In this Unabridged Podcast book club discussion, we talk about Tommy Orange's There There. We all discuss this masterpiece, and then we share our pairings, including Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji, and Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers.
Ashley - Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians
Sara - Lindy West’s Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema
Tommy Orange's There There
Ashley - Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine
Jen - Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji
Sara - Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City
Mentioned in Episode
Episode 104 - What Makes a Holiday Movie?
Give Me One - A New Interest
Ashley - Indoor plants
Jen - Virtual teaching
Sara - Puppies
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Sara said, "My book has a curse word in the title. And it is Lindy West's 'S-Word Actually.' It's basically a nonfiction book about her experience viewing some of the most popular movies over the last 20 to 30 years, and each chapter is a different movie. She starts off the book by talking about what she thinks is the perfect movie, which is The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, and then each subsequent movie is rated one to 10 DVDs of The Fugitive, so that's the rating scale.
"I'm telling you, I'm enjoying it so much. She is hilarious. I'm listening to it on audio, and she narrates it, and it is just so funny. . . . She has all the side eye, which I really like, and she doesn't hold anything back. It's just it's been a really awesome read for this moment in time in my life. I've also watched nearly all the movies she has put on there."
Sara also provided this highlight, with plenty of snark, "I will say that she discusses Love, Actually, the movie that is not a Christmas movie, which is where the book gets its title from, and I guess you can connect the dots and know how she felt about this movie. So I felt very vindicated listening to that chapter, and I definitely wanted to call out both Jen and my sister, who loves that movie and told me to watch it at Christmas time, and it was really sad."
Ashley added, "Yes, for podcast listeners, first of all, Jen and Sara had a rather heated debate about what constitutes a holiday movie that we will link in our show notes, and so that was what Sara was not-subtly referencing there. Also, that book is on Libro.fm, and was on there for the ALC program for September."
Jen was reading Julie C. Dao's Broken Wish, an egalley from NetGalley that comes out on October 6. She shared that this book is the first in a planned quadrology. "Other authors are going to take up the next three books. So, after Dao's book one, then it's Dhonielle Clayton, Jennifer Cervantes, and L. L. McKinney. These are about witches and witchcraft, and a family with a curse, and it studies the family over four generations.
"In this first book, the Grimms are characters in the book as sort of secondary characters, so there's this fairy tale feel, and it opens with this couple in a cottage in Germany in the 1800s, who desperately want a child but can't have one. The wife befriends the woman on the hill, who everyone in the village thinks is a witch, and she doesn't believe she is. But then the woman gives her this tonic so that she can have a baby, and she just has to promise that she will continue to go to her house for a snack and to maintain their friendship. Her husband, who has some issues with being an outcast, does not want her to do that. She breaks her promise, thus bringing on the curse. It's great. It's YA, and it is very readable.
"It starts with the couple, and then their daughter Elva is 16, and she is the focus of the plot. . . . I love a fairy tale retelling. And this one's just inspired by all of these fairy tales sort of wrapped into one. I really like it."
Ashley was reading Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indians. She said, "I'm listening to the audio, and [Graham] is just a phenomenal storyteller. But like I said, the genre is horror, and I did not know that when I started it. I just had seen posts about it, and I was reading There There and loving it. So I was really interested in more books that talked about Native culture, and so that was why I started it. Then as I got into it, there's this really great sort of mythology that's happening. There's this revenge narrative, and all of that stuff is going on for the character.
"Somewhere along the way, I saw it on Goodreads or something with the genre right next to it. There are parts that are disturbing—there was a scene that is really vivid to me—but I think what's so interesting is it's looking at the examination of culture and traditions, and what happens when we break from those traditions. And so there is this, like, revenge thriller narrative part, but then there's also this just really interesting examination of people and what makes up a person and how they understand their identity and how that connects.
"Then part of the revenge stuff, it's also a psychological thing where the character that you're following, you're wondering about the credibility of what the character is sharing, and so I'm always interested in that as well."
Ashley was also listening to her book via Libro.fm.
Main Book Club Discussion - Tommy Orange's There There
Here are some of our thoughts about our Book Club pick:
Jen said, "I really loved this book. This was my second time through—I read it shortly after it came out about two years ago and was just blown away. I think the writing is phenomenal. Tommy Orange's ability to navigate all of these different perspectives, and to just show the breadth of the definition of what it means to be . . . he even lists all of these terms, what it means to be a Native or an Indian or a . . . there's one chapter where he lists all of the things that people call themselves. But just the variety within that label, and yet the things that they share that they have in common this story, and the sense of story that connects them, I think is phenomenal. I just I love that.
"I just think it fits so well within that tradition of Native American literature, and is sort of in conversation with all of this other literature and all of these other stories. I think it's just beautiful. I really love it."
Sara said, "I thought the way that he told the story and the way that he was able to weave the thread that connects all the characters together in this huge culminating event was remarkable. I mean, the storytelling and the writing is just beautiful. The ending for me was really, really hard. I, I wasn't expecting the end. That, for me was really difficult."
Ashley said, "I really loved this, I was blown away by the intricacies of the connections between the characters, and the way that we could see so much about their individual lives, and also the way they connected to each other. That part, to me, was really amazing. I also found the fact that I thought that Tommy Orange did such a great job of examining the systemic problems that connected to personal lives and the way those played out, and so I really appreciated that because I think he addressed things like alcoholism in a really deep and meaningful way that showed exactly how people get into that situation and why it is not just an individual problem, but also a cultural problem. I felt like he explored that in such a really rich and powerful way."
For pairings, each host chose one book that would be a great companion to There There. Jen chose Akwaeke Emezi's The Death of Vivek Oji. She said, "I chose [a book] that I read really recently, and I just think these two books echo each other beautifully. I did this as part of a buddy read with our favorite, @readwithtoni, and this is a another book that I think is very concerned with identity and both individual identity and identity as a community. It's another book that looks at a situation in a place from a multitude of perspectives and that is really using point of view as a way to sort of examine things from all sides.
"I will say the first sentence in the book, which is also the entirety of the first chapter is 'They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.' From that moment, I was just absolutely absorbed in this book. It is a really short book—it's one of the shorter books I've read recently—but there is so much depth in the novel."
Sara said, "My pick is a nonfiction pick. It's Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It is an investigative journalistic book about the these seven indigenous high school students who died in Ontario and Canada, and basically, it's an examination of the human rights violations against indigenous people, and this in Thunder Bay and this community. It tells the story of the students, what happened to them, and it really examines the systemic racism and violations against them."
Ashley said, "I'm sharing one that it's been quite a while since I read, but I really love it. So I wanted to share it even though I'm a little rusty on the details of the book: Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. The reason this one stood out to me is she is exploring the Native American community as well. This is Chippewa families. What really struck me about a is not just that component, which I think is important, as far as, I think she explores a lot of similar issues, but also that it is a lot of different perspectives, and then they weave together. So I think that that part is similar in the sense that you explore a lot of different individuals' lives. And yet they're woven together.
"This one spans a 50-year period, basically, in rural North Dakota, but I just think that she is a phenomenal storyteller. I think her writing is really rich. And I think that similarly, it's examining the threads between us as people and also the way that some of the systemic factors play into individual lives and also play into family lives and family dynamics."
Give Me One - New Interest
Ashley, Jen, and Sara wrapped up by each sharing a new interest.
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