Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Little Bee & December

Let's start a discussion about Little Bee. Randomly one thing I want to mention is how Charlie's English seemed a little contrived to me. His grammar was almost TOO wrong. Wasn't it a bit annoying? Hmm ... I just wanted to open up discussion but I don't know exactly what to discuss.

Also, any suggestions for December's book? I'll look into it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

November's Book?

Ok, now the book club is really re-kindled ... bc there are only three of us left! I don't mind -- quality, not quantity!

I wanted to suggest the book 'Little Bee' for this month -- I read the sample and was intrigued by it -- the description (or lack thereof) online is really strange, but if you guys are cool with it, we can do this book. I'm going to read it regardless this month, so let me know if there's something else you'd much rather do instead.

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: The publishers of Chris Cleave's new novel "don't want to spoil" the story by revealing too much about it, and there's good reason not to tell too much about the plot's pivot point. All you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple--journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday--who should have stayed behind their resort's walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn't explain to the girls from her village because they'd have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day--with the right papers--and "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Where you have to give up the safety you'd assumed as your birthright if you decide to save the girl gazing at you through razor wire, left to the wolves of a failing state. --Mari Malcolm

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hangman's ... Daughter?

A book like the Hangman's Daughter makes me think that I could write a bestselling novel. That being said, it was really easy to get through and I guess I stayed somewhat engrossed, but I have many issues with it.

First of all, the character Jakob Kuisl started off really awesome, especially with that prologue that gave you an understanding of his trauma associated with being a hangman. But that's practically where his characterization ended. I would have expected him to be this stoic, introverted guy that has a soft side, but by the end, he was just this suave, cool, friendly guy. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it just seemed cheesy.

Then there's the fact that the 'suspense' wasn't really a suspense at all and I figured out (as you all probably did or will) who the culprit was. So you're basically waiting until the characters figure it out. And it's not like it's that exciting of a twist or anything, even if you didn't catch on to it.

This also reminds me of what my mom always says about Indian movies, that after all the action is done, the characters verbally explain to you what just happened, as if you didn't get it through all the action. The dialogues are so cheesy and childish like, "Oh my god, so the mastermind of this operation was you all along! I had no idea!"

Anyway, I feel like maybe I should write a suspense novel that isn't that suspenseful or interesting and maybe I can give up my astronomy career and make millions off of some sub-par novel.

Speaking of which ... why is this book named The Hangman's Daughter?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Book?

Can we please decide on a book? Otherwise it'll be me, Antara, and Ferah deciding. If you have suggestions, or opinions on the books that have been brought forth, please reply by tomorrow, Friday, September 2nd at 5 p.m.

My vote is for The Imperfectionists.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Month Off?

Since this book club is starting to consist of only me and Antara, should we take this month off and hope for a fresh start in September? Antara, at least you and I can discuss Stranger in a Strange Land since we're both reading it and it'll keep the book club alive in essence.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Member ... welcome!!

I wanted to welcome Sarah Ballard to the book club! Since we're close to the end of July, I thought this would also be a good time to suggest books for August. I suggest the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. The synopsis is below. Of course, please suggest other books and please remember to finish reading and start blogging about This Is Where I Leave You ... otherwise this book club will really be a Bhardwaj Sisters Book Club (BSBC).

Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth's cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Some answers...

My answers were too long to post in a comment so I had to make a new post:

Hahahhaa I agree that Phillip is also my favorite character but felt a little bad that I was 'falling for' the biggest failure of the family (which says a lot, coming from that family). Definitely endearing and a great sense of humor. I loved that he had no qualms about saying what was on his mind, like "so, what? you're lesbo now, mom?"

I agree that there were a lot of questions but it was meant to be answered by all of us and you tackled the first three pretty well. I'll respond to some of the other ones --

7) I found all the relationships in the book very different from each other, yet a lot of them seemed to work. After Judd reminds Alice that she has a great relationship with Paul and that should mean something to her, I realized how that was very true. Out of all the couples we had seen, they seemed like the most stable.

I never actually felt bad for Wendy for how badly her husband treated her because it seemed like that what she wanted out of life-- stability, money and a family. She seemed strong enough to opt out of it and obviously didn't feel confined in the relationship enough to be faithful, so I don't really pity her much.

Jenn and Wade just seemed like Jenn going through a midlife crisis and wanting to be with the celebrity to add some excitement in her life. Judd's exploding tirade to Wade was totally on point about how he was hoping for a miscarriage so that he wouldn't have to be the stepfather, etc.

Hillary and Linda, hmmm, well I don't think I can fully understand non-heterosexual relationships but in terms of the phase of life that they were in, it seemed like a nice companionship. They were such good friends and there for each other during trying times (Horry's accident, etc.) that it has the elements of a stable relationship, just a little weird that she started it before her husband died and that she all of a sudden became bisexual?

As Antara said, in the beginning you don't know much of Jenn's side of the cheating but it makes sense that a death of a baby, albeit unborn, would cause a rift between a couple. Then the problem is, my biased view of early marriages not being a good idea comes in the way for me to think that it really wouldn't have worked out even if it wasn't for the baby's death.

So to answer this question ... lasting -- Hillary/Linda (maybe because they're old enough that they won't want to venture away from something good), realistic (although unfortunate, according to me) -- Wendy/Barry. I think insurmountable problems -- Phillip/Tracy. I guess this is obvious since she breaks up with him but, I think it's a woman's fatal flaw to see potential in a man and want to bring that out, and Tracy saw that potential in Phillip and wanted to bring it out. Unfortunately it's up to the person themselves to make themselves a better person, and Tracy couldn't change Phillip. He would have to do that on his own, if ever he wanted to change.

8) I do think the Foxman family was a likeable group mostly because they don't think before they speak and are honest, which can sometimes be refreshing. Also, when it comes down to it, they all have 'good hearts' (for lack of better words), and good intentions.

Phillip was my fave, as I said before, mostly because he was the funniest and most uninhibited in his dialogue, but also because underneath it all, he wasn't dumb and he knew that he was a f--- up but wanted to change that. (or so I hope ... as a woman, of course I want to believe that)

I can't say any of the characters were that awful. Alice was kind of out of hand but she redeemed herself when she apologized to Judd and agreed with him when he showed her how she had a good relationship with Paul.

I think I really like what transpired between Paul and Judd. I thought it was really big of Paul to say sorry for being mad for so long and that being angry wouldn't help either one of them even though really, Judd was the asshole. I think that was the most 'senti' situation between the family members, what do you think?

Sorry, I don't think this post was that eloquent but there was a lot to say. Anyway, I enjoyed the book a lot!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I leave you ... with questions.

I'm preemptively posting some discussion questions on This Is Where I Leave You.

  1. Discuss Judd Foxman, the novel's protagonist, from his very ironic and dry sense of humor (shared also by his brothers and sister), to his anger and vulnerability regarding his wife's infidelity, to his conflicted emotions regarding his immediate family. What was your first impression of the protagonist/narrator of this novel? What did you find the most engaging aspect of his character? Did you find any aspect of him off-putting?

  2. What was your first impression of Judd's wife, Jen? Because you see her almost entirely from Judd's perspective, was there any chance to see her as a sympathetic character before Judd finds her so? Do you think that Judd and Jen have a chance at salvaging their relationship, with or without a baby girl to raise?

  3. Discuss Judd's mother and her relationship with each of her children. Do you think that Hillary Foxman was truly a bad mother? Was there any real irony in her being a child-rearing guru? What was your opinion of her character?

  4. One of the largest subjects of the book is parenting. Discuss the various parents in the book (Judd and Jen; Wendy and Barry; Hillary and Mort; Linda) and consider the statement (or statements) that Tropper makes about the responsibilities of a parent to his or her child, and, conversely, the responsibilities of a child to his or her parent.

  5. Similarly, what comment is Tropper making about the role of trauma and tragedy in our lives? Almost every character in this book suffers or has suffered: Phillip from his neglected/overindulged childhood; Judd from his wife's infidelity; Horry from his brain damage; Paul from the Rottweiler attack; Wendy from her unhappy marriage; and Alice from her infertility. What does their unhappiness, and the way each person copes with that unhappiness, teach us?

  6. Most of the characters in this novel struggle against living up to an ideal established either by themselves or by a friend, family member, or spouse. Judd fails to be the perfect husband, brother, and son; Jen fails to be the perfect wife; Wendy fails to be the perfect mother and Alice fails to become a mother at all. Mort and Hillary Foxman, it turns out, fail their children spectacularly in some ways while succeeding in others. What do the lives of these characters reveal to us about perfectionism, ideals, and our expectations for ourselves and others?

  7. Also, compare and contrast the various romantic relationships in this book: who, do you think, had the most admirable or lasting relationship? Who had the most realistic one? Who had the most insurmountable problems? (Is there such a thing as an insurmountable problem, especially looking at problems from Phillip's point of view?)

  8. For all of their faults, is the Foxman clan a likeable group of people? What makes them an endearing group of people? Who did you like the most, and who did you find the least appealing, and why? Were there any characters you would have liked to see developed further?

  9. Throughout the book Judd has recurring nightmares that often involve a prosthetic limb. Discuss the way these dreams acted as elements of foreshadowing and symbolism throughout the narrative. Consider, too, how they reflected Judd's emotional state as the novel progresses.

  10. What did you think of Judd's exit at the end of the shiva? Was his disappearance in Phillip's Porsche realistic? Appropriate? Did you find it a satisfying resolution to the book?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July's book?

Hello all ...

Ferah has proposed that each month a different person choose the book, and they are in charge of putting up discussion questions at the end of the month, and leading the discussion, etc. Ferah has kind of done that this month -- CL CL was her selection, and she just posted some discussion questions ... though she still hasn't completed the book yet!!

Priti, since your wedding is at the end of the month, I'm assuming this is not a good month for you to be leading a book club discussion ... so perhaps we can do your book the following month?

Who would like to recommend a book for the month of July? Since there are only 3 weeks left in July, we should choose a quick, light read. If no one has any suggestions I can suggest 'This is Where I leave You,' by Jonathan Tropper. The book is 'a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind -- whether we like it or not.'

Let's plan on locking a book down by Friday, July 8th.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Discussion Questions for CL CL

Hi All,

I thought that since the discussion has super dwindled, I'd post some book club discussions questions to get the conversation going. My paperback copy has some good questions at the back that I'm putting below:

1. When Larry is shot at the beginning of the novel, he is sympathetic to his attacker: "Larry felt forgiveness for him because all monsters were misunderstood." Does Larry consider himself to be a monster? Why isn't he bitter? Could you be as charitable in his position? Do you think he feels the same way at the end of the novel?

2. Talk about both boys' relationships to their mothers. How did their mother's shape them? Were they good sons? What kind of people were their mothers? Why does Silas go see Larry's mother in the nursing home?

3. Silas left southern Mississippi, then returned. Larry never left. Why did they make the decisions they did? What was it about their small town that drew and kept them there? How does place shape the novel? Could this have happened in any small town?

4. At the novel's end, Tom Franklin writes, "The land had a way of covering the wrongs of people." What does he mean by this?

I'm about half way through the book, so I'm not quite ready to answer the questions yet (Yes, I know I've missed this month's deadline- sorry!), but I know that a lot of you are already finished, so start discussing!

Hope you're having wonderful long weekends :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

I know it's still a few days away from the deadline, but I finished this book last week and have to say that this book was totally up my alley. Even the books that the Kindle suggested at the end were all interesting to me, and I'm looking forward to reading a couple of those as well.

When I started this book, I was in the middle of reading 'Game of Thrones,' and then switching over to CL, CL was a total shocker. The author set up the slow-paced life of this small-town in Mississippi so well -- I would sometimes forget that this story was taking place in the modern times. Mentions of 'Google' and 'Blackberry' and 'iPod' felt like anachronisms in this story.

From the get-go, I felt soooo sorry for Larry. It was so unfortunate that he was such a loser to begin with, and that he would be chastised for the rest of his life, by the world that he lived in. It's hard to imagine someone with such a parochial view of the world -- you would think a man that had faced so much hardship in his little hick-ville would have gotten away -- why would he stay there to face the constant humiliation? Especially when his father died and his mother started getting more and more sick.

I'm not sure what brought Silas back either to this town. He obviously had demons he needed to get away from, yet he also came back.

There wasn't a whole lot of plot points (twists & turns) in the book, but it was one of those character growth type stories (coming-of-age of sorts you could say), which are totally my favorite genre of books. Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I was immediately engrossed in the subject and the characters, and the setting he created in this small town. I actually ended up reading 80% of the book in one sitting. And I felt satisfied at the end with however he resolved each characters' story. It's such a shame for Larry, because he lost his entire life, and I can only imagine what kind of anger he feels towards the world that he lives in.

Anyway, would love to hear what others thought of this book. I'd also love to hear people picking up on the references that I never catch on to ... like when Ferah pointed out the reference to leaving your slippers behind in 'Cutting for Stone.' I'm completely blind to that kinda stuff. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Additional Member!

Ferah's friend Sachini has joined our blog!! Ferah, I'll let you do the proper introduction, since I don't know her, but we're excited to have another member join our online forum! 

How's everyone liking Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter so far? 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter for JUNE

Yes, we've finalized a book for June! Let's try to have posts coming as we're reading the book as well, to make it more of an active book club. I'm currently reading 'Game of Thrones,' though it's such a huge book that I haven't even hit the 10% mark yet and I feel like I've been reading forever ... but those of you who start CL CL let me know what kind of read it is, and I might just switch over now, since I don't think i can finish GOT and CLCL in less than a month. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome New Member, and June's book

I'd like to welcome Priti Johari to our Rekindled Book Club!! Priti has just finished an intense 1 yr Master's program at Harvard, and will be getting married next month to her Harvard-professor-fiance (wowsers!) ... and will be joining our book club!

Just wanted to double check on what was the status for our next  book -- 'Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter' by Tom Franklin. When is that supposed to be due by?

Let us know, and let's Rekindle the bookclub again!!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thomas Stone

I realized there's a lot that I could possibly write about with regards to Cutting for Stone but that's an overwhelming thought, so I'll stick to one of the aspects of the book that I really enjoyed.

Earlier this year in the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (ELIC), I was really angry at the grandfather character for picking up and leaving his wife and child and being selfish all through his life. Then I was also annoyed at how he just couldn't get his shit together, for lack of better words, and get over the trauma that caused him to leave. I assumed I would feel the same for Thomas Stone. Throughout the book, although the children were lucky to live a fulfilling life with the love of a mother and father, I still couldn't help but think that Thomas Stone was a failure for leaving his children and running from responsibility.

I'm surprised to say I sympathized with the Thomas Stone character and actually felt that he did come through in the way he could for his children. He wasn't in the mental capacity to take care of two children and probably would have caused them more harm in their childhood than leaving them in the care of Hema and Ghosh. (Well, I'm hoping he at least realized that they would be cared for and didn't leave them with no thought of their safety/well-being at all) In the end, when he does meet Marion, he doesn't shy away from the responsibility. He is awkward but puts in effort to reconnect with his son. He helps Marion's hospital from going under and we find out later that he was an anonymous donor for Shiva's cause back in Ethiopia. He doesn't leave ShivaMarion's side during the liver transplant/death debacle.

Somehow his inability to get over the Sister's death was also justified in my mind. I guess his history of the mother that died in his arms and not being able to say anything to Sister about loving her before she died was enough to push him over the edge. I am glad though, that Marion chose to tell Thomas about the letter when he found it, to give Thomas solace that he did come through for Sister in her eyes. It was almost better in terms of their relationship that she died than just left him -- ok maybe it made for a better story the fact that she did die. Hmm...what would have happened, do you think, if she hadn't died and had left Stone with that note and left Missing with the children unborn still?

Friday, May 20, 2011

80% through ... getting there!

I just wanted to give my mid-book comments -- don't read this unless you're more than 80% of the way through!!

Only at the 60% mark did I finally start somewhat enjoying the book. It was the first time since I started this book that I would actually seek out my Kindle in downtime. Then slowly I've started seeking out downtime to read because I'm finally interested in the story.

The turning point for me was the whole Marion-Genet-Shiva triangle. Marion's love for Genet was very cute & sweet, and Genet was a case where you can see how her circumstances led her so far astray from what she could have been (like what Marion envisioned for their life to be, and what she chose for it to be). And it's interesting how Marion links that one evening when Shiva slept with Genet to be the start of the downward spiral of events in Genet, and ultimately his life. Well, not that it's downward for him, but the fact that he had to become a political refugee of Ethiopia.

I'm currently at the part where he's in America, and he's already met Thomas Stone (that was an exciting moment!). They've realized that neither of them have the letter that was mentioned in the bookmark, neither does Shiva or anyone back in Missing. And I think Marion's finished his internship or something; he doesn't have much contact with Thomas Stone anymore.

I'll definitely finish the book, probably early next week... I'm busy today and tomorrow with 'Ramayana' and I'll finish it right after that. Thanks for forcing me to keep reading!

Can't wait to read the rest of your comments when I'm done -- Ferah, I haven't read your post yet bc I don't want any spoilers. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cutting through my thoughts

Sorry, my hand accidently published my post when it wasn't ready. Sorry for that premature email!

First- my dad met the author earlier this week! He said that he was a really great speaker and was very interesting to speak to. I asked if my dad could pull strings and somehow get us to speak with the author. We'll see what happens.

Ok, now onto the real thoughts. For Antara, as of Saturday morning, I was only 18% of the way through the book, but managed to finish at 9 pm last night. So my words of wisdom to you is that after about 45% (pg 300), the book gets really fast and sucks you in! So please, please stick with it! I really, really liked this book. I was sniffling on the plane last night as I finished it- the plot was so poignant and touching and I felt really invested in the characters.

One theme that really resonated with me was the idea of always having your 'slippers' with you no matter how far you traveled in life. I liked that slightly more positive way of describing the baggage that you travel with through life. The term baggage has such a negative connotation, but the way (in the story Ghosh tells Marion) slippers are described, it's less negative and more the idea of lessons and memories that you always carry with you.

The character development and character relationships developed were absolutely fantastic- I felt like I was getting to know real, three-dimensional human beings who I had a vested interest in. I went from liking to hating certain characters (Genet) and from hating to liking certain characters (Stone) and the way the understanding of each character, and how your mind was changed was done is such a believable, subtle way, just like you may have a gut reaction to someone you've met, but as you get to know them, your mind changes (or stays the same).

I found Shiva to be such an enigmatic character. He frustrated me with his didactic, logical outlook in life (I want to have sex, so I'm going to have it with whomever). He seemed so seperated from emotion and saw emotion as an outsider. I really enjoyed watching him transform to better understand emotion and Marion, when he felt the need to donate part of his liver to Marion. That idea brings me to the theme of ShivaMarion which was SO well played- they were one entity as children, and you thought you saw them growing apart into seperate entities and the book ties it back together (even their seperation) for you to realize that they're still one entity even in Shiva's death. They really were mirror images- one logic, one emotion, one who tried hard at all things, one who never really tried except at what he wanted. Together they made one whole, though they functioned well apart. It was just so beautifully done- the arc was perfect.

Ghosh was my favorite character, I think. I want him to be my father! I had SUCH heavy boots when he died.

Anyway, getting hungry now, but will post more. I have so much to say. Despite it's rough start for me, I must say this is my favorite of the books we've read for book club!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cutting progress

Hey everyone, just wanted to get a sense how we were doing on 'Cutting for Stone?' I've just started part 2 ... it's too slow of a read for me. I'm not hating it, but I just find the detailed description of five million characters really tedious, and this far into the book, and I still have no idea what the story is about.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I prolly won't be done with it by the end of the month, but will continue reading to try to finish it. There better be a twist or something.

I've also heard of this series called 'A Game of Thrones' on which they have recently made an HBO series that is supposed to be fantastic. I'm going to read the sample of that, and if it looks good, we could possibly do that for our next book? Let me know if anyone has heard anything about it.

And yes, Vaish, we should discuss the Hunger Games on our blog.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I suggest that once Charitha is done w/ the Hunger Games Trilogy, we blog about it too since most of us have just recently read it. I also personally can't get enough of talking about it so it would be fun to discuss random topics.

Alice I have read finale post ;)

So after much fanfare for my thoughts about the past books. Here it is:

I really enjoyed reading Alice I have Been. It was a fun read and the author kept you interested throughout. Granted, that the world at the time was all Victorian and about purity, which if you were to think about it, gives women even more to gossip about over tea.

I thought that Mr. Dodgson was a little dodgy, but at the same time men at the time were not to show their affection to their wives or their children in public, he was different. He also did not have a wife, so I believe that gave him a little more leeway with women in society. I want to believe that he wasn't necessarily pedophile, but more intrigued on her innocence in the world and in life and enthralled by that more than anything. It was really sad that her mother and her sister always tries to chastise her ways, but I feel underneath they both wished that they could be more like Alice. Alice's older sister drove me up the wall, even when they were old ladies, not sure how you all felt about it.

I felt really sad for Alice when she finally realized she loved her husband cause it was a little late. It also reminded me a little of Hum Dil De Chuke Hain Sanam- yes, I had to bring in the Bollywood connection.

Had I written this immediately after I had finished the book, I would have a little more depth to the post, I do apologize for procrastinating. I would love to get a glimpse of society and its norms when Alice was growing up to get a better idea of her story and fully understand the implications of being an innocent child getting caught up in adult gossip. On the other hand, it still happens today, so really society hasn't really changed much since Alice's time.

I've already ready Cutting for Stones, which I did enjoy. I'll start commenting on everyone else's thoughts as you progress through the book.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

April's Decision

Ferah, Antara, and I agreed that Cutting for Stones would be a good book for next month. Since Neha doesn't ever contribute to the blog, she has relinquished her rights to have an opinion. Also, we can't change it now because Ferah already bought the paper copy on Amazon.

Antara, Ferah mentioned a book called The Help by Kathryn Stockett which she has already read and really enjoyed and recommended it to us as a second book, if we finish early.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Garlic & Sapphires Progress?

I'm over half way through Garlic & Sapphires, and I know we were supposed to be done with that book by Thursday. Just wanted to get a sense if anyone else was reading it.

Also, suggestions for next month's book -- Vaishali & I had seen an interesting book from Oprah's Book Club called 'Say You're One of Them,' a collection of not-so-short stories:

Let me know what you guys think!

Alice I have liked

Alice as the Gypsy girl

Interesting -- two for two where I have the complete opposite taste as Charitha in a book.

Well, I'm glad both you and Ferah responded to the book, as me and Vaish were starting to get depressed that the book club had turned into BSBC (Bhardwaj Sisters' Book Club) ... but, no! We have real members!

Charitha, I agree with you that it was really disappointing when the spunky 7 year old grew into the conservative teenager. But I didn't feel disappointed with the author, but to me it was just a reality of what societal pressures do to you. She would find herself worrying about those same things that her mother and sister had always wanted her to be aware of, which she thought were totally frivolous when she was 7. I didn’t think it was her taking the incident ‘lying down,’ but more that she didn’t even fully understand what the incident was. And then part of her realized that if she told her mother that Mr. Dodgy was innocent in the kiss – that would mean that she, Alice, was the guilty party … and she was smart enough to realize that THAT would not make the situation any better for her. So it was better to let them think that Mr. Dodgson had victimized her, rather than her being the aggressor … it’s like a kid thinking they’ll get in trouble if their parents find out that they broke the expensive lamp … so just let them think that the dog knocked it over (sorry to compare Mr. Dodgson to a dog, lol).

Ferah, I hadn’t actually seen the gypsy girl photo the entire time when reading the novel, Vaish showed it to me just the other day. And I didn’t even realize that these were real people – I thought it was the author’s imagination to create a ‘real Alice’ and ‘real Lewis Carrol,’ although I believe a lot of it was fictionalized. And I don’t think my Kindle had these author’s notes you were talking about??  I can believe that the Victorian era viewed children in a different way as compared to what we’re seeing this as … having said that, I think it was always presumed that Mr. Dodgson’s interest in Alice was a little extraordinary – which was why it fueled such anger in her older sister and the nanny as well. Her older sister was a right twat (said in a British accent).

I liked watching her transition into a young woman, and especially liked the romance with the Prince, though I was really irritated with her that she succumbed to Mr. Ruskin’s blackmail to take ‘art classes’ with him. I actually found her a little less interesting as an adult, because I guess at that point I kind of felt like ‘Shouldn’t you have already gotten over your insecurity about the Dodgson issue?’ But for her, it shaped so much of her life, and she never confronted it … always skirted around it. I liked the scene when she went back to visit Mr. Dodgson with her three sons. I thought it was tragic how she viewed this man as an adult, as compared to how perfect he seemed to her when she was 7. And I felt her anger when Mr. Dodgson didn’t see that Alice turned out all right. I also felt particularly angry towards Mr. Dodgson when he said something to the effect of ‘Do you see why I don’t like little boys?’ He was saying something about how they have to grow into being young men … but to me it just reminded me of his weird pedophilia all over again.

I think the quote about stealing her Wonderland, was really on point. He stole a part of her life by exposing her in those photos, and she inexorably became scarred from Dodgson’s presence in her life. But I think she did the same for him. Her advances towards him also scarred him – because he was also chastised by this influential family, and I think he turned into a sad, lonely person after that whole incident. What I found interesting is that Alice mentioned that her mother begged Alice’s father to fire Dodgson from the University, but he never did … and Alice never understood why. I wonder … was this a chauvinistic thing where the father did not feel the pain or importance of the ‘stain’ on Alice’s character caused by this incident … or was there a part of him that seriously doubted that all that had happened was as dramatic as the ladies were making it out to be?

Anyway, I did really enjoy the book – more than I had expected. But it’s interesting to hear the certain things I liked about the book are the exact same things that you didn’t like in the book!

Comments on Alice I Have Been

Hello from Inds!

I can't get it together while I'm here to write a full post (and also, to be honest, I didn't truly enjoy the book) but I have to say that Ferah is right, the Reader's Guide is really important! It was my favorite part of the whole book.

I think my problem with the book is summarized in Ferah's paragraph about Alice being the victim and thinking she is plagued by misery all the time. I felt that in the first section, I liked Alice (as a child) - she was funny and spunky. When it skipped to 10 years later, as a young adult, I felt that she had lost that fire; it seemed out of character to me that she had taken the whole issue with Mr. Dodgson lying down (no pun intended!) instead of fighting for the truth. I understand that later she accepts this as the shortcomings of a child who was anxious to stay out of trouble, but it just wasn't believable to me. I did like the older Alice; the stories about her sons were the most enjoyable -- the reactions she had to losing them seemed the most real and touching. I loved the story about finding her middle son on the floor in the library, trying to read Alice in Wonderland.

I did feel that the author did a great job of flushing out the characters - I hated the older sister, sometimes the mother, definitely Mr. Ruskin, and loved the prince, etc. But I did think the plot was a little thin. I remember reading the back cover and the book was described as having a bit of a mystery, and I just felt the "mystery" was a total disappointment. We spent the whole book wondering what actually transpired between her and Mr. Dodgson that would ruin two lives so fully...and it was just a kiss that was described earlier in the novel?

I don't think I'm being particularly eloquent at this time with points about why I had issues with the book. I will revisit it later. But I do remember reading that both Vaishali and Antara liked the book, so I want to hear some good things about the book from you guys! Maybe I can look at it in a new light.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I finally finished...

Sorry all, I got frustrated in the middle of the book and slowed down... so I just finished the book on the plane ride home two days ago. Now I've had time to process and here's my attempt to put together my feelings about this book:

First, I wanted to address the 'dodgy-ness' of the dodgson photos. In the afterword by the author, she says, "it's very difficult for some modern readers to look at the photographs taken by Dodgson... without seeing something off, if not downright disturbing. I admit that was my first reaction..." which I think echoes a lot of what we felt when we read about the gypsy girl photo, and felt again when Ruskin possessed the photo of young Alice. The author says, "we need to remember that photography in the 1850s was a very new, very exciting phenomenon" and that because of how long a subject had to stay still, photographs of children were "more highly prized." And since they were highly prized, it is not surprising that someone such as Ruskin would want a photograph of a young girl. While I understand the author's point, I think the dodgy feeling we all got not came from a child being the subject, it was Alice's state of undress that brought on the heeby-jeebies. The author tries to justify this by saying, "our modern minds have difficulty understanding the Victorian era's fascination with children, in a largely ethereal manner... the idea that children's unformed bodies reflect the purest, most idealistic representations of humanity" and goes on to say that the naked child is more like an angel than a sexualized being. This did convince me that the photography was not sketchy and in fact a reflection of the times and soothed the awkwardness that had been nagging me.

In Victorian era novels, what always seems to bother me is the idea of who to blame for whatever fall from grace the woman subject suffers. In Tess of the D'Urberville's it was her "rape" and here it is the kiss in the train/gypsy photo that is ultimately Alice's "destruction." In both books, it tired me endlessly that there was no responsibility on the part of the woman for her actions and role in the fall from grace. For Tess, it was always unclear what happened for most of the book but somehow she was with another man- and she took no responsibility for it. Some argue she was raped, by my readings were always that it was sketchier than that, and that she was not truly purely the victim. Additionally, everything henceforth for her was suffering and her life was the worst and there was never going to be recovery. There was never a stage of acceptance and moving forward- it was always misery. That said, for a large portion of this book, especially the prince leopold section, I had the same problem. Alice was miserable because of some childhood transgression she couldn't (or wouldn't- i'll get to that later) remember. She was a victim of her times and a pure soul that had terrible misfortune showered on her. I got extremely annoyed at her self-pity which is why I slowed down reading, and had to put the book away for a little while. When I finally finished, I was actually really happy at how the author made her accept and move forward! It was what I was looking for- she says at one point, "I had taken his wonderland, and then he had taken mine" (or something similar, I can't find the page right now) and that was the moment she realized that she had a role in her misfortunes and accepted it. That really redeemed the book for me, and with that resolution, I actually can say that I enjoyed the book.

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the interplay between what were her memories and what was wonderland. I liked that she met the Peter of Peter Pan and told him, "I suppose at some point, we have to decide which memories to hold on to, and which ones to let go." I think that this was a parallel way for the author to demonstrate Alice's growth and ability to acknowledge her role in her life's misfortunes, accept it and try to move on. The idea of choosing what to remember and what to hold on to or let go of is important because it is the way you come to peace.

In the reader's guide the author discusses what was fact and fiction- if you can, I'd highly recommend reading that because I found it rather interesting how much fact was woven into this tale! Anyhow, that's all for now- I have more but it's jumbled... I'll revisit the blog in a few days to write more, if I can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mr. Dodgson ... dodgy or no?

I'm writing this post with some random thoughts that came up while reading the questions Antara posed.

I found it interesting that the parents allowed Alice to hang out w/ Mr. Dodgson so often, so freely. If back then, marriage really happened between much older men and much younger women, I would expect there not to be this interaction as much. Granted Alice was only 7-11, Ina was a bit older, but maybe this is a non-issue. The way they dealt with the situation was very similar to how I would have expected Indian people in today's age to deal with some awkward situation like this.

**Spoiler Alert**

I think the part that really struck me was the end though, when you find out that it was Alice who initiated the kiss and that it really, to me, just seemed like an infatuated 11 year old's mistake. I can't help but think these result from "daddy issues" since Alice really received no attention and love from either of her parents. At least she had an interaction with her mother, but it seemed that there was barely any interaction from her father.

Overall, I thought the whole situation, including what came to be major events in her life, was depressing because it was 'ruined' because of some childish mistake. Granted there is the part that she was a bit self-pitying with never loving her husband because she had loved Leopold and lost him. But partly, I think the reason she was so self-pitying is because she felt like it was out of her control. If I may compare with the last book (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), although those characters were also pitying themselves, I felt their decisions were much more dramatic and caused pain to others. For example, the grandfather left his wife and child, whereas Alice never did anything outwardly selfish to her family. She just wasn't able to feel the love towards her husband as much as she could due to the damage caused by external events.

However much Dodgson was kind of a creeper with his awkward picture taking, I tend to think he didn't have completely disgusting intentions. Maybe I'm just trying to see the positive in this, though.

It'd be nice to get a response to the thoughts I just shared, but if not, I'll leave you with the question ... was Mr. Dodgson a certified pervert or were his actions misinterpreted?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Alice I have Been

I finished reading Alice I Have Been about 10 days ago, but wanted to wait so that it was closer to the 15th to start the discussion. I really enjoyed this book -- probably one of the rare books that Vaishali and I are agreeing upon. 
I'm in the middle of professional chaos these days, so don't really have time to write about it, and I thought it would be nice for someone other than myself to start the topic ... so I'm not going to talk abt it in detail, but here are a list of questions I found on the website for the book. 
If we had an actual book club (and not just a virtual one!) then we could've had the author join the book club discussion!
Anyway, we can choose whichever questions seem interesting, or discuss things on our own. 

  1. What social forces motivate each of the characters to deny Dodgson's inappropriate attention to Alice?
  2. Alice became famous through no fault of her own. Can you come up with a modern day version of Alice? How do their lives compare?
  3. Alice refuses to read Alice in Wonderland until she is well into her eighties. Why do you think she avoids reading the story she inspired?
  4. The relationships between Alice and her sisters Ina and Edith range from rivalry to a life-long bond. What effects do these have on Alice, and what are the consequences?
  5. What part of the book speaks to you and your experiences in life?
  6. How does Benjamin take both the reader and Alice from ignorance and denial to the self-realization of her complicity in the ruptured friendship with Rev. Dodgson? Is this believable?
  7. While Alice's sister lies dying, Mama asks Alice "Why couldn't it be you? You've never brought me anything but pain, while she has brought me nothing but joy." What kind of effect do you think this has on Alice for the rest of her life? Did it affect the way Alice thought of her own children?
  8. The photos Lewis Carroll (or the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) took of Alice Liddell capture a look that can be described as wise beyond her years—what do you think is behind that look?
  9. How much did the Victorian setting play a role in this book?
  10. Before reading Benjamin's novel, had you already read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? If so, does it make you want to read it again? Why or why not?
  11. What do you think of an author writing a biographical novel using only notes and references and filling in the gaps with intelligent supposition?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Alice -- through Chapter 12

**Don't read this until you've gotten through Chapter 12**

It's interesting what a change the book has taken from the first half -- which felt much more reminiscent of 'Alice in Wonderland,' versus the second section, which feels like any typical Jane Austen novel, where people are obsessed with their appearance, and who will think what, and getting married seems to be the biggest goal achieved in their life. However, I usually hate Jane Austen novels (yeah, yeah, I know it's not a popular thing to say), but I don't mind this book -- maybe because the writing style is still modern, and the only thing antiquated are the ideas.

Anyway, I'm curious as to what exactly happened that has become the hush-hush gossip of the town. I feel for poor Alice, who didn't know what she was doing, but I think I also feel sorry for Mr. Dodgson .. assuming I can get past the pedophilesque aspects of the story.

And what is the deal with Mr. Ruskin?!?! He is so creepy, and the whole blackmail situation is just all bad. It makes Alice look more guilty than she is.

Let me know your thoughts when you're at this part. I'm finally somewhat alive again, so am gonna continue reading, since I can't do anything but lie in bed right now. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alice -- March 15th?

Hey -- since this book seems to be a very quick read, I'm wondering if we can move up the deadline to March 15th? I know Vaish is ok with it, so I guess I'm asking Ferah and Charitha.

Also, please start throwing out suggestions for the next book, esp if we're planning on finishing this one in the next two weeks.

Feeling a little uncomfy ...

**Read this post only if you've read up to Chapter 3 of Alice I Have Been**

I'm enjoying this book as of now. Really easy to read and engrossing enough.

Gosh, the Mr. Dodgson stuff really has me confused! (Speaking of which ... good choice for a name .. he's a bit dodgy) I'm not one to be okay with older men having seen a girl grow up and then in the future, getting with her (as in The Time Traveler's Wife) but I actually did really like TTTW, so I've started to become accustomed to this being prevalent in books. For example, it also happened in the first three movies of Star Wars.

Anyway, I found myself initially believing that Alice was infatuated with Mr. Dodgson without knowing what her feelings were, of course, and just assumed that in the future, years from now, it might progress into some sort of affair. Anyway, things got weird and uncomfortable when he called her for the gypsy photo session. I was so tense reading that section ... I kept waiting for something awful to happen. And really, I'm guessing the extent of what he does, was probably appalling back then ... was it the equivalent of child pornography or am I just getting carried away?

Anyway, I'm pretty sucked in and want to see what happens ... unfortunately, I have to actually do work.

Also, I'm wondering how much I need to know about what happened in Alice in Wonderland because I don't remember it at all. I might watch the Tim Burton version tonight, though. I also have the Lewis Carrol book, so I might have to read that after I finish this one.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The fancy schmancy text changes and crazy pictures

What did you guys think of all the font changes, pictures etc? I didn't really get anything extra from the images or from the font blurring together or from the "corrections" on some of the pages. What do you think the author was trying to do (other than appear edgy and cool) with those?

I think I'd give this book a 2.5/5. I was happier with the book in the beginning, but began to find it tedious and frustrating as the pages went along. I felt like the tie-together of the two stories (grandfather and grandchild) was flimsy at the end, and I don't think I felt the emotions I was supposed to when they buried the letters together. I agree with Vaishali about what she thought regarding the relationship between the two grandparents. I still can't wrap my head around the 'something' and 'nothing' places business, and the grandfather's refusal to speak. It is true what Vaishali said, it was like he was wallowing in his own misery! He let himself spiral away- as exemplified by the fact that he 'lost' his words. Each word he lost was him letting himself be defeated by grief and as soon as he lost all his words, he just roamed the world as a defeated shell of a man. Of course he could never live again, he gave up the battle and will to live so long ago!

More later, but these are my thoughts for now!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I have to preface this post by saying that I loved this book. Also that this is a really, really long post.

I'd like to break this book down into a few layers because my mind is all jumbled:

Writing style: Initially I thought I would find the endless ramblings of a 10 year old cliche and eventually boring, but I think that is just because nobody allows themselves to think that way as an adult. It wouldn't really be efficient. But everybody has that experience of idle thoughts creating a whole imaginary story about people around them, or of entertaining thoughts of "what if" the world was a different way because of some ridiculously small change in history (I think.) Also, some of his ideas are downright funny. I particularly liked the "hole in the mattress for your arm because your arm gets in the way." We need something like that immediately. Anyway, I liked that these silly thoughts are mixed in with his unswerving mission to solve this last mystery about his Dad; it makes the whole concept bearable instead of just depressing.

I also tend to be skeptical of gimmicky things like adding in pictures or wasting pages with a few words on them, but I think the author was going for making the audience feel like they were holding the actual book, either the grandfather's book/letters that he used to communicate with, or Oskar's "Stuff that Happened to Me" book. The last few pictures in the book are a flipbook of the body flying upwards to the sky, which Oskar does describe, but it helps the reader to directly interact with Oskar in changing the course of his Dad's history, even it's just a wish.

The only qualm I had with the book's style of writing was that it was hard to switch from Oskar to his grandmother to his grandfather's voice in my head. Oskar was such a compelling childlike voice that I felt like his grandparents' letters took on a similar tone and it was not as believable.


Oskar: As others have mentioned, he is an extremely precocious young man. I think the author made Oskar the way he is to juxtapose his extreme intelligence with his childlike methods of approaching his dad's death. He can understand meteors and epidemiology, but not that trying to approach every Black in New York City is an impossible and illogical task, and that giving copies of his apartment key to strangers is not a good idea. I thought it was also great symmetry that in the end, the key belonged to a son who had also lost his father and was going on an equally long (though less illogical) search for that last remnant of his father. Are people really that much more "adult" when it comes to the loss of their family members? The sentiment at that moment wasn't even disappointment, just awe that so many people were tied together in a seemingly random fashion and eventually found to be "incredibly close."

I wanted to talk about the relationship between the grandfather and grandmother, but I might save that for a different post. This post is already extremely long.

Grief: I think this theme was the heart of the book. Every person dealt with grief in a separate but equally believable way. Oskar's grief and mission was at the forefront, but there were so many others that had an impact.

Oskar's grandmother lost her sister, her father, her home, her son, and her husband, and she just faded into the background and lived her life without purpose, except for her son and grandson. Maybe she wanted to marry her husband because he brought back some reminder of her past, maybe she took him back because he filled a void that her son had just left, and maybe she moved to the airport because after all this time, she still needed a way to feel like those people were near her. The grandfather lost two sons and his beloved Anna, and he reverted to not speaking and running away(or back to Dresden, in his case.) Mr. Black in 6A never left his apartment after his wife died, instead counting the days with a nail and creating a "magnetic pull" to his bed. Ruth Black, the widowed tour guide, never left the building that her husband loved. Ex-Mrs. Abby Black, used the excuse of grief to retaliate against her husband and cause him pain by delaying his search for the key. Oskar's mom went back to work immediately and found a "friend" who was going through similar circumstances.

Like you guys have said, many of these descriptions were exaggerated (Who sleeps in a storage room in the Empire State Building? Who doesn't speak for 40 years?) I think that I didn't try to read this book at face value because much of it is absurd. I know people will be offended, but it is comparable in my mind to Life of Pi; it has one foot in reality and the other in surrealism. The characters' behaviors are exaggerations of true to life ways that people respond to grief. While a silence may not last for 40 years, people do get so depressed that they can't return to society. People do crazy things while they are grieving, like hold onto others so tightly whether or not those people want to be held onto.

"Incredibly Close": I think the point of this portion of the title was to show how interconnected people can be. It's repeated over and over: the grandfather being a part of the grandmother's life for a short period in Dresden, and then stumbling across each other 7 years later in New York, the man at the end having encountered Oskar's father, and then again Oskar 8 months later, so on. Also, it shows how people who are incredibly physically close may be very far from knowing each other, like the grandfather with Oskar, or the grandmother and the grandfather, and vice versa, people who are strangers may understand one another perfectly.

"Extremely Loud": I think this is another recurring theme in the novel. The obvious moment is Oskar "waking" Mr. Black from his loneliness by turning on his hearing aids, but I think there are other examples. The grandfather is silent, but his actions are extremely loud (and weak-minded.) The grandmother is loud in her love for her son and grandson, but silent in her own denial of happiness. Anyway, I could go on, but it's a long list!

Anyway, thanks for reading! I really enjoyed this book and would give it a 4.5/5. There are lot of different people that are dealing with both minor and major tragedies, and maybe I'm just a sucker for sorrow, but I think the author did a great (and generally difficult) job of making the book both humorous and touching, especially through the eyes of a child.

- Charitha

The Grandparents -- Sympathy or Irritation?

I'm probably alluding to question #6 about Oskar's grandfather, but really, am just bringing up my own issues with the book.

I feel like I tried to be sympathetic towards the grandparents and their situation, but really couldn't feel anything but irritation towards them. I understand that the Dresden bombings messed with them a lot and forced them to have trouble processing normal human emotions, but it just didn't justify their ridiculous acts.

First off, the grandmother really didn't have much of a problem being a caring mother and grandmother. Her only emotional flaws were in her relationship with her husband ... taking him back when he came back 40 years later, not wanting him to leave when he walked out on her again 2 years later.

Then the grandfather ... coming back 40 years later, right when his son has died. Really? How does he expect to "try to live" after that. I don't know ... it reminded me of people who just don't want to be happy and instead of keeping that to themselves, are ruining other people's lives in the process.

I could probably continue with this rant but would like to hear what you have to say before I continue. I haven't decided what I'd give this book in terms of a rating but probably around 2.5-3. The only reason it would get higher than what Antara gave it is that at least it was readable ... some books are so boring I can't even get through them.

March: Alice I Have Been

The plan for March is to read 'Alice I Have Been.' It would be nice if this time we all read it at a more similar pace, so we can talk about it as we go along -- so the goal is to be about 100 pages through by the end of each week -- we can discuss it as we go along if we want, but everyone should definitely finish the book in 4 weeks -- so by March 28th.

I started it last night.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The first book of our Rekindled Book Club was 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' by Jonathan Safran Foer. Since we're just starting this book club blog, and there really is no protocol, I invite all the readers & authors to start topics and discussions for this book as separate posts -- and people can respond with comments in reply to a post, or start up a new discussion point as a separate post itself. Blogger can be a little frustrating to maneuver through, so let me know if you're lost and/or confused (Momma).

I think it might be good if we each gave the book a rating, out of 5 stars, to give a simple understanding of how much we liked (or disliked) a book.

Here are some discussion questions I found online about the book ... I don't particularly want to discuss all of them (I've given brief comments in italics), but here they are:

1. Talk about Oskar—an unusually precious child. Do you find him sympathetic or annoying? Or both?
Sympathetic, but very unrealistic. I would have thought he was at least 12-13 years old based on how mature his thought processes were. 

2. For Shakespeare buffs: Oskar "plays Yorick" (the long dead jester whose skull Hamlet holds in his hand!) in a school production. What is the significance of that role? (See Hamlet: Act V, Scene I, Line 188).
I'm sorry, I have no idea what this question is about. 

3. Jonathan Safran Foer has said that he writes about characters and their miscommunications: some characters think they're saying a lot but say nothing; others say nothing but end up saying a lot. Which characters fall into which category in Extremely Loud? What might Foer be saying about our ability to communicate deep-seated emotions?
This question is too deep for me, but I'd be interested if any of you have thoughts on this as a subject.

4. Some critics have wondered where Oskar's mother is and how the child is left alone to wander the streets of New York alone at night. Is that a relevant comment? Do you see this book as a work of realism (in which case the mother's role would matter) ... or as more of a fable, on the order, say, of Life of Pi? If the latter, what is Extremely Loud a fable of? (Like Pi, Oskar seems to be a quester—but of what?)
I find it an insult to compare this book to 'Life of Pi,' which I think is one of the best books ever. Yes, it's totally unrealistic what this 9 year old has set out to do, all on his own. It's some consolation in the end (spoiler alert!) when you realize that the mother had warned all those people that he would be arriving, but even so.

5. Do you find the illustratrions, sribblings, over-written texts, etc. a meaningful, integral part of the work? Or do you find them distracting and gimmicky? Why are they there?
I was wondering if the Kindle readers saw the illustrations and random crossed out text, etc. I honestly didn't understand the significance of it -- can someone explain it to me? 

6. How do both main plot and subplot (Oskar's grandfather and the bombing of Dresden) interweave with one another?
I have no idea. I feel like I'm in a college lit class, I don't like the feeling. 

Overall, I would give this book a 2.5 stars out of 5. I really didn't like it. While Oscar's story was interesting in the opening, I started getting irritated by the side plot of the grandfather who didn't talk (what was the point of that??), and after Oscar visiting about 4 homes, I couldn't care less, and didn't see the point of it. The opening was good, the ending wasn't bad, the middle was boring. I wouldn't recommend this book to others, or even the author for that matter.

Would love to hear what you all thought.

-- Antara B.