Tonight is the first time the moms in my mother-daughter book club are getting together without our college daughters. We’re going to hear Wally Lamb, the author of I know This Much is True, The Hour I First Believed and She’s Come Undone, speak in downtown Portland. We’re all excited about the event, but a little nervous about it all coming together too. Three of our moms are helping their daughters settle into their college dorm rooms today, and they face a two hour drive back to Portland after they finish. Since Madeleine checked in early on Monday, I don’t have to worry about that. But I do wonder what the mood will be like in the group. Will Lamb be a welcome distraction and give us all something to focus on and talk about? Or will the sadness of leaving our daughters just a few hours earlier make it difficult for some of us to concentrate on anything else? One way or the other, we’ll be there supporting each other.
Looking for an idea to liven up your mother-daughter book club meetings? Here’s a bit of inspiration from Kate Levin, who is in a book club with her teen daughter in New York. Kate says:
“We found out that a professional production of Our Town is opening here, so we read the play and got tickets to see it (using a group discount). Although we have lots of theater possibilities here in New York, this kind of opportunity is certainly possible elsewhere, since there’s lots of great professional theaters all over the country (this production of Our Town originated in Chicago, actually). People could also see what’s being performed at the local colleges as well. Usually schedules are published in advance, so people could see what’s coming up and plan ahead (which is what we did).”
To Kate’s comments I’ll add a few of my own. Some of our most memorable mother-daughter book club meetings have been the times we have tied our book into another activity: seeing a play, going to a movie, visiting a museum. The extra event helped us get another perspective on what we read and enriched the discussion we had afterward. No matter the age of your girls, you can probably find something that fits just right for them. Theater is good for younger girls too, and you can check local children’s theater productions up to a year in advance to see what they may have in store for a season.
Last night Madeleine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting. It was at Janelle and Emily’s house, which is just several blocks away, so despite the dark and cold, we walked. It took less than 10 minutes, but in that time I got to hear a lot of what’s on Madeleine’s mind these days. She talked about school and the play she’s directing with friends and anything else we could cram in. Later, on the way home, we debriefed on the book club meeting. This isn’t the only time we spend talking to each other, but there seems to be something about book club that brings out conversation before, during and after. I think it’s because we know we’re in for a relaxing and fun evening.
We spent lots of time talking before and during dinner. Since the girls are all seniors they are also all in some process of applying for colleges. Some have already finished and been accepted to the schools they want to attend, and some are still in the stressful period of applying. And it is stressful if only because it’s an unknown that will affect them in ways they have no way of gauging at this point in time.
We gathered around to talk about The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (watch book video here) and ended up discussing memoir more than anything else. We talked about the different kinds of memoir, and how much of the genre we expect to be the truth. Many of us, including me, look at memoir as a contract with the reader that it’s an honest recollection of the writer’s perception of the truth. But some of us said it’s not important to them, that they read a story for what they take away from it, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or truth. We got into a good-natured but heated discussion on the topic.
We also talked about memoirs that detail extreme childhood experiences, like those in Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and The Glass Castle, versus those that are more musing on life experiences, such as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun. I’ve also read an interesting memoir recently that combines memory with current events in a very interesting way. It’s called The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn, and it recounts the author’s quest to reconnect with the family in Poland who sheltered her mother during the Holocaust. It blends family history research with historical facts with analysis of current cultural conditions in Poland with a personal quest of the author to search for clues about her mother (official review to come). I tend to like this type of memoir more than those about extreme childhoods (with the exception of Angela’s Ashes). It was a very interesting discussion that I believe gave us all lots to think about.
Madeleine and I will host the next meeting, which isn’t until January, and Madeleine really wanted us to tackle a Jane Austen review. We all signed up to read different books by Austen, with at least two of us choosing to read each book. When we get together in January we’ll plan to look at Austen as an author as well as gender and class issues of the times she was writing in as much as we’ll talk about the books themselves. I chose to read Mansfield Park, because I haven’t read it before, and Madeleine picked Pride and Prejudice, which she hasn’t read. Stay tuned!
Last Saturday I was happy to be invited as a guest to the Hillsboro, Oregon, public library mother-daughter book club meeting. Gretchen Olson, author of Call Me Hope, was also there to talk about her book and the Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, which received a portion of the advance for Call Me Hope. A great group of moms and daughters had gathered that morning to meet Gretchen and hear her perspective on the book while also talking about their own thoughts. I loved being in on the conversation. And I admired the commitment of group members who came out at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning to be part of the meeting. I know how difficult it can be to get kids out of bed and out the door on a non-school day.
Gretchen is a passionate supporter of the Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, and she hopes that her book will inspire readers to take on a service project involving the group, which provides educational materials that can be used in schools among other things.
Here’s a picture of the group with Gretchen, who is in the middle wearing purple.
And here’s my review of Call Me Hope.
Hope Marie Elliot is eleven years old and in sixth grade. She has a lot to hope for: that her verbally abusive mother will stop calling her stupid and making her feel as though everything she does is wrong, and that she will get to go to Outdoor School at the end of the school year. But Hope is aptly named, and while her mother’s insults continue unabated, she begins to form a refuge for herself. She throws her energy into school work and takes on a challenging project related to Anne Frank’s diary, which her class is reading. She forms a friendship with two women who own a consignment clothing shop, and works to earn clothing for herself. She makes new friends at school, and begins to see her school counselor as someone she can open up to.
She is surprisingly independent for a girl her age, but much of her independence is forged from neglect. When Hope could be drawing inward and closing up, instead she reaches out and sees that the wide world is not necessarily like the one she experiences at home. And that gives her courage to reach out for more. Underlying much of the book is the recognition that while physical abuse is no longer accepted, verbal abuse is often still ignored or dealt with awkwardly.
Call Me Hope is told simply through the words of the young protagonist, and it is richly layered with many themes. Some of the questions it asks readers to ponder: What is verbal abuse? How does a parent’s verbal abuse affect members of the whole family, especially when it’s directed at only one sibling? How do voices from the Holocaust have meaning for and inspire us today? What impact does a loving community have on a child’s emotional well being? Is there hope for change?
Author Gretchen Olson has written a book that shines a light on an issue that isn’t talked about much, while giving us a character, Hope, who will burrow into your heart and stay for a while. Highly recommended for ages 9 and up.
Goosebumps author R. L. Stine says “Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? Creepers is a good one! Thrills and chills? You Bet. But it will also warm your heart.”
Here’s my review of Creepers by Joanne Dahme
Courtney O’Brien has just moved with her parents into the small New England town of Murmer where they’ve bought an old home next to a cemetery. The first thing she notices is the ivy, which covers everything from the house to the gravestones and seems to have a life of its own. Then she meets Margaret and her dad, who conducts historical tours of the cemetery. From them Courtney learns about a centuries-old mystery involving Margaret’s ancestors, the cemetery and Courtney’s house. Together they work to unlock the secrets hidden behind the ivy.
I had a hard time putting this book down once I got started. It’s easy to transport yourself to a small New England town of old where messages were carved into headstones and witches were burned at the stake. I also started noticing English Ivy everywhere: clawing its way up tree trunks, crawling across lawns, clinging to the sides of buildings. Creepers is fast-paced, and each chapter starts with a diary entry, newspaper story, community announcement or definition that keeps the book moving along and adds something to the mystery. Creepers is my kind of suspense novel: it’s wonderfully creepy and it gave me goosebumps without being gory or making me afraid to go to sleep at night. I think it would be a great book to read in a mother-daughter book club, particularly appropriate with Halloween coming up. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up.