I've only been to two book discussions led by B.J. Smith: the one last night, and one last July. It's an interesting set up. It's more of a class than a discussion. B.J. steers the conversation so we don't wide up completely off track, which is necessary. Otherwise we would end up like the women in "The Reading Group" (the book we discussed) and talk about everything but the book. But, in my opinion, the discussion is too much of a class. I love my literature courses at school, don't get me wrong, but B.J. has a different style compared to my professors. She's a little closed-minded for a teacher. Which she is entitled to; it's a discussion. But if she's going to run it like a literature class, she needs to be more open to other people's observations and opinions. I'm not only saying this because we disagree on some points. At times, she shuts down potential discussion by putting forth her opinions as fact. It's a bit of a turn off, to be honest.
However, my eyes were open to how much I miss as a reader. I am so willing to get wrapped up in characters, that I'm easily blinded to theme. B.J. pointed out that the book is very clear on certain topics: abortion is bad. mothers are mothers through and through and would gladly become martyrs and sacrifice anything and everything for their children. there is a big difference between romantic love and comfortable love. infidelity is a big no-no. Now, it's not that I missed these things, I just didn't pay too much attention to them. I focused on the characters, and not so much their function as a vehicle for the author's ideas. I forget that authors write because they have messages to convey. There is always something bubbling below the surface (although, "The Reading Group" doesn't bother to delve very deep). I have to remember to look for all those things, otherwise, there's just too much I'm missing.
We got off on a small tangent at the end of the discussion. We started talking about "Twilight." And, again, there's so much I've missed. All the Mormon ideas Stephenie Meyer is conveying, subtle as they are. The anti-Catholic feelings (the Italian "Volturi"). I never picked up on these things, without being probed. Bella's self-deprecating nature annoys me to no end, and I didn't realize it had anything to do with any bigger ideas, let alone Mormonism. Young adult literature has become very clever.
I guess what all this means is that I need to pay more attention to what I read. When I'm out of school and just reading for pleasure, I forget about all those things like theme and authorial intent. They're easy to pick out when having a discussion, but those are things I don't always look for on my own. I guess I'll have to read the next book more carefully.
The theme of this summer's discussion books is "groups." so we started with Elizabeth Noble's "The Reading Group," and next month's book is "Last Orders" by Graham Swift. We started with a group of British women and now we're moving on to a group of British men. I hope to like this book better than the first.