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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Guest Post: Skyping and Book Clubs

Back on January 14, I hosted the ARRT Quarterly Book Discussion at the BPL.  As I have mentioned before, this is a chance for people who usually lead book discussions to have a chance to participate in one.  I love getting together with my peers and hearing about all the stuff they are doing.

One of those participants, Diane Srebro, Assistant Head of Adult Services at the Orland Park Public Library, mentioned how she would be hosting bestselling author Chris Bohjalian via Skype at her book club's discussion of The Sandcastle Girls.  Well, not only was I interested in how it went, but I asked her to write up her thoughts for all of you too.

Much thanks to Diane. If you want to ask Diane further questions, leave a comment or contact me at zombiegrl75[at]gmail[dot]com and I will pass it on to her.

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Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover …
by Diane Srebro, Orland Park Public Library
Nothing like an upcoming Monday night Writers Group to push me to sharpen a pencil and keep a promise for a ‘tell all’ on Becky’s blog after Skype chatting about ‘The Sandcastle Girls,’ historical fiction on the Armenian Genocide, with top seller Chris Bohjalian at the Orland Park Public Library.  How fun to swap gossip on a good book and its author.  This work holds personal resonance for both Bohjalian and the interviewer whose ancestor(s) survived this remote tragedy.      
Let’s first digress to rave about the internet’s ability to connect authors and readers in real time across great distance on a tool like Skype.  Publishers must be evaluating the antiquated (i.e. expensive) notion of book tours in an age of instant hyper connections …much to the dismay of a skeptic.
When an author of a text joins a group for an online foray, readers feast on the first person insights into plot, characters, setting and pace of fiction.  Nonfiction writers work well in the forum too.  Fans and the not-so-hot-about-it reader question a wordsmith for direct access and substantive response.   
During a recent talk about ‘The Sandcastle Girls,’ Bohjalian educated a small crowd on hand at a monthly discussion.  On its surface, the story centers on a romance between Mount Holyoke graduate Elizabeth Endicott volunteering in Syria on behalf of a Boston based relief organization Friends of Armenia.  There she meets and then begins to correspond with engineer, Armen, grieving for his lost wife and infant daughter.  
Bohjalian travels through time from early 20th century to present day New York where he introduces character Laura Petrosian.   There she begins to discover her family’s heritage when a friend calls with news that a photograph of Petrosian’s grandmother had been used to promote a museum exhibit.  Petrosian learns of the hardships endured by her Armenian fore bearers.
Without Bohjalian present, this group would have talked about character development and motives; plot design and shifts in time; political climate in Middle East; and other obvious points o f reference.
Instead, members were treated to Bohjalian’s motive for writing ‘The Sandcastle Girls,’ which included an introduction to historical origins of modern genocide which started with  Armenia , and a crime against its people committed by Turkey, (Rwanda, Cambodia, Holocaust) along with an overview of the resilience and strength within the Armenian diaspora worldwide.
Who desires to read about barbaric acts of torture and mass killings?  Try to name a book’s appeal factor surrounding targeted discrimination and deliberate systematic extermination of an ethnic or racial group.  Pick up a newspaper for horrific accounting of inhumanity and wars in this 21st century.
But a captivating romance set in foreign lands, against a backdrop of a ravaged nation, with witnesses struggling to provide aide, entices the unsuspecting (or uninformed)  reader into a fictional treatment of  world history tamed down to make truth palatable to digest.
Bohjalian shared his threefold reason for writing ‘The Sandcastle Girls:’  the Armenian Genocide was forgotten after falling away from national headlines as American interests shifted to oil in the region, survivors remained silent after fleeing and culturally assimilating in new lands, and Turkey’s government continues to offer official denial to the present day. 
What actions could governments (and world religions) take for epic moral failings of the past and in these contemporary times?  Which humanitarian values can be shaped by legitimate institution both secular and religious?  How can cultures instill respect for an other to avoid harm or committing extreme acts of genocide and war (with blessings)?  (Questions reserved for books …!) 
In 2015, the centennial anniversary of the Genocide will be commemorated.  History honors 1.5 million Armenians killed (World Book c. 2013) by the Ottoman Empire during World War I (1914-18.)  Chris Bohjalian indicated that his latest book ‘The Light in the Ruins’ will be released by Random House in July 2013.  Hope he’ll visit the Orland Park Public Library again for another chat online or in person.  

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