by Deborah Rogers –
Thirteen people “tuned in” to our final book club meeting of the year, held via Zoom. It was the largest turnout we’ve had since in-person meetings had to be put on hold. It felt so good to reconnect with some members we hadn’t seen for many months, and to know that the group is still reading along, even if they haven’t been able to join the digital meetings. Online gatherings certainly aren’t for everyone; there can be technical challenges (indeed I disappeared for some minutes this time around due to an internet outage) and the easy flow of discussion that is possible when we’re in the same room feels more difficult to achieve on the screen. I’m grateful that some of our members have stuck with it though, as the sense of a reading community has persisted.
Our last book of the year was first suggested back in April. Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen was a first novel by Canadian writer Kate Taylor; she’s since written several others and also continues as an arts critic for the Globe and Mail. It’s literary fiction that requires its reader to do some work. Three stories unfold through the pages: three female characters separated in time, but working through some of the same issues. At the end of the 19th century there’s Mme Proust, the mother of Marcel Proust who we meet through the pages of her diary. In the late 20th century is Marie, a translator who is in Paris reading these diary pages; she’s also on a sort of mission to figure out her relationship with a hard-to-know Max with whom she is deeply in love. In between these women is Sarah, Max’s mother. We first meet her as a child, when she is sent from Paris to Canada by her parents to escape the Second World War. Sarah and Mme Proust are Jewish, and the stories are rich with Jewish culture, how it relates and ties families and communities together. Love and art are other central themes, delicately explored through these different sets of eyes and the different time periods.
There’s a lot happening in this book with three worlds to explore, and to really appreciate all the threads that tie the three stories together you have to read slowly and deeply. This made it both a book that some of us enjoyed a lot, and also a barrier to others. There are many people who are finding reading difficult this year, and complicated fiction isn’t necessarily what they need. For those who perservered though there was a rewarding dynamic between mother and son in the Prousts to enjoy and some really delicious descriptions of Paris and its inhabitants. A couple of our group felt the author had played a little too fast and loose with the timelines in these diary entries. It wasn’t a must-read, but more of a
Our discussion turned to a brief review of the year. Of all the books we’d read it was two non-fiction titles that really stood out. Being Mortal and Braiding Sweetgrass were both titles that our group felt they might have missed if Book Club hadn’t brought them into their lives, and they’d recommended them many times.
Looking forward to 2021, it seems the digital meetings will need to continue for the time being. We are happy to hear though that the library is open again and we will be able to resume the use of their book club sets, making it easier for members to access the title each month. We discussed ensuring that we continue to read widely, both fiction and non, and we talked about possibly having a meeting devoted to podcasts, or to an author or subject read instead of a specific book. I love that our members are the ones who guide the direction we take. When asked, one member said that: “One of the things I like most about our book club is that it prompts me to read in a more mindful way than I might otherwise. I seldom consult reviews for books I choose off of the library shelves, but I’m always curious about what reviewers have to say about our selection of the month or what other books and stories the author might have written. This makes the reading more intellectually stimulating for me, especially when it leads to exploring some of the facts, ideas, or events that are in the author’s story.”
You can join the conversation by signing up to our Book Club mailing list; I’ll keep you informed of what we are reading next and how to join our meetings. www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.