What Did We Just Read?! Book Club

Takoma Park Library

What Did We Just Read?! Book Club

Six Months In

So, what did we read the past six months?

The first book to leave us scratching our heads was Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.

One way to describe the experience of reading this book: imagine an incredibly beautiful and poetic, at times heartbreaking and at other times ecstatic, stream-of-consciousness narrative that moves between six characters as they navigate the love, loss, and meaning of life.

And by life, I mean all of it: from birth to death.

Next, we tackled the epic playfulness of Raymond Queneau and his book, Exercises in Style. You could also call it an exercise in madness, for it’s a simple prank repeated to excessive, albeit very funny, lengths.

The premise is simple: it begins with a very short story in which the narrator witnesses a man bump into another man on a bus, and later the narrator sees the same man speaking with another about getting a button for his coat. Then, Queneau repeats this story 99 times, each in a different style. The styles range from Anagrams and Sonnet to Zoological. I didn’t even know there were 99 different ways to tell the same story.

Then, we had the pleasure of reading Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Using images and short essays and lyrics, Rankine explores the American psyche post-9/11, in particular how American media treats the topic of death.

Sound like a downer?

While certainly mournful at times, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a powerfully imaginative contemplation of a topic all of us face, even if Americans especially like to avoid it, explored through an ever-evolving lens of movies, mental illness, children, and literature. Rankine may sound familiar; her latest book, Citizen: An American Lyric was shortlisted for the National Book Award and since then has won numerous awards and been featured in the New Yorker, New York Times, LA Review of Books, NPR, and many more news outlets, national and regional alike.  

We then moved on to If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and were treated to a wonderfully playful ode to the novel. Calvino loves novels so much he wrote the first chapter of ten different ones here! Interspersed between the first chapters of the ten novels is an increasingly complex and hilarious narrative involving you, You, the Reader, the Other Reader, the Writer, Japanese novel-writing machines, a dubious international publishing cartel, a trickster translator, and…well, eventually space and time begin to converge in interesting ways.

Next, we experienced the blue-hued musings of Maggie Nelson in Bluets. Equal parts literary investigation of the color blue and memoir, Nelson weaves the personal and universal in short, beautiful prose poems that track the end of a particularly meaningful relationship and her evolving obsession with blue.

From Cézanne and van Gogh to Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, Nelson’s approach to artists and philosophers, and especially herself, is a pleasure- every poem emanates a piercing intelligence and revelatory empathy.

Our latest adventure focused on the strange and bewildering world of Gertrude Stein, in particular, Tender Buttons. Separated into the sections “Objects,” “Food,” and “Rooms,” Stein does to language what Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque did to paintings. Imagine a collection of “cubist” sketches of everyday objects infused with a crude humor (in a good way!), sonic puns, and dizzying repetition of peculiar phrases. Or, as some call it, absolute nonsense.

Either way, it certainly left us scratching our heads and despite it all, we had a terrific conversation about the book.

For March (and April), we’re tackling the epic House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Enter if you dare!