Seaside Book Club –
by Deborah Rogers –
We reach the end of our third year of the Seaside Magazine book club! It’s been a year of growth for our email list – which I think means more and more are reading along with us – and meetings with consistently around 25 members, and new faces joining regularly.
At our November meeting we discussed Patrick Lane’s 2018 novel Deep River Night. No one could find fault with the beautiful, poetic prose, but this was a book full of desperation, cruelty and violence. Not everyone felt they could finish it. There were many who did though, finding enough glimmers of hope within the darkness to keep pulling them forwards.
Set in an isolated B.C. sawmill town, it felt like a step back in time but in fact it was only 1960. It was eye-opening to reflect that this world of poverty and degradation was one that the author had himself experienced, just 60 years ago. The central character is Art, the sawmill’s First Aider. He is a man broken by his wartime experiences, barely holding it together and deeply addicted to alcohol, and increasingly opium. We witness his narrative break down and become less coherent as the book proceeds – he’s trapped in the horrors of the events he witnessed in Holland and France, haunted by the things he saw, and regrets of things he didn’t do.
There are other characters, and we see the story from their perspective too. Joel, a young man in love and lust (with two different young women), gives us some of the more positive moments in the novel. In him we see the potential for someone to come through that situation towards a happier life. The camp cook, Wang Po, is another of the more positive characters. His Chinese background gave readers a different perspective, and introduces the racism prevalent at the time.
It was the pace of the novel, the lack of story development, that was the main sticking point for most of our readers. Individually the reflections of town life, on the countryside and wildlife and even of the wartime stories, were beautifully written and vivid, but there was little momentum to the book. We appreciated the way that it touched on some key social issues of today though. People who have been forgotten and left to fend for themselves; drug and alcohol abuse; and the self harm by Irene are current themes, as is the lasting damage caused by the Residential school system. It wasn’t an easy read but I think most of us were glad we had been introduced to it.
Some fun this year: we had covers of all this year’s reads on the wall and three sticky dots each. We were able to identify our favourites (listed below), but it was also a great opportunity to reflect on the diversity of our titles, and think about what we might want to add next year.
To wrap up the meeting I invited all those present to share any other books they had enjoyed reading in 2019. It’s a great way to hear about titles that otherwise might not have crossed your path and I’m pleased to share their recommendations with you. Thank you to everyone who has taken part in our meetings this year, and those who have signed up for the mailing list and are reading along at home. The Book Club is a joint effort with the Sidney library and especially Virginia MacLeod – thank you for all you do sourcing and providing our titles each month. We’ve been treated to wonderful coffee and goodies from Quince Café in Sidney – thanks to Courtney and her team there.
Our next meeting won’t take place until January 2020. Please check the January issue of Seaside Magazine for meeting details, or sign up to our mailing list to receive notification in your inbox:
Photo by Amanda Cribdon Photography
Books recommended by Seaside Magazine Book Club Members:
From our shared reading this year:
Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
Sourdough – Robin Sloan
The Spy and the Traitor – Ben Macintyre
And from members’ individual reading:
Emily Eternal – M G Wheaton
Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
Dear Evelyn – Kathy Page
The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See
The Heaviness of Things that Float – Jennifer Manuel
Starlight – Richard Wagamese
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets – Svetlana Alexievich
The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep – Steven Heighton
Rush Home Road – Lori Larsens
The Dutch House – Ann Patchett
Book Club Q & A
Q How do you choose the books?
A The book selection is a little down to luck – each month the Sidney/North Saanich Library tries to get hold of a book club set for us to use. Availability is based on demand. So far we have had a choice between several titles each month, and have voted which one to use. Generally this will mean that people can leave the meeting with a copy of next month’s read. Book Club members can suggest titles they would be interested in reading from the VIRL book club sets list:
Q How do you structure the meeting?
A Members bring questions or discussion points with them, written down. These are put in a “hat” and drawn from to keep the discussion going. It leads to diverse questions and no need for anyone to feel self-conscious. The meeting is facilitated by Seaside Magazine’s Deborah and Sidney/North Saanich Library’s Virginia.
Q How do I stay up to date with Book Club happenings?
A Sign up for our mailing list and you’ll get meeting reminders by email. And follow us on Facebook to see everything that’s happening at Seaside Magazine!