Category: book club (page 1 of 8)

Dubliners

DublinersFor the past two years, I’ve been part of a wonderful book group, which started life as a small group ministry through my church. Even though I was (by far) the youngest member of this group, I felt welcomed with open arms by all of these lovely people. During the past many months, we’ve all shared a bit of our lives while sharing our joy of books and literature. They were there when my grandfather died, when I lost my job and when Boston faced a week of fear and uncertainty after the marathon bombings.

So, naturally, it was bittersweet to attend my final book group meeting a few weeks ago. The group will continue on, and I’ll be there in spirit. For my last meeting, we read James Joyce’s Dubliners in my honor.

Dubliners is Joyce’s ode to Irish nationalism, with its realistic, earthy portrayals of the emerging Irish middle class at the beginning of the 20th century. These 15 short stories all center on characters experiencing a moment of revelation or understanding, a moment when they realize something integral to their lives. As a whole, the book flows from childhood to adulthood, with each story progressing along life’s journey. Joyce’s prose is simple and spare – no unnecessary words, no superfluous adjectives, just pure, straightforward, every-day language. Most of all, Dubliners is grounded in a distinct place and time. It’s Dublin, Ireland, at the turn of the century.

Most of the stories revolve around characters who feel trapped in some way by their routine, mundane life. Many characters have moments when they were looking out a window, literally yearning for the life on the other side. Many of the characters also experience a feeling or desire to escape, to have some grand adventure. In some cases, the adventure turns out to be a disappointment. In others, they are held back by their own fears, unable to take that first step. 

(It seemed fortuitous that we read this book at this time, as I had similar feelings of needing a big change, which in turn led me to my own upcoming trans-Atlantic move.)

Among the stories, one of my favorites was “Araby.” In this tale, a young boy is in the throes of first infatuation, as he believes himself in love with a friend’s older sister. Eager to prove his love and his worthiness, he devises a scheme to attend a local bazaar and bring her home a treat. Alas, reality has a way of sometimes encroaching on our dreams and the boy’s actual experience at the bazaar is bitterly disappointing. Though somewhat melancholy, “Araby” perfectly captures the high of young love and youth, and the inevitable let down when real life creeps in.

I’ve read Dubliners before, as many an English major has, but I enjoyed revisiting it as an adult and as a soon-to-be resident (albeit a visiting one) of the Emerald Isle. Joyce often gets most of his praise and attention for his long-form novels, including Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, but Dubliners remains his love song to the ordinary, every-day Irish and it’s as lovely and as sad as it was when I first read it.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the KingIn the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, Alan Clay is hoping for a miracle. Facing bankruptcy and the inevitable decline of his career, Alan is in Jeddah to pitch an IT contract for a city that hasn’t even been built yet – and may not ever. The King Abdullah Economic City was touted as a brand new way of living, but very little of that promise has been realized. Alan, however, is optimistic. He just needs a chance, one chance, to reclaim his place in a world that seems determined to keep moving on without him.

When I first heard the synopsis for Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King, I was intrigued – the premise sounded like it had a lot of potential, so I lobbied for my book club to read it. And now that I have, I’m not quite sure what to make of Eggers or his novel.

My biggest struggle with A Hologram for the King was in figuring out the tone of the book. I was never exactly sure if I was supposed to find Alan tragic or comedic, and as a result, I couldn’t figure out how to “read” the book and its messages. I’ve only read one other of Eggers’ books, so it might simply be that I’m unfamiliar with his work and writing style, but there was something that felt flat and disconnected about this novel, much as Alan is disconnected with reality. Eggers’ writing is spare and serviceable, sparse in a way that reflects the story’s desert landscape, and while I prefer this kind of writing to overly ornate or flowery writing, it also made it hard to gauge the tone Eggers was going for. Sure, the book is well-written, but it’s written in a way that I never really “got” what Eggers was trying to convey.

Another difficulty I had when reading A Hologram for the King was the fact that I didn’t particularly like Eggers’ main character, Alan. I did feel some pity for him, but I never summoned enough sympathy for him to care about the outcome of his presentation to the king. I was endlessly frustrated by his seeming lack of understanding (of his situation, the people around him, Saudi Arabia as a country, etc) and I wasn’t sure if his ignorance was deliberate or just unfortunate. By the end of the novel, I wanted Alan to show more fight, more creativity and more initiative. That he kept waiting in vain, even when it was clear things were not going to work out for him, annoyed me, because he clearly kept choosing to be passive and reactive, instead of active.

A Hologram for the King is essentially an entire story about waiting: Alan, his time, the KAEC, even the country are all waiting for something. And, as the reader, I spent the entire time reading this book waiting for something more to happen – and it never did. I especially kept waiting for some signs of development in the secondary characters, but for whatever reason, Eggers never did expand upon their personalities. With maybe the exception of Yousef, the secondary characters (particularly the younger members of Alan’s team) never move beyond bland, stock characters and they never really become anyone other than just a piece in Alan’s story.

I’ve read a few reviews for A Hologram for the King which refer to the novel as a reflection of our times, a snapshot of America in decline and the rise of globalization. While I can see glimpses of that, if that’s what Eggers was indeed trying to convey, the overall book just wasn’t something that engaged me. With its indeterminate tone and a main character I never came to care for, A Hologram for the King just didn’t work for me.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Word of the Week (145)

Dictionary145, bookworms. We’ve come a long way since Word of the Week started all those months ago and now I’m just five words away from 150. I’m thinking of doing something fun to celebrate – any ideas. Today’s also got a bit of a twist: it’s the first time I’m using the same sentence from the previous week, only this time, I’m highlighting a different word. I don’t believe I’ve used the same example sentence twice before, so Word 145 has a bit of history to it as well.

Intimation (“in-tuh-may-shun”)

Noun; from Dictionary.com:

1. The act of intimating; making known indirectly
2. A hint, or suggestion

Harold attempted a jocular tone that would act, he hoped, as an intimation that now was not the time to stop. (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce)

Every time I see intimation on the page, my mind wants to read “intimidation,” but while those words share many of the same letters, intimation is a word all its own. With Medieval French and Latin roots, today’s word stems from the word intimatio, which meant “an announcement” (and, more specifically, an announcement related to the law or judicial proceedings). While it’s root word implies a direct communication, today’s definition of intimation means just the opposite: it is not direct or obvious, but rather round-about and subtle.

Your turn, bookworms – What might your intimation look like, when you’re trying to get a friend or family member to read a book they might otherwise resist?

[Photo Credit: Google Images]

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