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. ]
July 6th, author Neil Gaiman will speak at the Long Center. $32.
The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Seriesevents will be listed here.
Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
Book Buzz: Adult Summer Reading Kick-off
Sunday, May 21, 2017
The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle, was a well-written, easy-reading page-turner about tough topics that made the reader stop and think, even amid the exciting episodes in the story. The story centers around illegal immigrants from Mexico and Americans, living and crossing paths in the hills, forests and suburbs in California. The story opens when a main character, American Delaney, hits another main character, Mexican Candido, with his car. Morna also opened our discussion with this scene, asking us how we might feel if we hit a Mexican and whether we would feel differently if we hit an American. In the story, Delaney did stop and offer help, but Candido gathered himself, asked for money only, and ran off with the $20 Delaney gave him. Our brief discussion indicated that both the readers in our group and Delaney figured out that Candido refused help because he was afraid of deportation. Most of us seemed to agree that the mixture of anxiety and fear and finally anger and frustration about the situation that Delaney experienced would have been similar if we were in Delaney’s shoes. It seemed difficult to differentiate how one might have felt had it been an American who suddenly appeared from the woods and seemed to be trying to be run over.
Morna next asked us whether we had sympathy for the main characters, Candido and Delaney and their wives. Dennis spoke up to say that he didn’t like any of the characters. He said the coyote was his favorite character, giving us all a laugh but also provoking thought as to the characters of the characters. Quick on the draw, Morna asked what the coyote in the story represented. A brief Google search on this topic indicates that the coyote symbolized the Mexican illegal immigrants. The best answer I saw said that both the coyote and the illegal immigrants hide in the forests and scavenge the edges of populated and legally civilized areas; the coyote for food and the Mexicans for food and work.
Feelings toward the immigrants that were attributed to the Americans living in the subdivision called “White Canyon” that sat at the edge of the forest were a major theme of the book. We discussed why the Mexicans chose the dangers and difficulties of living in the USA illegally. The homeowners of White Canyon voted for and proceeded to build a wall around their neighborhood during the story. Clearly, the author created themes for thought by showing the Americans building a wall to keep the immigrants out and then hiring the same immigrants and inviting them in to build the wall.
In discussing the very problematic situation of Candido and his wife and all the illegal immigrants who arrive in the USA in poverty, Amy said it is part of the human condition, that people are born into the extreme poverty. Marilyn said that some of the misadventures in the story were also caused by bad decisions. In many cases, aspects of poverty can be caused by bad decisions, one being when the Mexicans pay liars and crooks for help crossing the border and then are robbed in Mexico before they cross. Pam asked why these Mexicans were in the USA, and Marilyn said they were desperate and had hope to better their lives by immigrating. Linda H. said that the USA had a reputation for being good to immigrants.
We steered away from in-depth discussion of the current political situation, as it had no influence on this book, which was published in 1995.
Toward the end of our discussion, Joyce said that she had noticed that the story indicated a lot of crime that Mexicans committed against Mexicans. She thought the Mexicans might have had fewer misadventures had they bonded together as a community and helped each other more, in their shared experience of deprivation. Amy said the kind of lives we were reading about involved individuals focused on themselves; thus, no room for establishing community. Further illustrating the point that community is lacking, Dennis gave the example that American contractors sometimes break into the homes where they have been paid to work, as the immigrants did at White Canyon. Carla mentioned the man who organized the job-distributing in the parking lot in the story, saying this showed that this was an example of characters in the book, and people in general, have good and bad traits and behaviors.
We discussed the ending of the book, which left it to the reader to guess at the futures of the characters.
The Tortilla Curtain was exciting but essentially a story about a sad situation.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Renowned science fiction writer Philip K. Dick had a gravestone waiting for him from a month after his birth. His twin sister died at that time, and his parents put up a double headstone, with one side listing Philip’s name. There was a picture of a cat on the headstone, which remains unexplained. This was the back story that Dennis gave us when he presented The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick. Frank added biographical information he remembered from reading Dick’s introduction to his book, Golden Man. P.K. lived in poverty with his wife and was buying cheap horsemeat sold as dog food at a store in the 1950s, when the storekeeper accused the author of buying the meat to eat (which was correct). P.K. says that he was expecting the storekeeper to accuse him of having a “bad attitude.” Then P.K. went on to explain that he did have a bad attitude, being rebellious and often behind on deadlines, even for his publications. The final important biographical fact Dennis told us was that P.K. Dick had a mental breakdown, which the author used as the basis for a novel and the subject of an autobiography, in which he tells about the day it happened.
No one who read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch would have been surprised at much of Dick’s biography. The man’s writings were imaginative and strange, as was the man. The name, “Eldritch,” means strange in such a way that “Eldritch Horror” is a specific genre that is weird. Some of Dick’s writing was also somewhat prescient. Although Dick wrote The Three Stigmata in 1964, there was a strong theme of global warming in the story: it took place in a future where the environment was very hot and dry, and water was precious.
For our discussion, Dennis gave us the gift of a summary of the story. Why was this a gift? The story was rather complex and parts were convoluted to the extent that it was difficult to know what was happening to some of the characters some of the time. The story took place in an imaginary world based on the real world but far-fetched. The main characters were involved in the business of selling a mind-altering drug and the physical accoutrements used to enjoy experiencing the drug. There were many times during the story when the reader was not sure whether the action was taking place under the influence of the drug or not. Palmer Eldritch was in the business of selling a drug to compete with the established mind-altering drug, and Eldritch’s drug seemed more overpowering, perhaps to the point of altering any imbibers to transform into what Eldritch had transformed into: with the eyes, the teeth, and the arm.
By somewhat organizing the story for us, Dennis helped us to be able to consider themes and aspects of the story, because we were enabled to see how the themes fit together. One theme combination was the environmental issues and how the extreme environment affected lives and the willingness of people to escape into the mind-altering drugs. Another was a religious theme throughout the book, that touched on the communion transubstantiation issue, as to whether Communion is meant to be symbolic or literal. There was a theme about evolution. In the book, there was a method of evolving people into the future, where one’s head would become large, with a thick protective skin around it and with advanced mental capacity. But, some people who tried to evolve would devolve. The theme encompassing Eldritch’s stigmata was deeply embedded in the story and symbolism. Eldritch’s odd body parts, the teeth, the eyes, and the arm, seemed to be showing up in other characters; and it was left to the reader to interpret whether Eldritch was a real person or a real or symbolic deity in the story and whether Eldritch was entering or taking over others’ bodies in a real or symbolic way or whether others were becoming Eldritch, in a real or symbolic way.
Cindy V. interpreted Eldritch as a computer virus and drugs as the opening where the virus could enter.
Pam suggested that Eldritch was the devil and not of Deity caliber. She said that the drug that Eldritch was pushing was a temptation by the Devil.
Linda noted that Eldritch’s drug was comparable to Eve’s apple in Eden in the story of Creation.
Carla said that Eldritch was evil, but that since the Jewish belief was that the Lord created Satan as well as everything else, then the Lord created Eldritch.
Dennis said that when Eldritch was appearing in the story, complete with the teeth, the arm, and the eyes, he was ethereal and had cast off his earthly body and was not the same man but something from outer space. (The story incorporated space travel.)
Linda said that Eldritch left the earth and returned in his new form, perhaps as a Deity.
Pam corroborated Linda’s idea, noting that after Eldritch returned from his travels and from discovering the new mind-altering drug, he was never again seen as a regular corporeal body.
Then the discussion branched out:
Cindy V. mentioned that the story contained slang from the future.
I said the story reminded me of the movie, Groundhog Day, particularly with Barney seeming to keep going back to various events in his relationship with Emily, his ex-wife.
Dennis suggested that the book might have influenced the development of virtual reality, role-playing games, and various acting-out groups.
Pam said about the mind-altering drugs, that people enjoyed the original drug, but maybe not the second one.
Carla said that after Barney took the second drug, the reader never knew whether he ever came back to reality. She said time might have been suspended in that drug world. This would explain the Groundhog Day repetitive aspect of that drug, too.
Linda reminded us of the part toward the end of the story when Eldritch asked Barney what he wanted to be, and it seemed Eldritch had the power to make that happen. Barney said he wanted to be a stone.
Pam felt that the ending was happy, because Barney changed his mind, perhaps via a lifting of depression, and decided to live in reality and not take drugs any more.
Carla said the author might have meant the reader to have questions.
Frank suggested that the author might have been suffering from mental illness.
Morna said that maybe the author was “smoking something.”
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Stoner, by John Williams, was first published in 1965. The book was reissued in 2003 and again in 2006. We filled 2 full rows of chairs plus the bench at Barnes & Noble for our discussion of Stoner, and we covered lots of thoughts about the book but didn’t touch on why the book went 38 years without republication and then was reissued twice within 3 years. The book industry is interesting, but the books we read interest us more.
I counted 7 or 8 hands raised for “liking’ the book, and 1 raised for a “didn’t like,” with an explanation later.
The first topic we discussed was the introduction. This was added to the book in 2003. Introductions can be dull and analytical at worst and enticing at best. This one was, to me, analytical without being dull, but instead infuriating. I, and some other readers in the group, thought that too much of the story was given away in the introduction. I stopped reading it before finishing it, because I didn’t like the spoilers. Jay, who nominated the book, explained that introductions to novels were originally for enjoyment and later became more of a venue for analysis. Jay somewhat vindicated the introduction by saying that reading the book means experiencing the book, regardless of whether you read the summarized part in the introduction before reading the book. This did turn out to be true. While reading, I only occasionally thought of the introduction, though it was mostly with disappointment at remembering it as foreshadowing a part of the plot. To write this blog post, one of my rewards for the effort is that I reread the introduction after reading the book, and I found it most interesting and understood it better than I had before reading the book.
As a retired professor, Jay mentioned that he had changed majors in college 5 times before working on his doctorate and starting his life’s work; he also needed an extra year of college to graduate with all the requirements fulfilled for a major. Dennis changed majors once before graduating, earning a doctorate and becoming a professor. Cindy T. changed once to major in something that was more practical for the job market. I changed from an interpretive to a more concrete and literal major that I felt worked better in a structured educational environment. My notetaking lagged behind the conversation, but I think there were a few others in the group who had changed majors during college. This makes me think of a difference between older generations and newer ones; that youth who are interested in their education today might be more focused on future work prospects as they enter the expensive system of higher education.
Talking about the character Stoner, Jay mentioned Stoner’s “stumbling blocks:” his wife (creepy feelings set in just thinking about her), Lomax, money, and later the whole gossip mill of his university. Jay thinks that Stoner's passive attitude may have come about because of his strong commitment to teaching all that he learned and loved about English literature. Pam said that Stoner let things happen rather than making them happen. Then, when Dennis used the word, “spineless” to describe Stoner and said that this trait caused him to consider the book one that he didn’t enjoy reading, Pam said that when the book was written, people were often spineless about letting things happen to them and stayed with jobs for as long as they could. (Jobs used to reward those who stayed, whereas we now see much more job-changing and less loyalty or rewards for loyalty in work.) Dennis said that Stoner seemed to always avoid confrontation. Ken noted that while reading, he was glad when Stoner did stand up for himself. Joyce found the first half of the book frustrating because Stoner didn’t stand up for himself, and she liked when he stood up to Lomax. I would say that Lomax won the war, but Stoner did win some battles. Or maybe it was that Lomax won all the battles, but Stoner won the war?
Pam said Stoner wanted to move away from his dead-end job; and though Edith refused to move and threatened to keep Stoner’s daughter from him if he moved away, Pam thought Stoner could have worked harder to convince Edith to move. With the conversation turning toward Edith, Linda H. asked us what we thought was wrong with Edith, because she was clearly “not normal.” Florence remembered the episode when Edith went to her father's funeral and then burned all the toys her father had given her. There was perhaps a hint of abuse here, though only the lack of communication in Stoner’s family had been mentioned.
Some theories arose during our discussion. Ken suggested that Stoner was depressed and said that chapter 12, paragraph 1 describes a depressive syndrome. Ken said that Stoner knew the first day of the marriage that Edith was a poor choice for a wife and that he shouldn’t have married her. Dennis thought Walker might have written Katherine Driscoll’s paper. Someone said that Stoner did Walker a disservice by not trying to help him develop. Dennis agreed that Walker might have developed well with some encouragement. Florence suggested that Walker might have been Lomax’s son; Lomax certainly expressed that he felt a kinship with Walker. Joyce said that Stoner didn’t like Walker’s habit of cutting corners. Linda H. said that Walker was arrogant and that Stoner thought he was using his disability to get away with cutting corners. Linda also noted that Walker had a narrow range of knowledge of his subject and that this is not a valued trait in a doctoral program.
Jay suggested comparing Stoner to 2 other books our group read about professors: Straight Man, by Richard Russo and Famous Writers I Have Known, by James Magnuson. Also, there was Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon. I don’t think there were enough of us present who had read those books with the group to go into that topic. We had great discussions about all of those books, and you can read about the discussions in the blog. Further discussion centered around the university culture, past and present. Stoner is yet another of our chosen books that seems to lend itself to numerous extended discussions.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Probably you heard of or even saw some of the movies and/or some of the actors; but if you read The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy, you probably noticed that there weren’t many movies mentioned in the book. This was a surprise to some Book Club members but not necessarily a weakness of the book, especially not for us; because the book was published in 1960, a long time before many of our favorite movies were released. Morna said she had been disappointed that there weren’t more movies in the book. Dennis noticed that the protagonist, Binx, referred to movies and actors often during his narratives, such as when he “…kept a Gregory Peckish sort of distance” from his secretary, Sharon, to whom he was attracted. Dennis mentioned Binx using a “Gregory Peck smirk” on Sharon later when he was going places with her.
There was a general theme of escapism throughout the book. The physical and mental adventures of the 30-year-old protagonist, Binx, included his love of movies for escape and distraction. Binx had few real friends and an occasional girlfriend, usually one of his secretaries. Carla pointed out that he had better relationships with people he didn’t know, such as a ticket-taker he had met at the movie theater and sent a Christmas card to. As Jan said when introducing the book, “everyday” was the enemy; there was a complex relationship in one’s life between the everyday and “rotations” and “repetition” within the rotations. Kate, close cousin to Binx, escaped everyday reality through sedatives. Perhaps Sharon’s outings with Binx and allowance of his attentions were her way of escaping her everyday boyfriend, who Binx liked at first sight and called “a Faubourg Marigny type,” and who Sharon eventually married.
The author of The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, was a physician who was afflicted with tuberculosis at an early age, when sanitariums were the best cure. Percy lived a long while after his diagnosis and his leaving the practice of medicine to become a writer. Percy’s character, Binx, had a deceased father who had been a physician. The Moviegoer is a coming-of-age story for the main characters, Binx and Kate, turning 30 and 26 years old, respectively. During the story, Binx’s aunt, the only real person in the book, according to Heather, encourages Binx to drop his work as a stockbroker and go to medical school. In the same dialog, the aunt talks about a researcher she knows and says that Binx has a “flair for research.” As narrator, Binx disputes this but continues to listen to his aunt, who does not actually suggest he go into research. Linda said she didn’t see Binx as a physician, because of his discomfort with relating to people. In the book, Binx and his aunt discuss Binx’s physician father. The aunt talks about his father as having a great mind somewhat like Binx and says that Binx’s father “…would have been much happier in research.” Thus, the author introduced the theme of Binx making life decisions as he came of age (30). In this chapter, Percy also built on the complexities of Binx’s relationship to his father and Binx’s own personality.
At the end of the book, the author added an epilogue. Binx married his cousin Kate, who he had been like an older brother to, and enrolled in medical school. There is discussion about Binx’s younger brother, a lot younger than Binx and a character who has added to the story, mostly through his relationship with Binx and his having a tragic illness. At the end of the epilogue, Kate set out on a streetcar to do an errand, which Angie mentioned as an accomplishment for Kate, who was timid. Angie noted also that a dialog between Kate and Binx indicated that Kate could function on such an errand but needed to obtain Binx’s reassurance before setting out.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
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 café 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
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
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.