Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Cat's Table


The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje – To be Discussed on Wed June 6, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library





In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat’s Table is a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

Discussion Questions:

1. The epigraph is taken from the short story “Youth” by Joseph Conrad: “And this is how I see the East…. I see it always from a small boat --- not a light, not a stir, not a sound. We conversed in low whispers, as if afraid to wake up the land…. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea.” How does this set up the major themes of The Cat’s Table?

2. How is the voyage itself a metaphor for childhood?

3. Why do you think the opening passages of the book are told in third person?

4. We are 133 pages into the novel before Ondaatje gives us an idea of what year it is. How does he use time --- or the sense of timelessness --- to propel the story?

5. The anonymity of ocean travel and the sense that board ship we know only what others want us to know about them come into play at several points in the novel. What is Ondaatje saying about identity?

6. For several characters --- the three boys and Emily among them --- the journey represents a loss of innocence. For whom does it have the greatest impact?

7. Discuss the importance of some of the seemingly minor characters at the table: Mr. Mazappa, Mr. Fonseka, Mr. Nevil. What do they contribute to the story?

8. “What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power,” the narrator realizes (page 75). “Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.” How does this prove true over the course of the novel?

9. How do the narrator’s experiences breaking and entering with the Baron change his way of looking at the world?

10. Discuss the three boys’ experience during the typhoon. How does it affect their friendship and their attitude toward authority figures?

11. How does the death of Sir Hector factor into the larger story?

12. On page 155, the narrator refers to Ramadhin as “the saint of our clandestine family.” What does he mean?

13. When describing the collapse of his marriage, the narrator says, “Massi said that sometimes, when things overwhelmed me, there was a trick or a habit I had: I turned myself into something that did not belong anywhere. I trusted nothing I was told, not even what I witnessed” (page 203). What made him behave this way? How did it affect his marriage?

14. On page 208, the narrator tells us about a master class given by the filmmaker Luc Dardenne in which “he spoke of how viewers of his films should not assume they understood everything about the characters. As members of an audience we should never feel ourselves wiser than they; we do not have more knowledge than the characters have about themselves.” Why did Ondaatje give us this warning, so far into the novel? What is he telling us?

15. What was your reaction to the revelations about Miss Lasqueti?

16. How do you think her letter to Emily might have changed the events on board the Oronsay? Why didn’t she send it?



17. Miss Laqueti signs off her letter,  “‘Despair young and never look back,’ an Irishman said. And this is what I did” (page 231). What does she mean?

18. Discuss Emily’s relationship with Asuntha. Did she, as the narrator suggests on page 251, see herself in the deaf girl?

19. When Emily says to the narrator, “I don’t think you can love me into safety,” (page 250), to what is she referring? What is the danger, decades after the voyage?

20. The narrator wishes to protect Emily, Cassius has Asuntha, and Ramadhin has Heather Cave. “What happened that the three of us had a desire to protect others seemingly less secure than ourselves?” he asks on page 262. How would you answer that question?

Notes from May 2018 group

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald – Discussed on Wed May 2, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library


Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there's not much else to do in a dying small town that's almost beyond repair.
You certainly wouldn't open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You'd need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy's house is full of them), and...customers.
The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel's own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.
This story started slowly.  The townspeople characters were all unusual but real.  Our group enjoyed the made up Iowa small town (population 637) which seemed believable.  Sara from Sweden was a devoted reader – her life was books.  Within this novel many book titles and characters are mentioned by Sara. She did not relate to people but that changes during the story.  We liked the way the town council people took care of the town’s events, problems, and people.  Felt the story had a Hallmark happy ending.  Our group had very mixed feelings about this book.  Loved that the book included a list of all the books Sara talked about.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend



The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald – To be Discussed on Wed May 2, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library


Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there's not much else to do in a dying small town that's almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn't open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You'd need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy's house is full of them), and...customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel's own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

Discussion Questions

1. Did you enjoy this book? Why or why not?

2. Which characters in the book did you like best?

3. Did any of the characters remind you of yourself or someone you know? How?

4. What aspects of the author’s story could you most relate to?

5. Share a favorite quote from the book. Why did this quote stand out?

6. If you got the chance to ask the author of this book one question, what would it be?

7. What do you think of the book’s title? How does it relate to the book’s contents? What other title might you choose?

8. What do you think the author’s purpose was in writing this book? What ideas was she trying to get across?

9. Did the book’s pace seem too fast/too slow/just right?

10. Compare this book to others your group has read. Is it similar to any of them? Did you like it more or less than other books you've read?

11. What did you learn from, take away from, or get out of this book?

12. Would you recommend this book to a friend?


Notes from April 2018 group


Stella Bain by Anita Shreve - Discussed on April 4, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library

Stella Bain has no memory of her past when she wakes up in a hospital bed in Marne, France. It is 1916, and she wears the uniform of a British war nurse but speaks with an American accent. As soon as she is able, Stella sets out for London, where she hopes to find answers. What she discovers-with the help of Dr. August Bridge, who takes an interest in her case-both shocks and startles. As Stella's memories come racing back, she must undertake a journey across the ocean to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In this gripping historical drama that transports us from Europe to America and back again, Anita Shreve weaves an engrossing tale about love and memory, set against the backdrop of a war that devastated an entire generation.

This was written in an unusual format – narrative voice and letters between the characters.  Was an interesting plot.  Story goes back and forth in time.  We enjoyed the history of the WWI and wished for more history.  This book generated good discussion on women’s rights, the trial, the divorce, family relationships, love etc – we compared 1920’s and current date events.  Overall our group had mixed feelings on this book.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Stella Bain


Stella Bain by Anita Shreve – To be Discussed on Wed. April 4, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library

Stella Bain has no memory of her past when she wakes up in a hospital bed in Marne, France. It is 1916, and she wears the uniform of a British war nurse but speaks with an American accent. As soon as she is able, Stella sets out for London, where she hopes to find answers. What she discovers-with the help of Dr. August Bridge, who takes an interest in her case-both shocks and startles. As Stella's memories come racing back, she must undertake a journey across the ocean to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In this gripping historical drama that transports us from Europe to America and back again, Anita Shreve weaves an engrossing tale about love and memory, set against the backdrop of a war that devastated an entire generation.

Discussion Questions:

1. Did you enjoy reading this book?



2.  Which character was your favorite and why?



3. Would you recommend this book to other people?



4. What do you think of the book’s title? How does it relate to the book’s contents?



5. Does this book seem realistic? Does the content presented accurately represent the time period?



6. If you could rewrite any part or parts of the novel what would they be and why?



7. What did you think of the book’s pace? Was it too fast or too slow?



8. What artist would you choose to illustrate this book? What kinds of illustrations would you include? Discuss scenes that stood out to you while you read.



9. What were some quotes or passages from the book that were your favorite?



10. Which character in the book would you most like to meet?



11. Have you read any other books by Anita Shreve? If so, how did they compare to this novel?



12. If you have not read another book Anita Shreve would you? Why or why not?


Notes from March 2018 group


An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor - Discussed on Wed March 7, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library

Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there. But Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.

At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly.

The older physician has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can't decide if the pugnacious O'Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met or the best teacher he could ever hope for. Through O'Reilly, Barry soon gets to know all of the village's colourful and endearing residents and a host of other eccentric characters who make every day an education for the inexperienced young doctor.

Ballybucklebo is a long way from Belfast, and Barry is quick to discover that he still has a lot to learn about country life. But with pluck and compassion, and only the slightest touch of blarney, he will find out more about life--and love--than he ever imagined back in medical school.

This wholesome story was filled with interesting characters and situations written by a real Irish doctor.  We like the contrast of the old established doctor (Fingal O’Reilly) vs the new rookie doctor (Barry Laverty) in rural Northern Ireland in 1960’s.  We discussed the morning patient office visits then each afternoon they went to on home visits.  The older doctor O’Reilly knew and was concerned for all his patients and sometime used unusual methods to resolve medical / personal conflicts.  Both doctors learned from each other, and admitted when they made a mistake.  Doctor O’Reilly was the soul of the small community and well respected.  The medical experience was so different back then.  Our group really enjoyed this book and some of us will continue reading rest of this series.  Note there is an Irish glossary at the end of this book – helpful to American readers.

Friday, March 2, 2018

An Irish Country Doctor


An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor – To be discussed on Wed March 7, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library

Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there. But Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.

At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly.

The older physician has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can't decide if the pugnacious O'Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met or the best teacher he could ever hope for. Through O'Reilly, Barry soon gets to know all of the village's colourful and endearing residents and a host of other eccentric characters who make every day an education for the inexperienced young doctor.

Ballybucklebo is a long way from Belfast, and Barry is quick to discover that he still has a lot to learn about country life. But with pluck and compassion, and only the slightest touch of blarney, he will find out more about life--and love--than he ever imagined back in medical school.
Questions:
1. Just a few pages into An Irish Country Doctor, its main character, Barry Laverty, speaks of his love for and devotion to Northern Ireland. What do we learn about the soul of the country, by the story’s end? What makes it such a compelling home for Barry, and for Taylor’s other characters? 
2. Barry’s first encounter with Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly is surprising, to say the least. What is your initial reaction to O’Reilly? Does your opinion of him change along with Barry’s as the book progresses? 
3. By many standards, Dr. O’Reilly’s medical practice is often unorthodox. Is he an effective physician? Is he a moral one? Have you ever known a doctor who resembled him? Would you trust O’Reilly with your own medical care? 
4. There are several instances throughout the book in which O’Reilly breaches traditional ethics—in maintaining confidentiality, in telling patients the truth, even in prescribing “tonics”—while caring for his patients. How does Barry react to this? How do those breaches make you feel? Are there ever medical situations like these in which you think the end justifies the means? 
5. An Irish Country Doctor portrays two people who each lost their partner long ago, and who have now platonically shared a home and a life for decades. What do you think makes O’Reilly and Kinky such good colleagues in the running of his practice and his day-to-day life? How do they play off one another’s temperament? At any point in the story, did you wonder why they had never fallen in love with one another? Why has each remained single for so long? 
6. Barry’s first meeting with Patricia seems to have a quality about it of” love at first sight,” of his being smitten by her beauty and she by his slightly awkward charm. Is there more to their attraction than that? Do you think that “love at first sight” can form the basis of an enduring relationship?