Book Club meets Tuesday. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve read close to 200 books together since I started it in 1998. At the time, friends asked how I did it. I had no special knowledge — had just belonged to one for years and enjoyed it thoroughly. When it disbanded, I decided to start my own. I put up notices on the bulletin board where our exercise class was held, invited friends, and voila. All these years later, we still meet.
One book selection often leads to another. The very
Reading about the court case reminded us of “Madam Bovary”, Flaubert’s meticulous novel about another adulteress, which also lead to censure and charges of immorality. It was interesting to reread this book with more maturity, and discuss it on the heals of Lady Chatterley.
Then, deciding on a contemporary work, we chose Joy Kogawa’s “Obason”, about B.C.’s Japanese residents and their unfortunate plight during world war two. I already had a copy on my bookshelf. (I’m no big spender, but I do have a problem resisting books.) Kogawa’s prose is so beautifully crafted, I reread paragraphs over just for the joy of it.
The discussion of Obason triggered thoughts of the British and Africa, and it was suggested we next read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. Conrad is considered one of the great modern English prose stylists, yet English was his (get this) fourth language. The book is tightly constructed, a short novel and you could read it in an evening. It is based on Conrad’s own experiences working on the Congo River in 1890. It gives an unsettling view of the time, place and people. And, knowing English was not his first language, I felt compelled to keep a dictionary at my side to look up words I didn’t know, although English IS my first.
In her forward to my copy of Madam Bovary, Mary McCarthy says: “When Flaubert made his famous statement — ‘Madam Bovary is me’ he was echoing one of his favorite authors, Cervantes. According to the story, Cervantes was asked on his deathbed whom he meant to depict in “Don Quixote”. “Myself,” he answered. “In Cervantes’ case this must have been true, quite simply and terribly, whether or not he said it. In Flaubert’s the answer was an evasion.”
Don Quixote had sat on my bookshelf for years. I’d started it more than a few times and given up, so when Joan suggested we attempt it as our next book, I was thrilled. It is somewhat intimidating size-wise, (my copy has over 800 pages) and none of us completed it in one month. Nonetheless, entranced and considering it a truly important work (it has entered our culture and our language) we were determined to finish it. I’ve been grateful ever since.
Here’s my favorite paragraph. Use it next time you’re really furious. Quixote is angry at his squire, Sancho.
“Thou villainous, ignorant, rash, unmannerly, blasphemous detractor. How darest thou entertain such base and dishonorable thoughts, much more utter thy rude and contemptible suspicions before me and this honorable presence? Away from my sight, thou monster of nature, magazine of lies, cupboard of deceits, granary of guile, publisher of follies, foe of all honour! Away, and never let me see thy face again, on pain of my most furious indignation.”
I love it!
Note: Tony, in Australia, is a treasured long-distance member of our book club. I email him what we are reading each month and often, both he and his wife Barbara read along with us. He emails back his thoughts on the current book, and I share them with the group because he’s clever and always astute and interesting.
You can be in our club too. Just let me know you are interested, and I’ll send you an email about what we are reading as well. And no, there are no rules….