First, to the important stuff. As I mentioned here, we were accepted to be featured as one of the Printers Row Chicagoland Bookclubs. To that end, I was asked to have the group answer some specific questions and take their picture. So thanks to Briana, here we are (minus 2 regulars).
Look for an announcement on this blog in the coming months to see when our feature is run, and, more importantly, to see what we have to say about how awesome the Berwyn Library's Monday Book Club is.
Now on to the discussion, which was a great one incidentally. I first read The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti back in October of 2008 and it was my favorite book I read that year also. Here is what I said about it back then:
"The Good Thief is, refreshingly, a traditional adventure story (with a historical background) in a literary landscape where adventure is being consumed by thrillers and terrorism plot lines. It is fast paced, the hero is resourceful and lucky (maybe unbelievable so, but that goes with the genre), and it has a resolved, happy ending. Tinti uses many of Dickens' own tricks and themes to propel her story along., including a wonderful cast of eccentric secondary characters such as a dwarf who lives on the roof, a murdering giant, and a hard of hearing landlady. The novel is appropriately funny, heart-warming, melodramatic, and bittersweet, with each occurring in the right place."The novel is set in 19th Century, upper New England and follows the story of an enchanting 12-year-old boy named Ren. Ren was left, missing his left hand, as an infant in an orphanage, he is finally adopted by a man claiming to be his brother, but who is quickly revealed as a con man. This historical adventure leads Ren on a Gothic inspired adventure in which his parentage is finally revealed and his future is secured.
I was concerned about doing one of my favorite books with the book club, but it worked out great. I began, as usual, by going around the room and asking who liked, disliked, or felt so-so about the book. We had no "dislikes", many "loves," and only a few "so-so's." I have mention using this discussion starting trick before and highly recommend it to all book discussion leaders. First, you get a sense of what you are up against. I always try to provide a balance of opinions in the discussion because when everyone agrees, the discussion is boring. In this case, I knew I would need to be more critical of the novel, providing some counterpoints for their "Good Thief Love."
Second, this technique allows the discussion to begin naturally. After people pick a side, I call on someone from the majority opinion (in this case, loved it) and ask why they felt this way. This gets the discussion going right away. You do have to make sure you get the other people (in this case, the so-so's) into the discussion too. In many cases, the reason one person loved the book is why another did not.
So, what did we discuss. The biggest thing I want to share about our discussion is how excited everyone was that we read a fun, fast-paced story. One participant said reading this novel reminded her of reading as a child: a book you couldn't put down, with characters you loved, great details of time and place, and a fun, adventurous story with a happy ending. This is important for long standing book clubs. We can get bogged down in serious books, so it is nice to have a chance to read a fun book with enough issues to discuss
Here is a list of some of the issues we discussed:
- Ren was a wonderful protagonist. We loved his perspective, imagination, and his good heart
- Tinti's beautiful language, engrossing descriptions, and eccentric characters were commented upon
- One participant had us look at the intro pages for each of the novel's 3 parts. Part One has a picture of a hand (in this part Ren is used for his lack of hand). Part Two has a picture of a skull (here Ren meets the Doctor and learns about anatomy). Part Three has a picture of a heart (here Ren finds a family)
- We spent a lot of time talking about how similar to a Dickens novel this truly was. This otherness of time and place with a nod to great works of the past, allowed Tinti the leeway to create a story in which anything could (and does) happen.
- The theme of redemption is big in this novel.
- We spent time talking about all of the secondary characters. We evaluated their actions and motives. Although they are all different, all of the characters in the book are outcasts and most evolve, grow and change. This is a bunch of extreme characters too. They keep you on your toes.
- My favorite question of the day, "Can you be a good thief?" This was a fun side discussion
- The book was dark, but Ren was light.
- Nature vs. Nurture
- Ren and his religious upbringing.
- In a book with a bunch of positive female characters, not one is a wife or mother. Hmmmmm.