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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BPL Book Discussion: The Rosie Project

Last Monday the group met to discuss the seemingly light romantic comedy, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I say seemingly because there is quite a bit of heft behind the fun here.  But that is for later in the post, for now, here is the publisher's summary:
Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. 
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father.  
When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. 
Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges. The Rosie Project is a rare find: a book that restores our optimism in the power of human connection. 
Before I get to the discussion itself, I would like to urge all of you to look at the resources for this title on LitLovers because besides posting the publisher's questions (which are a resounding "meh" for this title) they had an addendum of a few more promising ones here.

Now on to our excellent discussion:
  • We had 7 liked votes, 0 disliked, and 2 so-sos who were both leaning more to like.
  • Some of our opening comments:
    • It felt too light and fluffy at first, but as I got into it, and in the last 100 pages, Don's transformation added depth and interest for me,
    • As a former University Dean, I liked how the book made fun of that world.  It was so true.
    • I felt like Don was too dismissive about his own Asperger's 
    • Actually, that's what I liked about it. It wasn't an issue novel, or "woe as me." Don knew he was different and found positive and negative things about it. This made the story move faster and was still informative about the challenges he faced.
    • This book was hilarious.
  • You cannot read this book without talking about Don, our narrator. Unanimously we all loved the narration here, even those who do not normally like first person. Comments...
    • I liked this book because of Don and his unique POV. Simsion stayed in Don's voice perfectly. The story stays within the narrow boxes Don requires to function in the world, but as Don opens up, so too does the story.
    • I liked that we got to know someone with Asperger's on a personal level by reading this story.
    • Don's lack of self awareness at the beginning of the story reminded me that we can all be like that--not as self aware as we should be.  His was just to an extreme.  Watching him learn to see himself better made me think about my own self. Wonderful!
    • Yes, a great example of this is how much Don, a geneticist, criticizes his friend Gene for poorly teaching "Intro to Genetics," yet Don ignores the fact that Phil could be Rosie's Dad.
    • The lengths Don went to in order to collect DNA made for great storytelling, but it also illustrated a lot about Don's character.
  • This segue-wayed us into a discussion about the "Wife Project" in general:
    • When the book began, I hated Don! He was such a jerk and objectifying women trying to find a wife with a questionnaire. But that was why the book was great. I got mad at Don but that was Simsion's plan.  As Don realized how bad his plan was, I began to love him.
    • This book was also enlightening to me on a psychological level. I too reacted poorly to Don at first, but I realized that the entire book is a statement on how we react when we first meet people who are so different. Everyone needs a chance, especially those who are outside "normal." Who knows what actually lies behind the behavior?
    • How different is Don's project from e-dating sites? He might have been "weirder" about it than e-Harmony, but still, it is the same idea.
    • We then began sharing stories of people meeting online using a dating questionnaire.
    • Even when single people meet in person, there is a lot of self selecting going on.
    • I loved how he kept changing the "scientific" survey. It showed how his reason was beginning to give way to instinct when it came to love.
    • Don and Rosie both had to change, but Don had to change a bit more.
    • The "Wife Project" served to teach all of us a lesson about how we are all unique and all need to adapt to survive in the world. We need to make concessions to live and work together.
  • Question: Can Don feel love?
    • Rosie is worried he could not love her the way she wants to be loved.
    • We decided that Don can feel love but Rosie needed to accept how Don will love her. It is different than the Rom Coms love that Don studies to learn from, but there is no question that he loves her.
    • This is a universal question that all couples must answer before they commit to each other.  This version was just more quirky, but that made us pay attention better. In reality, it applies to everyone.
    • We also all enjoyed reading a Rom Com/Chick Lit type book but from a male perspective.  Very refreshing. [Note: we are all women]
  • Rosie's Turn:
    • She had obvious anger/abandonment issues. It motivated all her behaviors and interactions.
    • She was against stereotypes to an extreme.  We pointed a few out that were amusing like a straight girl working at a gay bar, acting like a "dumb" bartender but she is actually a genius. It made us understand Rosie more as the book went on.
    • Before we learn more about Rosie, we definitely like Don much more.
    • We love how much Don accepted and adored Rosie's aggressive independence, but it also made him blind to her need for love and support for a time.
    • The NYC trip was perfect. They got to know each other and we got to know each of them better. They knew they could be a couple after that, but that realization scared Rosie.
  • Gene and Claudia:
    • We spent a good deal of time talking about them as a couple, as Don's true friends, and how they helped Rosie and Don get together.
    • Gene is portrayed as a buffoon, but he is really quite brilliant and very caring.
    • Gene knew Rosie and Don would be perfect for each other because she was smart enough to keep pace with him and her emotional issues could be helped by Don's extreme reasoning.  
    • Gene recognized that Rosie and Don each had skills and personality traits that the other needed.
    • Claudia was loved by us all.  She was the grounded, "mother earth" character. But we felt bad for her that the open marriage with Gene which she initially agreed to, was making her upset now. We were sad that she couldn't tell Gene herself, but were super happy when Don gained enough social awareness to recognize her change of heart and told Gene.
    • Claudia was a perfect therapist. She listened to Don and gave sound advice without ever telling him what to do.
  • We went back to the beginning of the novel to talk about Don and the talk he gave for Julie and her group of kids with Asperger's
    • This interaction to begin the novel set up 2 opposing views of Asperger's. Julie's view that it is a flaw in these kids which must be overcome and Don's view that it gives these children an advantage that they have to know how to exploit in the "normal world."
    • We come to understand Don better because of this interaction.
    • We then had a talk about Asperger's and how it is gaining more acceptance now. People shared stories of people they knew who they thought of as "different" but were probably just undiagnosed at the time.
    • Someone shared that she had just watched a Ted Talk about Asperger's where the speaker argued it is actually an advancement of the brain. He saw it as evolution of our mental powers as humans.  Very interesting.
    • We talked about how people with Asperger's need people like Don to bridge the gap.
  • The Title-- The Rosie Project:
    • There are so many projects here.
    • The Wife Project
    • The Dad Project
    • The Don Project
    • The Rosie Project
    • The title is from the last project because it is from Don's POV and that is the project that is the most important.  It is the result of all of the other projects.
  • Words to Describe This Book:
    • engaging
    • romantic comedy
    • unconventional [I love this word choice because it describes so many things about this book, both in content and construction]
    • humanizing
    • quirky
    • delightful
    • compelling
    • philosophical
    • self reflective
    • great characters
    • thought provoking
    • fun
Readalikes: There is a sequel-- The Rosie Effect-- which only 1 person had read so far. We vacillated between wanted her to tell us everything, and making her keep the details to herself so we could all read and enjoy it.

If you are looking for other discussable books with a quirky first person narration try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (autistic child narrator), Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (adult with Tourette's Syndrome) or Unexpectedly, Milo by Matthew Dicks (OCD).

Don reminded many of us of Sheldon from the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory.  If you like that show, you will enjoy this novel.

The novel is most similar to an old fashioned, screwball, romantic comedy, like those featuring Katherine Hepburn. Try Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story.

What I found most intriguing about The Rosie Project was that at its heart it was a quirky, romantic comedy with meat. Meaning that I had fun while reading this fun and touching love story, but it also got me thinking about larger issues beyond if the couple would end up together.  Two other books I have read that captured me in a similar way (with links to my longer reviews) were Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

If you enjoyed the awkward men finding love and coming to a better understanding of themselves in the process, NoveList suggests-  Us by David Nicholls, Addition by Toni Jordan or The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.

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