HEARING VOICES IN YOUR HEAD: CHATTER, THE FIELD NOTES’ NEXT SELECTION

What a lively group we had at the Field Notes Book Group on Saturday, January 21!  It was terrific to have so many people eager to discuss our book for January, In the Shadow of the Mountain.  Everybody had opinions and insights, and I’ve noticed that whenever I lead a book group I always learn something new about the book, no matter how well I thought I knew the book or how deeply I’d read it.  This is one of the great values of book groups (along with providing different kinds of reading material and introducing you to fellow book lovers).

We actually had to cut the discussion short because we were running out of time to choose our book for February, and it took us two votes to agree on the next selection. Surprisingly, it is another nonfiction book (we usually alternate fiction and nonfiction): Chatter: the Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross. Copies have been put on hold and will be available within the next few days. 

Ethan Kross is a psychologist who’s fascinated by the way people respond to their inner voices.  If you think about it, you’re always hearing voices in your head – voices that sound like you but might actually be echoes of parents or other people who’ve influenced you.  Writers all know about the “inner critic” which you have to silence while you’re writing a first draft, but writers aren’t the only ones who have to fight against negative self-talk.  Using the latest research, mixed with anecdotal evidence from real people, Kross explains what can go wrong with the “chatter” in your head, and how you can use skills you already have to tune in to your inner coach instead of that inner critic.

This should be a fun book to read and discuss.  We’ll be having our meeting live and also virtually for people who can’t attend live, so if you’re interested but not able to attend in person, send me an email at nmulligan@thefieldlibrary.org the week before our meeting on February 25, and I’ll send you the link to join us.  For those attending live, there will of course be refreshments to go along with our lively conversations.

CLIMBING OUT OF TRAUMA: JANUARY FIELD NOTES CHOICE

The Field Notes Book Group had its last meeting of 2022 on Saturday, and a good time was had by all involved.  Not only did we discuss our December choice, which was I Capture the Castle (which wasn’t actually read by all the members of the group), but we also had a great discussion of the books we’d read over the past year, and we selected the book for our first meeting of the new year on January 21, 2023.

I personally like having the groups look back over the year’s selections.  As a group leader, I crave any kind of input about the whole selection process, and getting a sense of what kinds of books people like and dislike is really helpful.  While there were a few books people couldn’t remember one way or another, our choices for “favorite” book were all over the place, no one book being everybody’s favorite.  I see this as a healthy sign of the diversity of opinions of the people in our group, and I’m delighted that we had so many books that people loved.

In a pretty close vote, we ended up choosing In the Shadow of the Mountain, by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado.  This memoir is about a woman, ostensibly a brilliant success in Silicon Valley, who was repressing her sexuality, her alcoholism, and her history of sexual abuse.  When she returned home to her family in Peru, everything fell apart for her and the only thing that helped her find herself again was mountain climbing.  She ended up working toward climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, taking with her a group of fellow sexual abuse survivors.  

Copies of the book have been ordered.  We will be holding the next meeting virtually as well as in person, so if you’re interested in attending virtually, send me an email at nmulligan@thefieldlibrary.org a week before the date of the meeting and I’ll get you the link.

DECEMBER FIELD NOTES BOOK GROUP TAKES ON GENTEEL POVERTY IN I CAPTURE THE CASTLE

One of the best things about book groups, in my experience, is that they often get people to read books they wouldn’t have stumbled upon before, which turn out to be books they enjoy reading.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the November selection for Field Notes Book Group, was one of those books, and even those who didn’t particularly like the book found interesting things to discuss about its insights into family dynamics and animal rights and the relations between humans and animals.   

As usual, at the end of the meeting we chose our book for December, and this one wasn’t even close.  On the first ballot, we overwhelmingly chose I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, for our next read.  Copies of the book have already been put on hold and will be available soon.

I Capture the Castle is one of those classic books that I, for one, never got around to reading, though it’s got nearly universal kudos from reviewers and readers in the past.  Set in a dilapidated castle in the Sussex countryside in the 1930’s, it’s written in the form of diary entries by our main character, Cassandra Mortmain, who’s trying to improve her speed writing and her writing abilities in general.  She paints a vivid portrait of her extremely eccentric family and their genteel poverty which has led to their selling off most of the ruined castle’s furniture in order to keep food in their mouths and a sort of roof over their heads.  Cassandra and her more beautiful sister, Rose, finding out that a couple of young rich American men have arrived in the area, decide they’re living in a Jane Austen novel and they can solve their problems if Rose marries one of the young men.  Alas for them, life is not a Jane Austen novel.  Luckily for us, in this case life is a much more interesting (and humorous) thing, as the family discovers the complications and difficulties of reaching any kind of a happily ever after in their circumstances.

Any book that opens with the sentence, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” has got a lot going for it, and I expect we will have a lot of fun with this book. Join us if you can for a lively discussion on December 17 at the Field Library.

NOVEMBER FIELD NOTES: WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES

After a vigorous discussion about the ideas and methods covered in our October selection, Think Again, including thoughts about how these ideas could be applied in our own lives, the Field Notes Book Group chose our book for the month of November in our first round of voting.  We chose We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler.  Copies have already been ordered and are on their way to the library.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize the year it was published, and made an appearance on a number of Best of the Year lists as well.

The novel is about the downfall of a family and the reasons for its downfall.  The Cooke family was once somewhat closer to normal: there was the mother and the father, brother, Lowell, sister, Fern, and sister, Rosemary, who’s our narrator.  Rosemary was a big talker when she was younger, but then something happened and she stopped talking.  Lowell is now on the run from the police as a domestic terrorist, and Fern is no longer a part of the family.  The parents, too, are mere shadows of their former selves, and the big question the book sets out to answer is what happened to change them all so dramatically.  There’s a twist, which I won’t give away (even though some of the reviews do; thanks a lot, Baker & Taylor, among others), but it leaves the book more intriguing rather than less so. I’m not a big fan of books about dysfunctional families (I disagree with Tolstoy’s famous line about happy and unhappy families in general), but this is something a little different.

Join us for what should prove to be a fascinating and far-ranging discussion of this novel.  There will be coffee and donuts, as always, and the camaraderie of a group of opinionated, well-read people.

OCTOBER FIELD NOTES: THINK AGAIN

One of the things you have to learn to accept gracefully when you’re running a book group is that not everybody will love the same books you love.  On the whole, I would say the Field Notes Book Group appreciated Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip for its humor and its wackiness (and I have to admit, you do have to suspend disbelief to a certain extent to enjoy this, or any of Hiaasen’s books), and even the people who didn’t particularly like it joined energetically in the discussion, so I consider this a big win.

We also chose our book for October, on a second ballot but pretty easily the second time around: Think Again: the Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant.  Copies are already available at the Field Library circulation desk. 

This nonfiction book, written in an accessible style with plenty of examples, looks at intelligence in a different way than we usually think of it. Grant, a professor at Wharton, advocates arguing as if you’re right, but listening to the other side as if you’re wrong.  He notes that we human beings tend to favor the comfort of conviction over the uncomfortable state of being unsure, which unfortunately leads us to close ourselves off in bubbles of like-minded people and never challenge our biases or our opinions.  True intelligence isn’t just about learning things quickly; it’s about being able to unlearn things that are wrong, which can be much more difficult.  It will be interesting to see how we can learn to think differently and to listen differently.  Heaven knows this is a skill we could use in the modern world.

Join us on October 22 for what promises to be an interesting and stimulating discussion of this nonfiction book.  

GOING BIZARRE FOR SEPTEMBER: SKINNY DIP

Though we had a smaller than usual group at the Field Notes meeting on Saturday, we still managed to have an interesting discussion about our August book, A Thousand Ships.  The advantage of having a smaller than usual group is that everybody’s vote for the next book counts much more than it would in a larger group.  We had no trouble choosing our selection for September, Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip.  

If you want a humorous take on Florida in all its weirdness, Carl Hiaasen is obviously your go-to author.  If you enjoy quirky, bizarre, plot heavy humor, look no further. Hiaasen has long been one of my favorite authors, and Skinny Dip has long struck me as one of his best.

Just consider the starting point of the plot: a shady Florida scientist is helping some even shadier operators figure out how to dump chemicals in the Everglades without getting caught.  The scientist suspects his wife, Joey, has caught on to what he’s doing and is likely to turn him in, so, in the classic manner of a Hiaasen character, he decides to kill her by pushing her off a cruise liner in the middle of the night, hoping she drowns.  She doesn’t drown because she lands on a bale of marijuana which was thrown overboard by drug dealers being chased by the Coast Guard.  Reaching the shore and being helped by a former police officer turned bitter loner, Joey decides not to turn her husband in for the attempted murder, but to mess with his head, since he thinks she’s dead,  and Mick, her new friend, is more than happy to help her with that.  

It just goes on from there, with a full cast of memorable characters and the usual twisted Hiaasen plot. 

We’ll be meeting to discuss this book on September 24 at 11 in the Field Library program room, and of course there will be refreshments.  It should be a great time for all.  Join if you can.

FIELD NOTES GOES BACK TO THE TROJAN WAR: A THOUSAND SHIPS

After a really amazing and invigorating discussion this Saturday on Small Things Like These (so much depth for such a short book!), the Field Notes Book Group chose our book for August.  It was a tough choice, and I had to be the tie-breaker, but ultimately we went with A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes.

A Thousand Ships is about the Trojan War, sort of.  It’s also about The Iliad, The Odyssey and a number of famous Greek tragedies about the lead up to and the aftermath of the Trojan War.  It differs from those classics because this book focuses exclusively on the female characters involved in the war, on the Greek side, on the Trojan side, even on the Olympian side, giving them a voice they’ve been denied through the centuries.  

Because it’s about a war and the aftermath of a war, there are dark and sad moments in it, but there’s also a certain vein of humor, especially in Penelope’s increasingly annoyed letters to Odysseus while he’s off having his adventures.  The book is structured as a series of interrelated short stories, and it’s a terrific read.

Do you in fact need to be an expert on Greek mythology to enjoy this?  No.  You don’t even need to have read The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Trust me, it will all become clear to you as you read.  Of course if you are familiar with the stories in a general way, the book will be all that much more fun to read.

Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk.  Join us on August 20 for what promises to be an excellent discussion of a fascinating book.

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE FOR JULY

The Field Notes Book Group met on Saturday to discuss our June book, South to America, and while few members were really crazy about the style of the book, our discussion was wide ranging and interesting, and we were almost reluctant to turn to the question of choosing our book for July.  Still, when we did, the voting was overwhelmingly in favor of one selection: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, and not just because it was the shortest book of the bunch (though, after a fairly long and dense book like our June selection, length did have an effect).

Small Things Like These is a deceptively simple story, which packs an emotional and moral punch.  Bill Furlong is an ordinary man who owns a small business in a small town in rural Ireland in 1985.  It’s Christmas time and he’s focused on the holiday festivities and his two daughters and their preparations for the holiday, but in the course of his work, he comes across something that upends his sense of how the world works, what’s good and what’s evil. He begins to consider his own past as a bastard brought up in the household of a relatively wealthy woman as he realizes that most of the people he knows and cares about are complicit in something morally wrong, and he needs to make a decision about where he stands, a decision shaped by his knowledge of his past and shadowed by the potential consequences to him and his family of deciding in one direction rather than the other.

We’ll be meeting on July 16 at the library, and copies of the book will be available at the circulation desk in advance.  Please come and join us for coffee, refreshments and what promises to be a deep and interesting discussion of this beautifully written book.

JUNE FIELD NOTES: SOUTH TO AMERICA

What an excellent discussion we had at this Saturday’s meeting of the Field Notes Book Group!  Klara and the Sun certainly gave us food for thought and for discussion, and we took full advantage of it, talking about the soul, about genetic modification, about characters and what makes people human, as well as discussing the plot of this book.

It was a hard choice, but we ended up selecting our book for the month of June, for our meeting on June 18: South to America: a Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, by Imani Perry.  It’s a nonfiction book that’s part history, part current events, part travelog.  Perry, an African-American woman who came from Alabama, takes the position that the rest of America has conveniently demonized the South, placing all our racial sins on the shoulders of the southerners (who, to be fair, do deserve a certain amount of blame) to avoid facing the extent to which the entire country profited by slavery and white supremacy.   She argues that we cannot understand United States history and culture without really understanding the South.  And, to help in that endeavor, she travels through the South, starting in West Virginia (at Harper’s Ferry, in fact), and visiting all the Southern states, meeting people, looking at the area’s past and its present racial dealings.  She’s an excellent writer, a professor at Princeton University and a frequent contributor to the Atlantic magazine, and her insights are interesting, especially to people (like me) who have never spent much time below the Mason-Dixon line and get all their information about the South, especially the Deep South, from popular culture.

Copies of the book are available at the Field Library circulation desk.  Get one and then join us for what promises to be an interesting discussion.

MAY FIELD NOTES SELECTION: KLARA AND THE SUN

After a more contentious discussion than we usually have in the Field Notes Book Group on Saturday (only peripherally connected to our book this month, The Confidence Men), the group chose our book for the month of May, Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, and one can hardly argue with the award.  Anyone who’s read his The Remains of the Day or his heartbreaking Never Let Me Go knows the breadth of his writing, his ability to create entirely different worlds and fill them with characters for whom we feel great compassion. From a World War II butler in England to a young woman living in a future startlingly like our present but with one significant difference, Ishiguro knows no limits.

Klara and the Sun, his latest book and the first since the Nobel Prize, is set in a somewhat dystopian future.  Our main character, Klara, is an Artificial Friend, waiting, at the outset of the book, in a store for someone to purchase her.  She’s extremely observant and a gifted mimic, and lives in hope that she will be bought and become a friend to some young person.  She’s purchased for a sickly teenager, but she’s been warned not to trust too much to the promises of human beings. The book, like so many of Ishiguro’s, asks deep questions about who we are, what makes us human, what is love.

Copies of the book will be available at the Circulation Desk in advance of our May 21st meeting. Come and pick one up and join us for what promises to be an interesting discussion, complete with coffee and donuts.