Category Archives: Book Club

Book Tour: Water for Elephants

I actually thought Lemonade for the Elephant would be a better title, but maybe that’s why Sara Gruen is a bestselling novelist and I am one of her readers.

This is my 7th book tour with the Barren Bi+ches, but my 1st for a non-IF-related book. I found it much harder to find a focus and more difficult to develop questions. With the other books, I had a sense for what my fellow readers would think in certain situations. But with Water for Elephants, there was no known common ground. No shared focal point. I felt like a chicken let out of the coop onto the big open range.

Or maybe like a camel let out of a train car after a long Joliet-to-Providence run.

What is your favorite circus related memory?
I have only one circus-related memory and it’s not a good one. My parents had taken us to the Greeley Stampede (cross between a circus and a carnival) with my parents one summer when I was about 11. Through the course of the day I ate a few pickles. And later on some cantaloupe.

It was stiflingly hot. After we saw the animals, my sisters and I rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, our favorite ride. Something happened, though, after we got off the ride. Gurgling and burbling, the contents of my stomach were churning about and causing me pain and nausea.

I found a trashcan, topped with rotting-in-the-heat cotton candy, just in time to hurl.

It was decades before I could eat pickles or cantaloupe or cotton candy again.

Are you still with me? The answers get better, I promise. (At least I’ve given you low-hanging fruit [ahem] on which to comment.)

Looking at himself in the mirror, the old Jacob tries “to see beyond the sagging flesh.” But he claims, “It’s no good….I can’t find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?” How would you answer that question for yourself?
I’m not even halfway to Jacob’s age, but already I wonder, at times, where the 19 year-old Lori went. Or the 24 year-old Lori. Or the 37-year old Lori.

But I don’t feel I have ever stopped being me. If anything, I continually become more Me.

It seems like you go through the first part of your life adding to yourself. Trying on. Acquiring.

And the last part of your life is spent shedding. Discerning. And finally, losing. This part of Elder Jacob’s viewpoint brought a little panic to my innards. Like Jacob, I fear losing my stuff, my loves, my well- functioning body, control of my destiny.

Something that struck me about this book in particular was the rich, descriptive way the author handled Jacob as an elderly man. His frustration was so apparent, his physical manifestation so perfectly described, that of all of the elements of this book Jacob the Elderly is what stays with me. You had the sense that Jacob didn’t foresee his latter years being the way they were, and his almost “ride off into the sunset” ending perhaps what he had envisaged for his end. Do you think about what’s at the end of the road someday? When you think about it, what do you see for yourself?
Did you read A Prayer for Owen Meany? (spoiler alert: don’t read this paragraph if you plan to read the book). The premise of being able to see, in a premonition, your own tombstone both fascinates and frightens me. Would YOU want to know the date of your death?

Or the manner?

I once volunteered for Hospice. As part of the training, we had to write about our own death.

It was impossible for me. Try as I might, I could not come up with anything except the super-predictable and bland ending where I die in my sleep.

Let it be so. Let me be the picture of health until then. And let me have helped my children raise their children to adulthood.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list here. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Empty Picture Frame by Jenna Nadeau (with author participation because she’s a blogger!)
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Chicklet reveals this season’s must-have shoes for both style and comfort. They are SO must-have that she bought TWO pairs. Make sure to visit the current entry on All Thumbs Reviews.

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Say Goodnight, Dick.

Book tour: Mistress’s Daughter

I’ve been heavy into Adoptee Literature* lately, trying to preview feelings my children may (or may not) have. On one hand, I want to prepare for issues that may arise, but on the other, I don’t want to plant any where they may be none.

The Mistress’s Daughter is the latest focus of The Barren Bi+ches Book Brigade. I always love it when a book draws me in, when it pulls me to return to it every night.

A.M. Homes’ writing is so stark. No frills. It’s easy for me to put moving pictures to her narrative. Her words and emotion mirror what some adult adoptees have expressed on various bulletin boards I frequent.

On the book tour, participants are given a set of questions, from which we each pick three. Here are mine. Directions for following along, or for joining the next tour, are at the end of the post. Make sure you click on the link below and visit the other reader reviews.

A feeling of the “subtlety of biology,” a lovely aphorism, is not something that Homes necessarily welcomes. I sometimes feel that biology raps me over the head when I look at biologically-related family members. How has infertility affected our feelings about the “subtlety of biology”?

I can’t remember what it was like when I still thought we were fertile. Did I study people’s faces? Look for signs of biological connection? Or perhaps I did not give it much thought.

Now I am a face-looker. When I see kids at school from the same family, I notice the facial shape, the arrangement of the features, the portion of teeth showing in a smile. I look for these connections when the parents come around, too.

I wonder which families share biology, and which families, like mine, share biography.

Most adoptions from the 1950s’ and 60s’ are closed, with birth records sealed except upon a courts’ finding “good cause” to open them. In light of Homes’s experiences, does this seem to be the appropriate method for handling adoption records?

I see open records as a civil rights issue. It is morally wrong to allow access to original birth certificates to everyone EXCEPT for one class of citizens who are in this group simply by circumstances of their birth.

Some argue that a birthparent’s right to privacy trumps an adoptee’s right to know. I disagree. But my bias is toward open adoption, which greatly eases this issue.

For our children, we were issued two birth certificates each: their original ones and their amended ones.

This summer, adoptee rights groups are going to address the National Conference of State Legislators in New Orleans in order to influence open records legislation in all 50 states. Click on over to offer your support.

The author talks about searching for information on her ancestors and realized that many of the people searching were not adopted. She realized from that the question of “who am I” is not unique to adoptees. At what point in your life, have you felt the same way?

Shortly after we got married, my husband and I began videotaping (back in the day; it was a HUGE, shoulder-crushing camera) stories told by our grandparents. My grandpa grew up in a sod house in Nebraska. Roger’s great-grandmother arrived in this country after literally being tossed (as a baby) onto a ship leaving Ireland.

Eventually, we will transfer these videos to DVD and pass them to our children for when they begin to question, “who am I.”

These stories, after all, are the roots of their family tree.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (with author participation!)

* another good selection in the Young Adult genre is A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life.

The Handmaid’s Tale Book Tour

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in the mid-1990s, the summer I met the man who would become my husband. Roger was getting ready to teach it to his high school students, but he never got the opportunity. The book was challenged by a parent, and though Roger won the case, the chance to teach it passed.

On first reading, I thought my life path would be: court, marry, procreate, live happily ever after. On second reading — more than a decade and a well-worn map-to-parenthood later — the book struck very different chords.

In the beginning of the book, the Aunts discuss two facets of freedom: “freedom from” and “freedom to”. While the old government’s laws provided both types of freedom, the new government limited women’s freedom to “freedom from”. Do you think that “freedom from” is truly a freedom, or is it just the government’s way of subtly taking away rights?

Definitely the latter. This sentiment is commonly credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” For more of my thoughts on the coming dystopia and the prescience of Margaret Atwood, see my post from a few days ago.

One thing that struck me was how easily the Gileadean government robbed women of their economic power and, ultimately, freedom. All it took was a few keystrokes and threats to employers to throw women back into chattel status. Where was the opposition? And what about the men? Even Offred’s partner was unbothered by what was happening. How might the citizens in Offred’s culture have fought against the Gileadians’ plans? Or was the takeover inevitable once it began?

When people value more the “freedom from” than the “freedom to,” taking away freedoms will be as easy as the proverbial taking candy from a baby (which, in reality, is a strange simile, if you’ve ever tried doing so).

Life carries risk. The more we want to shift our risk onto others, the more we are willing to let others control us. We trade freedom for security (or the illusion of security, since risk is still there in some form or another). We’re like that doomed frog that is put in a pot of cool water with the heat turned on: because change happens gradually, we don’t jump out of the pot or yell “stop!” Gradualism takes patience if you’re the perpetrator, and vigilance and courage if you’re the frog.

We in the US hail our Constitution as the protector and guarantor of our rights. But without our awareness and willingness to fight to protect our rights, the Constitution is just an old piece of paper.

The Declaration of Independence says, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.”

Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress were so committed to self-governance that they even declared the right/duty to “throw off” a government that’s become despotic! What citizenry in human history has ever been given by its founders permission — even the imperative — to overthrow a wayward government? (And whether Eyes are reading or not, I must point out I am not suggesting the overthrow of anything.)

When was the last time you read the Constitution? Do you think your elected officials have? How can you (and they) safeguard your freedoms if you don’t know what they are?

**stepping down from soap box**

It was at one time hard for me to put myself in the Wife’s shoes, but having dealt with infertility on a more personal sense, I find that I can sympathize with her and her role in this society. If you had to be in this society, how could you cope with your role in it? Would you be a Wife or a Handmaid? Could you sympathize with your counterpart?

Absolutely. I sympathize with both. If I had my choice (which, of course, I wouldn’t in Gilead), I think I’d be a Wife (as the lessor of two horrors). But I would also sympathize with the Handmaids. Both groups were stripped of the power of self-determination.

I know logically that one needs only food, shelter, air and water for survival. But to live without freedom seems so pathetically bleak, for both Blue and Red.

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Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (with author participation!)