Tag Archives | Book Club Column

Love The Journey – July Book Club Column

Today’s post by our Book Club Columnist, Melissa Hambrick.

Melissa’s Book Club On The Beach

In the thirteen years since Traveling Mercies was originally published in hardback, I estimate that I’ve purchased and subsequently given away at least ten copies of Anne Lamott’s non-fiction classic. If you’re a book lover, you know that doesn’t mean I have trouble keeping up with things, or that I can’t manage to get through this bestseller. It is simply a reflection of how much I love this book and want other people to read it, too.

So when our book club was looking for a book to read that we’d be talking about on our annual summer beach trip, Traveling Mercies was the perfect candidate. In fact, what we really wanted was to invite the amazing Ms. Lamott to hit the beach with us. So we packed up our sunscreen and the Aunties (more on that later) and headed South for four days of sun and surf.

If you haven’t read anything by Anne Lamott, who writes both fiction and non-fiction, Traveling Mercies is a great place to start. Subtitled “Some Thoughts on Faith, ” she weaves her own intensely honest warts-and-all journey with insights about love, grace and forgiveness that are simultaneously gritty and sublime.  Reader beware—you may not always agree with her politics, her language or even her life choices, but the good news is that she doesn’t expect you to. In fact, even on Lamott’s Facebook page, where she regularly posts wonderful ramblings about her daily life, she encourages people to speak their minds respectfully. And this book definitely gets you to think—not by trying to sway you to a certain set of beliefs, but by recognizing something so much bigger than you that it can’t be denied.

Our book club conversation about Traveling Mercies was just as frank, which could have been dangerous with seven women hurtling down the interstate in a Suburban on a seven-hour drive home. But we clung to so many beautifully written moments in the book, that what we ended up with was a candid discussion about the state of grace in our lives. And, of course, those moments where we hold it tightly in our sweaty little hands like toddlers with a palm full of M&Ms, and refuse to hand it out to others.

One of the most poignant stories Lamott relates is about a fellow parent who she considered her enemy—an Enemy Lite, she says, who was so warm and friendly that it might have astounded her to learn that we were enemies. Perhaps you, like us, would recognize a teensy, infintesimal bit of yourself in this story, eyeing the other mom because she was on time, worked out every day and managed to read all the notes that came home from the classroom teacher. Although we have our suspicions that a mom that has it all together like that is some kind of mythical creature who lives at the end of the rainbow, we loved to hear Anne’s journey into forgiveness, where she finally removed the burden of her resentments from the other person, and claimed them for her own.

“…like God and certain parents do, [she'd] forgiven me almost before I’d even done anything that I needed to be forgiven for. It’s like the faucets are already flowing before you even hold out your cup to be filled. Before, giveness. “

If you’re around me for any amount of time, you’ll hear me quote Anne Lamott. Specifically, I have adopted her favorite prayers, found in Traveling Mercies, for my own (with a slight adjustment).

“Here are the two best prayers I know: “Help me, help me, help me, ” and “Thank you, thank you thank you. ” A woman I know says, for her morning prayer, “Whatever, and then for the evening, “Oh, well, ” but has conceded that these prayers are more palatable for people without children. “

As I’ve gotten older, it seems that even among our little group, we have more friends whose marriages are falling apart, more cancer, more unemployment, more parents with Alzheimer’s—just more of everything that really stinks. So I have added a third prayer: “Help them, help them, help them. ” Because we need each other, in prayer and in every day of life, to hang on to each other and hold each other up. Sometimes it feels like we’re just taking turns being the ones with the strong arms, and we know if we just wait a little bit, our turn will come around again to be held.

Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound. ” Because a book club isn’t just about books, you know.

I could write a week’s worth of posts about the things that we talked about in Traveling Mercies, but there’s only so much space. So here are a few questions that came up for us as we read, and talked, and ate numerous packages of Red Vines. (A Red Vines sponsorship for our next beach trip would be lovely, thank you. And we’ll make room for our friend Anne, if she’d like to be part of our journey, too.)

1. So I mentioned the aunties. What’s real and important to you that society might not look at as lovingly as you’d like, or that maybe even makes you slightly embarrassed?   “I got my suit on and waddled down to the beach. I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were important in every  real and important way. ”

2. Lamott quotes Eugene O’Neill: “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. ”  Talk about the broken things around you and the kinds of glue that have put them back together. What has your book club given you that has been glue?

3. Sometimes we want to be like Lamott’s “Enemy-Lite, ” because what we see in the mirror and our heart is messy and disheveled. In  Traveling Mercies, Lamott is very transparent about what she has seen in the mirror—bulimia, alcoholism, bitterness, fear. How can we look in that mirror without flinching at what we see? What part does forgiveness play?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Book Club Column – Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Today’s post by our Book Club Columnist Melissa Hambrick

Melissa Hambrick

Here’s the problem.

I have this book club column to write. And I want to tell you all about this fantastic book that my clubbers and I just read—Sister by Rosamund Lupton.

But I can’t. Because I can’t trust myself NOT to tell you something that will lead you to the shocking, oh-my-gosh-I-didn’t-see-that-coming ending, as we get to know Beatrice and find out what has happened to her sister Tess in this mystery-within-a-mystery.

I’ll do my best to talk around it, to instead tell you about the wonderful and super easy potato soup that we had, the crusty bread, the leafy salad with homemade dressing. The cherry-chocolate cake.

Because surely a moist, cherry-chocolate cake should be able to keep me from spilling all the details about how much Beatrice loves her sister, Tess. How she immerses herself in finding out what has happened to her, and how, as one clubber put it, Beatrice almost transforms into Tess. Lives in her apartment, wears her clothes—all the subtle things that bond these sisters tighter and tighter through the story, until—

Nope, cherry-chocolate cake isn’t enough.

Maybe if I share the recipe for the potato soup—I mean, it was so easy! I love any potato soup that starts with a package of frozen hash browns and means I don’t have to stand there, slicing and dicing.

I have better things to do with my time than slave over a hot stove. I could be reading a great book, of course, like Sister. Maybe thinking about my own sister, and the ways that we think we know each other so well, but the truth is that maybe we never really know each other. People aren’t always what they seem—which reminds me of all the different times my club and I thought we knew what happened to Tess when we were reading. Each of us was sure of it. And then—

Potato soup isn’t going to cut it either.

Perhaps the crusty bread, so crunchy on the outside and soft inside, with real butter. Because I think life is short and we should all eat real butter and savor it. Kind of the way that we really savored Lupton’s writing style, how she evoked such feelings from her descriptions. How the details about Tess unfold as the story progresses.

We loved the way Lupton took risks in her storytelling, moving backward and forward in time and leading the reader on a winding path full of uncertainty. In some ways, the more detail we found out, the less we knew about the eventual ending of the story. One of our clubbers said she loved the twists, but the ending left her a bit unsatisfied; that she’d made the investment and wanted a concrete ending, even an epilogue.

Rosamund Lupton

But a good book leaves you wanting more (kind of like a good meal that makes you wish you had room for just one more bite). My thought is that sometimes a book is better when it doesn’t tie everything up in a nice bow at the end. Maybe, like for my friend, it might be an ending you don’t love,  or that keeps you wanting too much. But if it keeps you thinking after that last chapter, then not only is it a great book—it’s a great book club book.

So, along those lines, enough with the food-based procrastination. Here are a few questions to keep you and your book club talking about Sister. I’m sure you can dig up a little something to snack on while you chat—maybe even some potato soup.

  1.  What did you think of the twist and the ending? What do you think happened?
  2.  Did you feel that Beatrice was a reliable narrator throughout the book? Did you ever question her story?
  3.  Journalist and author Elizabeth Fishel says “A sister is both your mirror—and your opposite. ” Beatrice and Tess are very different. What separates them? What brings them together?
  4. Looking back, our club has read several books that have to do with ethical choices, many of them medical or genetic in nature (Sister; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigura; Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder). We didn’t pick them because of those topics, but of course they made for great discussion. What has your club read that are thematic, and what do you think draws you to the theme?
  5. We often make judgments about people we think we know, especially those closest to us. Short of stepping into their lives and literally wearing their clothes, as Beatrice does with her sister, how can we find ways to better understand them?

Easy Crockpot Potato Soup

1 30 oz. bag of frozen, cubed hash browns

3 14 oz. cans of chicken broth

1 can of cream of chicken soup

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ tsp. ground pepper

1 pkg. cream cheese (don’t use fat free—it won’t melt)

In a crockpot, combine everything EXCEPT for the cream cheese. Cook for 6-8 hours on low heat. About 1 – 2 hours before serving, add cream cheese and keep heated until thoroughly melted. Serve with cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, green onions, or whatever else you think would be good!

Melissa Hambrick  is the She Reads book club columnist. She is also a former entertainment industry PR exec, a full-time stay-at-home mom of two boys and a part-time volunteer for any school function that she didn’t scrunch down in her seat far enough to avoid.   Having written for numerous publications, including  Home Life  and  Today’s Christian Woman, and with chapter one of what is sure to be a bestselling novel stored in her laptop  for the last year and a half, she blogs at WordMom.com less frequently than she probably should.   Her book club, which she lovingly dubs 'overachievers anonymous,’ actually has a strange preference for books they don’t really love, which  they find leads  to much more interesting conversation.

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About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

read more