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. ]
The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events 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.
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is Aptly Titled
Our discussion began with tying the book to the author's background. Dennis, who nominated and presented The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, told us some biographical details about the author. It was clear that the author's history impacted this book. Barbery grew up in France, has a degree in philosophy and taught philosophy before her book became such a grand success that she was able to become a full-time writer. As a writer, the author was free to live wherever she chose, and she chose Japan. This book is her second; the first included the same concierge character. (Let us know if you read it!)
Our conversation about the author and how her biography relates to her book went into some of the, not necessarily stereotypes, but culture, of France; where the snobbery in the story would be a normal way of life for the author to have experienced. We were not blind to the similarities to American society, but there seem to still be differences between American and European culture. Someone suggested that the European countries have richer humanities histories than we do because of the relative ages of the countries and that these histories. We are Paloma to their Renée and Ozu! The author's knowledge of art, music and philosophy were important additions to the story and character development. Marla said that she has read some books in French and noticed that they tend to have more presence of cultural history than do American novels. Partly because these kinds of references and interests are not as typical of the American awareness as they might be in France, this book might not have been published in the United States had it not been popular in French first, and it was slow to catch on in the USA. Also interesting was the author's choice of a Japanese hero in the story and her apparent love for Japan in her real life.
Linda H. suggested that because the author was a professor, maybe she purposely used advanced vocabulary in an attempt to teach and stretch the reader, rather than just because it comes naturally to her. Then we were off on a discussion of education and whether educated grammar is important to the message or whether it doesn't matter as long as the message is sent and received. We touched on the future emphasis or lack thereof on grammar and writing in education, and the current cultural/educational trend toward production and acceptance of writing that is less and less impeccable grammatically and in other ways. Cindy T. brought us back into the book with a quote from page 167, in one of Paloma's "Profound Thoughts." Paloma writes, "And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangely: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed." Was this a foreshadowing of Paloma's later appreciation for Renée?
Hedgehog was one of the many books that that make me think during the meeting that there could be semester classes or at least several book club sessions on the book. In this case, I thought of a good topic for a study: Paloma's Profound Thoughts: Aspects that Showed Paloma's Maturity Beyond Her Years and Aspects That Reminded Us That She Was Yet a Child.
Everyone at the meeting, or almost all had read the book. Everyone apparently liked it except a few who were willing to speak up and criticize the whole or parts of the book. It seems that our group finds it interesting to know why someone has a different overall opinion or experience of a book, especially when that opinion that goes against the majority opinion. We like to hear these opinions and the reasons for them. It seems to put that reader on the spot, but it enriches our discussions. We thank those who are willing to explain their personal dislike of a book, particularly one that most others enjoy. I will refrain from listing names when I write about these divergent opinions unless told otherwise. One comment was that the book didn't make sense and didn't give the reader an understandung of what the author was trying to say. Another said that she didn't like the pretension in the book and wanted more story about the characters rather than psychoanalysis of them; this reader liked Ozu because he stood out as being genuine instead of pretentious. Another critique was that the book made the reader feel like there was a lot that she didn't know. This was a mixture of praise and criticism, as the book inspired the reader to do a little research, whether for vocabulary or cultural or artistic references. Others in the group also said they were moved to do some research and learned some things as they read this book.
A lot of us did like Ozu for his bucking the trend of those around him. Cindy T. noted that Ozu saw people for who those people were, rather than seeking himself through his relationships. Thus, Ozu was able to pierce what Carla called the concierge's "reverse snobbery" and get past Renée's sham outer personality to become friendly with her and have fun with her. Shirley said that perhaps the author was emphasizing this ability of Ozu to get out of his own ego and challenging the reader to see people for themselves rather than as mirrors. Did this idea relate to Paloma's description of the rugby player who she noticed because he maintained an inner focus rather than an outer one like other athletes? (Was there a theme of focus?) Dennis told us that the book sold well in Japan and suggested that this was because of Ozu and the core of the book being about beauty and aesthetics, which are valued in Japanese culture perhaps more than here. We value our aesthetics, but more so (do you like "moreso" or "more so"?) when we decide to go to a museum rather than in the media that appeals to the general public.
Hedgehog had some moments and some depth! Our discussion? ALL moments and depth...as always!