thus, she said, Sonja would have been a weird person even without the war. Maybe she would have been a physician, but she would have been the same. Someone said that Akhmed might have been a painter instead of a reticent physician if it hadn't been for the war. But, Akhmed was somewhat of an artist anyhow and created portraits of those who had died. Ken said that in the story, the bizarre was considered normal. Marla added that the image the authors gave of the 8-year-old girl, Havaa, was almost that of a normal girl, but then when the reader got closer to the girl, she was shown to be excessively unkempt and dirty and wearing hand-me-downs; essentially because of the war.

Family relationships was a theme throughout the book. One example of relationship was fathers, from the fathers' points of view as well as from the children's. About Ramzan,  Marla asked the group to discuss whether we felt compassion for him because he had been in 2 wars. Pam noted that Achmed and Ramzan both had the same father but had very different lives and different experiences as sons. She said that Ramzan didn't know they were brothers and resented Akhmed. Carla felt that Ramzan wasn't right psychologically and that this might have been an implication that Ramzan was deeply hurt and deeply, but not on an outer level, aware of the comparison between the way his father treated him and treated Akhmed. Marla brought up how Havaa had a father who loved her and that the author might have been using her family life to express a normal healthy father/child relationship. Regardless of the health of that family, the war tore them apart, but Havaa's short time with her family might have given her the stamina and security and grounding to carry on as was told at the end of the story.

Another flawed familial relationship the author examined was the one between siblings. This was expressed by Ramzan and Akhmed, who lived as if they were not brothers but might have felt the relationship at some level; and Sonja and her sister Natasha, who grew up as opposites and kept their separate personalities but moved toward and away from closeness throughout their lives. Discussing Sonja and Natasha, Carla suggested that throughout Chechnya during the war, the story was about insiders who were outsiders.

This brought on some attempts by Book Club members to characterize the Chechen wars. Cindy T noted that she had recently read a book that had the fighting between Sicily and Tunisia as a theme. Sicily had conquered Tunisia, but the fighting continued on and on. This seems to be similar to the Chechen and Russian and Central Asian interactions. The history is complicated. Russia wanted to replace the central Asians with Russians, but the Central Asians wanted Hitler to conquer Russia (probably because the Central Asians couldn't). Carla thought the conflict was over oil, and that whoever controlled Chechnya would control the oil business and make the money. Frank chimed in to say that the Chechens were so poor and oppressed that for many years they were unable to develop the oil industry that the natural resources promised. Frank knew some of the history and told us that the wars in the area stemmed from World War I, when Great Britain was in charge of the map. The Arabic tribes were constantly at war and the Germans and the Russians formed a delicate balance with all these groups.

A complex and war-torn society, indeed!