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3 Online Book Clubs: Hers, Mine, & One to Skip

This month, I am partnering with Kristen at her vibrant, active community over at Motherese to host her site’s first online book group. We will be discussing Christine Carter’s book: “Raising Happiness.” I saw Christine speak in the Bay Area last week and she was fabulous. Check out the initial review here. Join us!

We will be discussing:
Chapters 1-3 the week of April 12th
Chatper 4-6 the week of April 19th
Chapter 7-9 the week of April 26th and
Chapter 10 + Q&A with Christine the week of May 3rd

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For March’s book group here at BookSnob we read The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li. I have invited two of our community members to join me and share their thoughts. The Vagrants is a poignant, beautifully written story–but it is not for the faint hearted. Read on:

From Mary of Deland, Florida:
If it had not been for my commitment to this book club, I would not have finished “The Vagrants.”  The unremitting grimness and pervasive violence of the story wore on me.  The older I get, the less inclined I am to put such experiences into my consciousness; it seems that the world at large delivers more than enough of them.

As if to italicize this story, I read a news account today of a town in China where 21 bodies of babies were found in the local river. What kind of country is this?  To paraphrase one commenter, it is the “ideological equivalent of Thunderdome.”  This is clearly the same country that Yiyun Li writes about. There is no doubt that she is a capable writer, but I would have been much more at ease with other subject matter.  Perhaps that is more of a reflection on me than on the author.

And From Jazzy of Seattle, Washington:
First, I must say that I loved the writing.  The longer sections where we meet the characters, one by one, were like short stories.  The stories become more interconnected and each time we return to a character, we understand more about them.  A few times there was a change of pace and the focus would pull back and scan quickly through the lives of many characters.  For example, I loved page 167-8 where we float from Dafu weeping into his pillow in the hospital, to multiple other people lying in bed in Muddy River, and lastly, to Mrs. Hua dreaming about her seven daughters.  It was a complete change of rhythm and I thought it was very effective.

This is what I love most about fiction:  I learn and understand more by experiencing through a novel than by reading newspapers or textbooks.  Now that I’ve finished reading The Vagrants, I want to learn more about this era in China.  I don’t think I understood it very well on a political level, and I certainly had no idea about the human suffering that went on. The poverty and harsh reality these people had to endure is unimaginable.  I marked this about Teacher Gu:  “He tried not to think about what happened outside his home – the only way to live on, he had known for most of his adulthood, was to focus on the small patch of life in front of one’s eyes.” (p. 99)

I loved Mr. & Mrs. Hua and poor Nini.  I have to include this quote because it summed up so much about Mrs. Hua, who is such a kindhearted woman:  “Once a mother, always a mother, he said, his voice reproachful, but Mrs. Hua, knowing the same could be said of him as father, only sighed in agreement.  A child losing her parents became an orphan, a woman losing her husband a widow, but there was not a term for the lesser parents that those who had lost their children became.  Once parents, they would remain parents for the rest of their lives.”  (p.222-223)

Towards the end of the book, Kai remembers something her father used to tell her:  “It takes all sorts to make a world, dragons and phoenixes along with snakes and rats”.  By this time we have met all sorts.  Some of them have broken our hearts.  This is not a book I would have discovered on my own.  I feel very fortunate to have found it.  Thank you!

Other BookSnobs reading The Vagrants, what would you add to the review?

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Finally, you technorati will have seen the hoopla around the bright idea of “One Book on Twitter”—under the #1b#1t tag. Wow, this seems like an opportunity to bring my full BookSnob heat! I get a bit skittish if a book even hits the New York Times Bestseller list (as someone on my site wisely said, if the general population loves it, can it really be that good?) Am I wrong or is a book being voted on by a big mass of people on Twitter an incredibly bad idea? Needless to say, I’m NOT in.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Even though I am a former history teacher, I feel the same way Jazzy does about the power of literature to tell us as much – if not more – about a time and a place than a newspaper or traditional textbook account.

    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you in reading The Vagrants, but I look forward to your next pick.

    Thanks for spreading the word about our Raising Happiness book club. So far the “sign ups” are robust! I’m looking forward to a great discussion.

    April 1, 2010
    • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. And I am looking forward to our Raising Happiness discussion as well!

      April 2, 2010

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