Online book club: The Natural Way of Things

I’ve just posted a new book review on Escape Into Life, of The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood. (TLDR version for anyone too lazy or disinterested or exhausted: OMG, go read this book!)

That said, the book left me with a lot of questions—enough that I re-read it almost immediately, writing notes and jotting down thoughts as I went. Unlike many books these days, there are no book club discussion questions at the end, even though I think the book would make a wonderful book club selection. So if you like that sort of thing (and I’m of two minds because while I don’t usually pay attention to the book club notes myself, I know book club organizers who make great use of them), here are some suggestions, based on the questions and themes that occurred to me as I read.

  • Wood tells much of the narrative of the book by alternating between Verla’s story and Yolanda’s perspective. Why do you think she does this?
  • What is the importance of the forced march out to and back from the fence on the young women’s first day of imprisonment?
  • Why do you think Nancy wears a child’s pretend nurse’s uniform?
  • What is the significance of the doll that Hetty demands the others make for her? Why do you think she wants it, and why do you think she becomes so attached to it?
  • Why do you think Yolanda sews her “secret” contribution inside the doll? (Trying not to give anything away to those who’ve not yet read this far.)
  • Were you surprised by the change in Boncer after Hetty goes with him? Why or why not?
  • Why do Yolanda and Verla become allies? Is there a precipitating incident that draws them together? Do you feel that they are reluctant allies in any way?
  • When Yolanda and Verla hold hands at the end of their initial meeting, Verla is surprised to learn that Yolanda is stronger than she is. Is either of the two stronger than the other at the book’s close?
  • Why do you think Verla decides at the last minute to get off the bus when she wouldn’t let Yolanda convince her not to get on in the first place?
  • Madness is a constant theme in the novel. Do you believe any of the characters actually is or becomes insane?

More Questions!

Although the book itself doesn’t include discussion questions, the publisher’s website does.


Church of the Informed Citizen: Healthcare and some Illinois environmental nastiness

The much-awaited Senate proposal to repeal/replace Obamacare has occupied much of my attention this week. Here are a few articles I think do a good job of outlining and analyzing its provisions and impact.

Continue reading

Church of the Informed Citizen: Feminism, feminization and more

Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, and he and the president basically (actually?) called each other liars. But as Maureen Dowd put it in the New York Times, “the president is not in any immediate jeopardy of being indicted or impeached.” Up next, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has agreed to testify before the committee Tuesday.

There has been a lot of reporting and analysis of Comey’s testimony. The Boston Review has an insightful piece dissecting how the president’s supporters have started attacking Comey with words that portray him as a woman. It’s a sad commentary that feminizing someone in this country amounts to demonizing, denigrating and dismissing them, but it’s true. If you are interested in good government, good citizenship, and ferreting out truth, pay close attention to the language used in debating issues and discussing news. Don’t let yourself get distracted from the real issues by this sort of sleight of hand.

Continue reading

Embracing democracy, nonconformity and kindness

Again, I am reading E.B. White. Having finished my umpteenth re-reading of One Man’s Meat, I’ve moved on to The Points of My Compass. Like One Man’s Meat, it feels like an old friend.

As with much of my non-fiction reading, it reminds me that my problems are not unique and my society’s struggles are not new. (I’m reminded especially of my reading of Langston Hughes’ writings a while back, and how sadly familiar were many of his themes). I’m both comforted and dismayed by the reminder.

Continue reading

Church of the Informed Citizen: More than the Paris climate accord

Regardless your position on the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris agreement to combat climate change, How the GOP Came to View Climate Changes as Fake, in today’s New York Times, is an insightful look at the increasing influence of moneyed interests on American public policy and politics. Even Republicans who accept that climate change is real and believe we must act to stop it are largely afraid to speak up on the issue. Interestingly, among its other insights, this article tells us of a handful of GOP lawmakers who are hoping to buck that trend.

While Trump’s decision on the Paris accord fulfills a campaign promise, that doesn’t necessarily signal a trend. When his infrastructure plan comes out—it’s expected this coming week, although not with all the details in place—it won’t include nearly all the funding he talked about during the campaign. Cities, states and private businesses would have to pitch in to make up the difference: Details form the New York Times in Trump Plans to Shift Infrastructure Funding to Cities, States, Businesses.

Continue reading