Archive for ‘Book Club’

September 22, 2011

Book Club Recap: Stephen King’s The Stand

Our Book Club discussed Stephen King’s The Stand on Sept. 7, 2011. This may seem like an unusual book club choice (and in fact, it must be, because no reading-group guides exist for the book online). We learned, however, that the book has a little bit of something for everyone: horror, suspense, action, humor, sci-fi, romance, adventure. It’s a meaty book that spans all genres.

We normally read one book a month, but with The Stand we expanded it to two months. Many people in the group were really into it, but didn’t have the time to finish the 1400-page tome in the allotted 30 days. We got attached to the characters, especially Nick and Stu. Frannie, not so much.

Even though King updated the book in 1990, it still felt stuck in the 70s at some parts, especially regarding the cost of things and an archaic (for the 90s) view of birth control. We weren’t sure why it even had to be updated. We also debated if the book would still be interesting without the sci-fi elements. Isn’t a pandemic wiping out most of the world’s population enough? Why add a villain, a Sauron-esque embodiment of evil? We felt his motivations and purpose were a little vague.

We wondered how long the people of Boulder would be able to survive just by foraging for food. Also, we wondered why some people thought it was a good idea to just leave the community and head back to their homes, as though they could just make medicine or something if they got ill. It’s not that easy. And, as someone said, “Stephen King don’t know nothing ’bout birthin’ no babies!” A woman who had given birth by C-section wouldn’t be able to later have a natural birth without serious complications.

One thing we couldn’t figure out: why was the superflu called Captain Trips? According to google, this was also a nickname for The Grateful Dead‘s Jerry Garcia, but that doesn’t explain why King chose it as a euphemism for the superflu.

Still, despite these nitpicks, it was an entertaining book and an even better discussion. It’s fun to wonder who you might become after the end of the world. Would you be a hero or a villain? Would you even be able to survive? And if you did, what would you miss most about civilization?

For next month, we’re reading Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, a more traditional book club selection.

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March 1, 2011

Book Club Round-up: Bel Canto

Bel CantoThe Book Cellar book club discussed Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto on February 9. Bel Canto won, among others, the PEN/Faulkner award in 2002, putting Patchett in the company of John Updike (The Early Stories 1953-1975), Michael Cunningham (The Hours) and Philip Roth (The Human Stain and Everyman). High honors. (Our book club has also discussion 2010 PEN bridesmaid Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna.)

Personally, I didn’t like the book. It took an Atlas-esque feat of strength to hold up my suspension of disbelief.  I caved about 1/3 of the way into the book. In an unnamed South American country, terrorists storm the mansion of its vice-president, taking dozens of hostages. The revolutionaries soon discover that that president isn’t even there. They lack a back-up plan and scramble to come up with ideas. As the terrorists and the hostages mingle over the next four months (really, the “crisis” lasts at least a third of a year), they all realize they like life better now. If only they could stay in this mansion forever!

Part of me bought into the fact that the terrorists had it better in the mansion. They came from the jungle. Most of them are teen soldiers. In the mansion, they have running water, food, basic comforts of home that the rich hostages took for granted. But the visiting dignitaries? Why are they so content with losing their freedom? Why aren’t they plotting to escape?

A book club member brought in some interesting information: Bel Canto is loosely based on real events. In 1996, the Japanese embassy (or, more specifically, the Ambassdorial residence)  in Peru was invaded by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. They took hostages for 126 days. At the end of the crisis, despite reports that many of the insurgents surrendered, all the revolutionaries were executed, and one hostage lost his life in the crossfire.

Click here for more information on the 1996 crisis.

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