Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store

Everyone in the bookclub either finished the book or couldn't wait to finish the book which is a bit of a success.

As can be expected from a book like this we did come away with some question. Such as why did they all have to write everything down in the books about the various people who came in to borrow the books? We wanted to know the reason behind this although we did come up with some reasons of our own. In fact as we discussed the book we discovered that there were a lot of threads that were left loose at the end of the book. We thought that as we were reading the book we were following one thread, but then another more interesting thread was presented to us which we then followed and dropped the first thread. As we were reading we didn't notice the different threads being dropped but when we were discussing the book they were suddenly brough to our attention again. We also noticed that some elements of the book seemed just to be dropped in rather randomly like the various different tasks that had to be done.

As we were discussing the book we came to realise that it really is written in many different styles including that of the epic fantasy where a hero travels round trying to find and recruit a group of people all with special talents.But overall we didn't feel that there was a particular formula to the books as we read it, it felt really unique.

Along with the interesting plot we also liked the different characters in the book. We enjoyed following them as they went through the various different tasks and each went on a bit of a personal journey. Kat especially changed a great deal through the book as she came to realise the limits of her beloved Google.

We also had some discussion as to what the ending of the book means. Does it mean that immortality is created for us by the things we write down and create rather than our actual physical bodies carrying on? Is this still true today when the written word is much more transient than the written word as they are now written onto the internet and things like twitter rather than in a physical book?

The names of all the characters amused us, and we felt we needed to look further into them as we could understand the reasoning behind some like Lapin as she seemed to live in a rabbit warren and has rabbit like personal qualities. Clay we felt was like his name because he's very down to earth, however he is also very maleable as he changes himself depending on where he is and what he needs to do. Penumbra's name covers such a variety of different meanings that it's perfect for him.

This book also triggered a lot of conversation around how we all prefer to read/listen to our books. We decided that we all like to read paper versions of books and also electronic versions. It depends on the book as to what format we would prefer to read it in. We also thought that having books on a shelf in your room or house triggers conversation and often friendships.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10. We all really enjoyed the book but can't really explain why, it's just one of the books you have to read and you'll find out!

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions for you to think about while you're reading this months book.

- Related to the word “umbrella,” Mr. Penumbra’s last name can refer to an area of partial illumination (especially in astronomy) or something that serves as a shroud. What makes his bookstore a source of light, even though it operates in the shadows?

- What were your initial theories about the bookstore's mysterious patrons and their project? What did you predict Manutius's message would be?

- Clay grapples with the fact that e-books could make brick-and-mortar bookstores unnecessary. How have your community's bookstores fared in recent years? Did the novel reassure you about the role of technology in the lives of book lovers?

- The characters remind us that fifteenth-century technologies of the book—from punch-cutting to typesetting—were met with fear and resistance, as well as with entrepreneurial competition and the need to teach new skills. How does this compare to the launch of e-books? If you try to picture what literacy will look like five hundred years from now, what do you see?

- Think about the physical traits of your copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Do you have a hard copy or an e-book, and where did you buy it? How does the design of the book enhance your reading experience?

I hope you're all enjoying the book, and i'll see you all on 27th February!

Mr Penumbra - Prequel


This months book is a favourite of mine and i've just noticed that there's also a short story set prior to the book that people with kindles might want to purchase. There is also an authors page with some explanations to the background of the book (watch out for spoilers!).

I hope you're all enjoying this months book. Remember there's a 100 page minimum prior to coming to book club!

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

Nearly all the members finished this book and all but two members enjoyed the book.The people who didn't enjoy the book as much felt that the backwards and forwards in time nature of the book was a bit confusing and distracted them from the story. Other members of the group enjoyed the backwards and forwards in time way of writing and felt that it made the book flow very well.

We all liked that the author didn't try to sensationalise the story in order to make more money, she just wrote the story as plainly and simply as possible in order to avoid harm to Henrietta's family. We would have liked a little more science in the book as an explanation to some elements but this could be because we are a hospital based bookclub. We all enjoyed reading about how medical consent has changed over the years, again this could be because we are a medically orientated book club so many of us deal with consent and patients on a day-to-day basis. We went on to discuss informed consent, anonymity, the financial rewards to both patients and to pharmaceutical companies with regards using human tissue to test drugs etc. We thought that the medical element was brought out a lot in this book, maybe this is because they have to pay for medical treatment in America whereas we in the UK have it mostly provided for free.

We also discussed the racial element of the book with regards it not being all that long ago when Henrietta and her family were having to use different entrances and water fountains in public. The use of different terms to describe people was also discussed in relation to political correctness. We thought that in the past using a descriptor to say that a person was a different colour was meant to segregate people into different classes, now it is used in the same way you would say that someone wears glasses, purely to identify them so you know you're talking about the same person.

Overall we felt that this book was mostly about Deborah, Henrietta's daughter rather than about Henrietta as she was the living person we were following through all the discoveries. We enjoyed watching her grow and learn so much simple through her own hard work and her need to learn about her mother. We all came away shocked at how little we as people linked to medicine know about Henrietta Lacks.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Questions


I'm so sorry not to have sent these out before, life got a bit busy!

- What are the legal ramifications regarding payment for tissue samples? Consider the the RAND corporation estimation that 304 million tissue samples, from 178 million are people, are held by labs.

- What are the spiritual and religious issues surrounding the living tissue of people who have died? How do Henrietta's descendants deal with her continued "presence" in the world...and even the cosmos (in space)?

- Is race an issue in this story? Would things have been different had Henrietta been a middle class white woman rather than a poor African American woman? Consider both the taking of the cell sample without her knowledge, let alone consent... and the questions it is raising 60 years later when society is more open about racial injustice?

Three Men In A Boat

At the time of the meeting only one person had read the entire book to the end.

We felt that it was a very confusing book with lots of long waffly sections that had little to do with the rest of the book. Sometimes these sections caused us confusion as we weren't entirely sure whether we were reading a bit from the past or a bit from the present time. We even had a disagreement during the meeting about what one bit of the book was about with regards whether it was a recollection or something to do with the boat journey.

Some elements of the book were really funny, especially the part about the hanging of the picture frame. We felt that we found the funny elements of the book far funnier when we were discussing them than when we were actually reading the book. Other elements left us feeling a little bit disturbed as they didn't seem to fit into the rest of the book as they were so maudlin.

Due to the lack of different characters we felt that if you didn't like the characters you were not going to enjoy this book very much as there is also not a great straight-forward storyline either. The characters that were in the book did seem to be much more boyish and childlike than their actual ages, in fact at times they were also very childish which we found annoying.

Overall we gave this book 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Three Men In A Boat - Questions

Hello everyone,

I know this is really early to send out the questions but we don't have much reading time between now and the 19th December!

- Three Men in a Boat contains some memorable passages and unforgettable scenes. Which ones did you like best?

- Why does this book continue to appeal to modern-day readers? What universal aspects of the story do you relate to?

- How are 21st century adults any different compared to the adults shown in this book? Is there still room for this kind of silliness in our lives? Do you think they were only able to lark about on the river because of their social class?

I hope you're all reading the book and are looking forward to the discussion and pot-luck Christmas party!

The Maid

Only a few members of the bookclub finished this book, mainly because not everyone enjoyed the story and the writing style. We thought that the actual historical story behind this fictionalised version of Joan of Arc's life was an interesting story to look at. However, it was felt that this take on the story was not very realistic compared to other fictionalised historical works currently available. Some of the language used felt a little incongruous to the historical nature of the story as well, which we understood as it's a story meant to be read by people today but we also felt that it was a little awkward sounding.

One of the big questions we had was how Joan managed to convince the armies to follow her because clearly as history shows she did manage this. We felt that she must have had a very strong personality, which the author showed us as the book went on. She must also have had a great deal of religious fervour which made her very powerful, and also gave her the strength to kill soldiers even though she felt very unhappy doing this in the book.

We noted that we found some elements of the story difficult to understand given that we are all living in the 21st century and don't really have a full understanding of how things were done in Joan's time. This hindered some of our understanding of how the politics etc worked. Maybe we would have understood more and enjoyed more about the book if we had a little more background knowledge ourselves. However, this could be said of most historical retellings and somehow other books manage to give the reader enough background to enjoy the story without it becoming too boring.

As with all literary retellings of historical events there were clearly some liberties taken to make the story more interesting and also purely to fill in the gaps in Joan's history where little is know about her. For example, we often read bits in this book about how Joan is feeling or her thoughts on a certain matter and these cannot have come from a primary source so they are clearly guess work on the part of the author. Interestingly not much was made of the actual court-case which was one of the elements of Jona's life about which there was most evidence. This might have been interesting to look into for the reader.

Overall we felt that this book sits somewhere between a straight historical retelling and an interesting piece of literature, but somehow manages not to be a good example of either thing.

Overall we gave this book 3.5 out of 10.