Friday, December 2, 2016

Queen of the Court

Book: Queen of the Court - Melanie Howard, Andrea Leidolf

Members present: Lorelei, Linda, Karin, Christy, Cindi, Marie, Denise, Shea

Venue: Abuelo's

Discussion Highlights

The book is a quick, entertaining read. Shea and I had trouble getting into it but it's worth finishing, and it doesn't take that long to read. We couldn't think of many people who were similar to the characters except for one Hungarian player that we all know and love, although Shea said  this was a realistic portrayal of the types of women who played in the country club scene at Va Beach.

The book was interesting from a local perspective in that both authors graduated from UVA and the book was set in NOVA, where tennis players really are as intense as crazy as they were in the book. They also played at River's Edge, which seems like more than a coincidence.

Marie thought there were too many characters and I thought that some of them had such superficial development that I couldn't even remember who they were and had to look them up. Like Sean, Karen's future boyfriend. And Quinn, Bethany's twin. And it took forever for me to get a sense of what Karen was like.

Next Book

Denise has generously volunteered to be our next host. The book is Truevine, by Beth Macy. It's written by a local author, so maybe we can have her as a guest at our next meeting if we're really ambitious. If we do get her, we'll have to be like a real book club and prepare questions and everyone who attends will have to read the book. But we made our goal of 6 books this year, so who knows what we're capable of in the new year? We'll meet again in January, so you may want to consider asking for the book as a stocking stuffer this holiday.

Friday, October 7, 2016

For the Rest of Her Life

Book: For the Rest of her Life - Laura Moriarty

Members present: Christy, Linda, Karin, Sharon

Venue: Veranda Bistro

Discussion highlights:

Everyone liked the book, but everyone (except me) liked "Defending Jacob" better. Linda felt sorry for Leigh because of her insecurity as a parent as a result of her mother abandoning her at 16. Sharon pointed out that the mother seemed envious of her daughter--how easy her life was, her popularity, her confidence. I thought it was interesting that the mother and daughter both perceived the other person as being critical of them when in reality both of them wanted to be loved by the other. I particularly liked the line where the daughter tells her mom that if she had known that if killing someone would make her mom like her she would have done it a long time ago. Karin added that many relationships are ultimately destroyed because people don't communicate how they really feel.

We also discussed the different responses for what the consequences should be for the daughter. That dad wanted her to go through it with as few consequences as possible so that she could start college and play soccer. The mother wanted her to suffer some consequence which seemed to border on wanting her daughter to be punished. Linda pointed out that this made the dad question whether she wanted the best for her daughter. We discussed how, although the daughter felt the same way as the mother, the mother seemed oblivious of this because she was so focused on the daughter liked her. We all felt that her decision not to postpone college was a good one because it would have been difficult to focus on the typical transitional struggles when you've gone through something traumatic.

Linda brought up Leigh's relationship with her own mother--particularly her decision to abandon her at 16 because she never had a life of her own. How the daughter was so hungry for love that she liked the attention from sketchy guys. I brought up how she was so desperate for help that she slept with someone to get him to help her move her bed. Sharon brought up how she tried to convey an air of confidence about this, even though this was her first sexual experience and she was obviously vulnerable to sexual exploitation. We discussed her conversation with her daughter about sex and how it revealed the mom's own insecurities and her daughter's confidence in herself. Sharon thought the daughter might have been lying about how secure she felt, but I thought the daughter was surprisingly emotionally mature for her age and probably did feel like she wouldn't have sex unless she wanted to, which made the mom feel inferior.

We also discussed the difference between Leigh and her sister Pam's response to their mother's "parenting." Although Leigh's life turned out well, she struggled with self-confidence and was sensitive to rejection and abandonment. Pam, on the other hand, had more compassion for the mom and did not hold her failings as a mother against her, even though her life sucked. I thought that highlighted how a traumatic upbringing could impact a person's interpersonal relationships even if the person looked "normal" on the outside.

We also discussed Bethany's mother's attack on the daughter. Linda thought it was good that Leigh was eventually able to connect with the mother in a meaningful way--after stalking her--and the daughter and Bethany were able to correspond, as well. Karin brought up how the mother needed some target, even though they were really all victims. There was a quote in the book about this--how there were no victors, only casualties.

We discussed the dad's relationship with the son and how it was similar to the mother's relationship with her daughter in that they didn't share the same interests and had trouble relating to one another. But we all though it was good that the father eventually made an effort to figure out what his son's interests were so that they could have a connection. I liked the quote about how parents try to give their children what they needed, but their children might need something completely different. Linda liked the quote about how, ideally, parenting is like sending the care packages that Leigh sent her daughter--you put things in it and see if it's what she needs, and if it's not, you change the next care box accordingly.

Next book: 

Our next book is Queen of the Court, by Melanie Howard and Andrea Leidolf. Karin gets extra credit for already having noted this from the last blog post and reading ahead of the syllabus. Linda has agreed to host. Thanks, Shea, for the suggestion!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt

Book: Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman

Members present: Christy, Sarah, Annette, Marie, Karin, Linda, Lorelei, Sharon

Venue: Karin's awesome house at the lake! Best venue in the history of book club.

Discussion highlights:

While the book was, as intended, a much lighter choice after reading A Little Life, many of us thought it was a little too light and didn't warrant much discussion. However, Marie really liked it because she likes happy books, and Annette liked it because it was set in Savannah and it reminded her of all the places she saw when she ran a race down there. Annette also liked the discussion of the restoration of the mansions, many of the ancillary female characters, and the story line about the neighbor and her illicit affair with the police officer. Someone liked the relationship between Cee Cee and Oletta. I liked the adventures of the traveling bra. We compared this book to other books in this genre that we've read in book club--Secret Life of Bees, The Help--and agreed that the treatment of racial issues was more superficially addressed in Saving Cee Cee. We discussed why men play a minor role in this genre but I can't remember if we concluded anything.

Marie also brought up how many families probably had an undiagnosed mentally ill parent. We compared Cee Cee's mom to the mom in Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, which was darker and more complex in its description of what mental illness looks like in a parent. I brought up that meds had only come out in the 50's and were only for the most severe cases, and the only treatment was institutionalization. Whereas now, even with something like autism, people can have a diagnosis but be much higher functioning. So in many of these books, parents were bipolar, alcoholic, etc. but no one knew what to do with them and there was no help available, so they just ended up traumatizing their kids (e.g., Tender at the Bone, Glass Castles). However, Sarah pointed out that Cee Cee was unrealistically well-adjusted, considering that her mom had just committed suicide by walking in front of an ice cream truck, she was abandoned by her dad and forced to move to the South to with a great aunt who she didn't know, and she wasn't even allowed to bring her books! She did have a minor breakdown while picking peaches, but I probably have a breakdown like that whenever I don't have tennis scheduled. But perhaps that says more about my own mental stability!

I'm not exactly sure how this came up, but we also talked about how expensive it is to be present at a Ted Talk, and Sarah gave an interesting review of a Ted Talk on how well children lie: neither parents nor observers were able to discern whether or not children were lying when they said they did not eat a cookie. So beware when a teacher says your child or grandchild did something they shouldn't have and s/he denies it!

Marie discussed how she learned to lie because in Catholic School a nun left the room and when she came back she asked if anyone talked while she was gone and Marie raised her hand and she got hit with a ruler. Lorelei agreed that nuns in Catholic school were mean and shared an anecdote of how her husband engaged in antisocial behavior in order to punish the nuns at his school. Sharon also went to Catholic School and agreed that it was terrible. We also talked about how unnatural it is to be a nun, priest, monk, etc. because many of these books highlight inappropriate sexual behavior that resulted from people in these vocations (e.g., A Little Life).

Linda brought up my conversation with her about my inner infant, and I explained the role of parental attunement in helping a child learn how to label and experience their emotions, which leads to healthy ways of regulating affect, like expressing emotions, versus things like drugs, alcohol, internet, gambling, etc. I have written several blog posts about this, and if you're interested, you can check them out at

Wow! That was actually a lot of deep conversation!

But in all honestly, mostly we ate, talked, and played in the pool. So far, Karin wins the prize for Best Book Club Meeting of the Year.

Next book:

Our next book will be For the Rest of Her Life, by Laura Moriarty, and I will be the host. It is about a teenage girl who accidentally kills another girl from her school while driving. The book is told from the mom's perspective and primarily focuses on the strained relationship she has with her daughter. I have read it and thought it was great. I think it will be interesting to compare it to Defending Jacob because it parallels that book in many ways. I also thought it was interesting that each book demonstrates how males and females cope differently with trauma. So this one may push us out of the remedial category, but we're doing pretty good with our discussions, so I think we're ready!

As a preview of what's ahead, Shea has volunteered to do the last book club meeting of the year and has chosen Queen of the Court, by Melanie Howard. I think it's written by someone locally because it references places like River's Edge. It's along the lines of Skinny Dip and is about a murder that takes place among country club tennis players.  That will take us to my goal of 6 books this year, and if we have our next meeting in September and the following meeting in November, if we're feeling really ambitious we can decide to have an end of the year holiday book party in December, and people can bring books they want to give away.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Little Life

Book: A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Members present: Cindi, Christy, Denise, Shea, Karin, Sharon

Venue: 419 West

Discussion Highlights:

This was an ambitious book that was probably beyond the scope of our remedial book club. Nevertheless, 4 out of the 6 of us read the entire thing--which is no small task, given that it was over 700 pages. Shea and Sharon thought that it was ultimately worth it, but I felt manipulated into reading the whole thing because I wanted to know what happened to Jude and almost stopped reading it several times. And by the end I felt ripped off and concluded that the author is sadistic. I tried to do my usual summary but it was so painful to hear even the cliff notes version that Cindi wanted me to stop. If you haven't read the book because you didn't think you would like it, you were probably right.

Having said all of this, there were some positive things about it. The book is well-written. The length of the book allowed for detailed character development, and there were many characters to develop. The relationship between Willem and Jude was by far the best chapter, even though I was pissed off at the end of it. If I ever met someone like Willem in real life, I will reevaluate my stance on never getting married again. He was that loving. Most of us did not think that Willem was actually gay, but rather that he really loved Jude. The depiction of Jude's grief was particularly good in conveying how painful it is to lose the love of your life.

It was difficult to say what the point of the book was as we tried to summarize it. It's sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy in that everyone dies, but with lots of horrifying trauma described in graphic detail. Sharon could not understand how every single guy he ever met wanted to have sex with him, even as a child. We discussed how, despite the fact that Jude's adult life was filled with success and incredibly loving friends, he was never able to feel deserving of love; the damage that was done could never be undone, and his life was never a happy one. At the same time, he was brilliant and exceptional in many ways, despite his history of trauma, even though he had to rely on excessive self-harm to make life bearable. I was also struck by how well the author was able to convey the complexity of things that seem diametrically opposed but equally true. For example, Brother Luke was clearly a monstrous pedophile and pimp, yet he also taught Jude so many of the things that made him exceptional. Or how the period before his adoption, which was the thing that he had wanted his entire life, was one of the times that he was cutting himself the most because it was so difficult to tolerate something good.

We all think that the author must have had some kind of trauma, or was involved with someone who was severely traumatized, because I'm not sure how you could write this book without knowing what it's like to be that damaged. Karin asked if the book got reviews, and it turns out that the reviews were mixed. There is surprisingly little written on the author. In the book, the author description only says that she lives in New York City. In Wikipedia, it says nothing about her personal life other than that she is of Hawaiian decent, and there is no picture of her. She has another book, but I know I don't want to read it. And if this book is ever turned into a movie, I don't think any of us will go see it. Although I do wonder who they would cast as Jude, because he must have been extraordinarily good-looking.

Next book:

Karin has agreed to host our next meeting, which will be in July at her house at the lake. She has not yet picked a book out, but we all recommended that she choose something lighter and happier.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Girl on the Train

Book: The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Members Present: Terrie, Christy, Gina, Annette, Marie, Karin, Denise, Sharon, Lorelei, Cindi, Lina. (Not in photo: Shea) Record attendance!

Venue: Athens

Book Discussion:

Here is one disadvantages of having almost everyone attend book club and to have it at a restaurant: it's hard for everyone to be in the same conversation. Which means there were 2 discussions going on, not necessarily at the same time, and half of the group discussed the book more than the other did. So even though it would seem that this summary isn't necessary since almost everyone was there, it actually is, because not everyone heard what we talked about.

Some people liked the book and some people didn't. Some found it difficult to get into and others found it to be a quick read. Some found the disjointed, out of sequence style difficult to follow. I thought the style was meant to be intentionally confusing so that you could get a sense of what it was like for Rachel to be drunk, blacked out, and hung over most of the time. In fact, if you appreciated the feeling of being in the character's head, you should check out the movie Memento, which is presented in a similar style and meant to illustrate what it's like to have amnesia.

I don't read many mystery novels, but this seemed to be a pretty good one. Most people didn't realize who the killer was until the very end of the book. Marie said she knew right away because Tom was way too nice. I didn't think he was that nice, since he had an affair and left his wife. I thought it was weird that he killed her because, once he hit her harder than he meant to and she was bleeding to death, he thought it would be easier to just finish the job and try to bury her with his bare hands in the middle of a park. It seems like it would be easier just to leave her for dead and get the hell out of there.

All of the characters were crazy, of course, except for the roommate and the therapist. Linda listened to the book on tape and said that the therapist had a really soothing voice, just as a good therapist should. Several people said that it gave them a better appreciation of how difficult it would be to have an addiction and why it's so hard to get better. I mentioned how Rachel was similar to Alice's sister in What Alice Forgot, who became estranged with Alice after she couldn't get pregnant and began isolating herself from everyone because of her grief. And I hadn't thought of it at the time, but Rachel is similar to Megan, too, in that regard. Megan lost her brother when she was a teenager, and her reckless behavior with men was her addiction to cope with her grief.

The book is being turned into a movie, which is supposed to be released some time this year. The info on it can be found here. Lorelei and I didn't like the casting job, since most of them are British and we don't know who they are, so we took the liberty of doing our own casting for the movie. Since we don't know many actors in their 30's, Lorelei just looked up the 50 hottest actors and we based some of our choices entirely on looks. So even though we still don't know who some of these actors are, at least they look more like we thought the characters would look. Here's who we came up with:

Rachel: Jessica Chastain
Megan: Emma Stone
Scott: Chris Helmsworth
Tom: Ryan Gosling
Anna: Margo Robbie
Cathy (roommate): Shailene Woodley
therapist: Ranveer Singh

Next Book:

Linda volunteered to host the next book club. Here is the info on it:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Thanks, Sharon, for the recommendation.

We will aim to meet on Wednesday, May 25 @ 6:30 @ 419 West, so mark your calendars.

Until then, happy reading!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Defending Jacob

Book: Defending Jacob - William Landay

Members Present: Shea, Denise, Christy, Sharon, Cindi, Lorelei. Welcome Lorelei and Shea!

Venue: Hollywood's

Book Discussion:

This is the first time in a long time, and perhaps ever, that everyone read the book. We even had a long and intelligent discussion about it. Perhaps it's because we are still within the 3 week period during which people stick to their New Year's resolutions. In any case, we get an A+ for January!

Sharon started the discussion with some excellent, thought-probing questions. Some of the questions we discussed are whether or not there is a murder gene, whether the parents could have done anything differently, whether the father was becoming violent or just responding the way any normal father would, implications of the father's narcissism and denial, whether we thought Jacob was innocent before the ending, how much people lost sleep over the ending, how people felt about the mother's behavior, and whether or not people liked the book. Most people did not believe that murder can be inherited. We were mixed on whether the father was beginning to show his predisposition to violence. Some manifestations of the father's own narcissism were in his superficial evaluation of other people's appearance, the fact that he equated his wife's goodness with her attractiveness, that he continued to see himself as the expert teaching his apprentice how to do an examination, even as he was on the witness stand, and his level of denial and deception in hiding his family history, throwing away the weapon, refusing to see what his son was really like. The wife's behaviors of throwing the knife in the lake and trying to kill Jacob and herself were things that no one saw coming. Most people were shocked by the ending and found it troubling, and most people liked the book.

We also discussed how, because some people have grown up on social media, they do stupid things like confess to crimes, or accuse people of murder, or write "fictional" accounts of how they have committed a murder, not realizing that this information can be used against you.

Cindi reflected how we probably have all been in the kind of denial the father was in, albeit to a lesser degree. I added that I know I was in my first marriage, which, fortunately, at least didn't end in murder. In reference to Jacob's predisposition toward violence, I talked about antisocial personality disorder and how there is no cure for it. I also recommended "The Gift of Fear," by Gavin DeBecker, which discussed men who have similar dispositions and how women can protect themselves from them. I also gave some details in Cho's case, the student responsible for the mass shooting at VT, as a way to illustrate how there is often a lot of denial that goes into the events that lead up to a bad outcome, so the parents were not doing anything differently from what most people do.

Sharon and Denise discussed a similarly disturbing book called "The Room" that closely parallels the kidnapping of the girls by the guy in Cleveland. This book has also been turned into a movie, which they both thought would be difficult to do.

The movie for Defending Jacob is in development. No release date has been set.

Noteworthy News:

Gina got the job at RCC, and I proposed to her so that I could reap the benefits of her membership there, since NDor is closing. No wedding plans are in the works since she needs to get divorced first. She wasn't actually present at the meeting, so this is a good illustration of how we will talk about you if you don't show up. Since Gina is aware of this, she texted me after book club to find out what we said about her, because she is smart. Be like Gina. But not Lorelei, because apparently she hates everyone, which you probably already know if you are friends with her on FB.

We actually didn't gossip that much because our discussion of the book was so long, so the rest of you can relax, although I recommend that you show up in the future.

Next Book:

Denise has volunteered to host the next book club and has chosen "The Girl on the Train," by Paula Hawkins, which is of the same genre as "Defending Jacob." She has chosen the new Greek restaurant downtown. I have never been there so I don't know what is called but am excited about using book club to try out new restaurants! We will meet in March so that we can meet our goal of reading 6 books this year.