Day 2 is in the books! If you didn’t get the chance to check out day 1, here it is.
The Voyage Out Book Group, remember, is open to everyone. We will be reading Pat Barker’s Life Class this month. The discussion will take place at BookPeople on April 28th at 5pm. I’d love to see your pretty face, so come on by.
You can see the full bracket here.
Day 2 continues with some heated battles and a major upset.
A Personal Matter. Has there ever been a more aptly named book? Oe’s autobiographical novel is a prime example of an artist cutting himself open and exposing himself to the world. In opening himself up, however, he manages to avoid cliché and sentiment in a way that most self-exposing art fails to live up to. Oe is a master. The main character, Bird, has a moral dilemma. His son was born deformed, and Bird is deciding whether to allow the child to die, or if the child deserves to live. The moral dilemma takes the entire 165 pages to expose itself. The fact that Bird takes 160 pages trying to justify one path, and 5 pages taking the opposite (right?) path, shows that life decisions are not as difficult as we may think. Get out of your own way, silence your intellect, and do the things that you know are right. I think about this book a lot when I make big decisions.
Short stories are difficult to talk about as a group. Sometimes collections are ramshackle. Sometimes themes and styles don’t mesh into a whole. Sometimes we fail as readers to see connections. We sat down as a group at our third meeting and discussed Brownsville, and never before, and not since, have we had a group so universally love a book. Casares is a perfect writer. The problem is what happened after we gushed over the book. We didn’t have a lot to talk about. It’s unfortunate.
Out of nowhere, Casares swoops in and brings home the biggest upset of the tournament: Casares’ perfect short story collection wins!
I wonder if William Gay and Margaret Atwood ever met in real life? I wonder what they would think of each other? Atwood hails from our Northern neighbor, Canada, but she is the world’s writer. If you are making a list of the most loved writers of our time, I’m not sure you could get to double digits without naming Atwood. Gay on the other hand, drank himself to death in the most Southern way. He fits all the stereotypes we think about when we think about the grand writers of the American South—including being brilliant. I wonder if the underappreciated Gay would find a way to not be jealous of Atwood’s success, and I wonder if the (deservedly) renowned Atwood would feel a little guilty about her acclaim, knowing that Gay can match her sentence for sentence, but not sale for sale. I hope they would have gotten along.
Both books begin with letting you know how they’ll end, both books lie a little, and illuminate a lot. Both are books that I’ll re-read, and both deserve to move on to the next round. Unfortunately only one can.
In the most depressing moment of the first round, we send Atwood back to her Canadian home: William Gay wins!
I should say this first: I love Tea. Seriously. I like Paul, too. But I can’t really get with a guy that has married two women who are better writers than he is. (I don’t even know what that last line means, but it’s an interesting way to get some trivia into the post). Good ol’ Paul is a fine writer, and The New York Trilogy is my favorite book by him, but he’s gonna lose this match-up. In fact, if I chose all the rounds in this tournament (which I don’t) Tea would be your winner.
I should say something about the books. Auster’s book is a tough one to talk about, and I think after organizing this tournament I’ve finally figured out why. Books with hard stops are wonderful, but those stops take energy to get over, and sometimes that energy loss leads to reading and discussion fatigue. Maybe this is why we don’t do well with short story collections, and maybe this is why we struggled to discuss Zadie Smith’s White Teeth last Sunday. Again, this is just a thought, but I think I may be onto something here.
Here’s an excerpt from Tiger’s Wife:
“He sat up, pushed his chair away from the table and rubbed his knees. ‘When men die, they die in fear,’ he said. ‘They take everything they need from you, and as a doctor it is your job to give it, to comfort them, to hold their hand. But children die how they have been living–in hope. They don’t know what’s happening, so they expect nothing, they don’t ask you to hold their hand–but you end up needing them to hold yours. With children, you’re on your own. Do you understand?'”
Enough said. Obreht wins!
This match-up pits our greatest achievement versus our greatest disappointment. It’s hard to say how popular Adichie was to the general public when we read her, four years ago, but it is safe to say her star has risen since. If you have an hour to spend watching pure genius, check out her TED talk. Time well spent. This is all to say, we didn’t know Adichie when we decided to read her book. We were rewarded with one of the most memorable book experiences of our group. Not only did everyone love the book, but we all seemed to love it in different ways, and for different reasons. This love and disagreement is the stuff that lines the streets in Book Group heaven. (Such a place exists? Right?) Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story that takes place in Nigeria. The best discussion centered around how much empathy (if any) one should have for the novel’s abusive father. It feels right to hate a man who burns his daughters feet when she doesn’t live up to his idea of perfection, but could there also be another way to look at him? Imagine knowing that the world you have brought your child into only offers a path to success for one out of every 1,000 children, and imagine of your child was better than 999 of them? What would you do to push your child to becoming the one in a thousand and not just another of the other 999? Purple Hibiscus could have a subtitle, and it could read, things are more interesting and complicated than you thought.
We read three books for our trilogy of Indian fiction, and boy did we pick the wrong books. Roy’s book is the only one that was deemed even slightly rewarding and enjoyable for our group. I lament our bad choices, and don’t want to beat up on Roy’s book, which is not too bad, really.
In a blow out, Adichie wins!
This ends day two. Day three’s match-ups are as follows:
1. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee Vs. 8. The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier
2. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion Vs. 7. NW by Zadie Smith
3. The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras Vs. 6. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
4. Holy Terrors by Jean Cocteau Vs. 5. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev