Book Menage

Book Menage Day Four: Wrap-up

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in this Menage, or who read the books and visited. As per usual, I had a great time. I am not really a social reader--wanting always to read what everyone else is--but I learn so much in these discussions that I must try and remember to do more talking WITH people about books, rather than just holding forth on books here (or in person--I tend to do that, and it's a very bad habit). So thank you!

Well, how should we wrap up? Anyone have any questions you wanted to ask or discuss after reading Thomas Keenan's Technocreep or John Scalzi's Old Man's War? I've got one more:

1. Would you suggest either of these books to other readers? Why or why not?

Oh, and also, I wanted to share this. I read Technocreep first, and found it super interesting, and then the idea of having the Menage came up, so I went and read Old Man's War too. While I was reading OMW, I thought, I should really read both books before suggesting the Menage; I don't know that these two books "go together." But then I found this line, on page 145 of my copy of Old Man's War:

"In week eight, I stopped talking to my BrainPal. Asshole had studied me long enough to understand my brain patterns and began seemingly anticipating my quickly the creepy becomes commonplace."

I was very pleased by that (it seemed like a great connection), and thought, huh, I think all books just "go together."

Have a great weekend, all.

Book Menage Day Three: John Scalzi's Old Man's War.

All right. What did you think of John Scalzi's science fiction novel Old Man's War?

Here are my questions for you.

1. What did you think of the premise of this book (old people reconfigured to fight wars away from planet Earth)? Possible? Too far out?

2. How would you feel about someone using your DNA to create clones/future soldiers?

3. I don't read a lot of SF. Would you consider this a well-done example of the genre? Did you like it?

Okay, I sneaked a fourth question in there. So sue me.

Now go forth and discuss!

Book Menage Day Two: Thomas Keenan's Technocreep

You totally knew I was going to pick the nonfiction book to read first, right?

So here are my questions for you about Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy. Please have at in the comments.

1. If you wanted to tell someone what this book is about, how would you describe it?

2. Any particular examples of "technocreep" that you read about here that freaked you out? Or which seemed like a good idea to you?

3. Did this book make you think any differently about technology, surveillance, the future, privacy?

Thanks again for joining us for this menage!

And p.s., Got any questions of your own you'd like to ask about these books? Put those questions in the comments too!

Book Menage Day One: Thomas Keenan's Technocreep and John Scalzi's Old Man's War

Welcome to Book Menage 2015!

This week we'll be discussing Thomas Keenan's Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy and John Scalzi's novel Old Man's War. Today we'll discuss the books generally, then we'll have a few questions about each book individually, and we'll have a short wrap-up. Ready to discuss?*

1. Were either of these books that you would have chosen to read on your own? Why or why not?

2. How did you feel about "the future," after reading one or both of these books?

*I used to answer first, to get things going, but sometimes I worry that I skew the discussion that way. So today I'm hanging back a bit.

Book Menage 2015

Remember our Book Menages?

They're fun. We read two books, and we discuss. I think it's time for another one, mainly because I have a book for you to read. Boy, do I!

The book in question is Thomas Keenan's Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

And we'll pair it with John Scalzi's science fiction novel Old Man's War, which many people have been telling me to read.

How's about it? Two nice futuristic reads. I'll give you a long summer month to read them both. Shall we meet back here on August 1st to discuss?

I can't wait!

Shirley Jackson Menage: The Conclusion.

I so, so enjoyed reading Shirley Jackson and discussing her works with you. Thank you!

I don't have any questions for you today, but if you'd like to pose any, or jump in with any other thoughts, please do so. In the meantime, here's a small collection of links I thought you might find interesting:

Her obituary in the New York Times (although I didn't get the feeling from her bio that she was a "neat and cozy woman")

Reviews posted by a kind reader in this week's comments (thank you; you know who you are!):

Tales from the Reading Room (The Haunting of Hill House)

Stuck in a Book (Life Among the Savages)

And have you seen this? The Shirley Jackson Awards

Thanks again to all of you for participating in the Shirley Jackson Menage!

Shirley Jackson Menage: Fiction.

Well, today I thought we'd consider some of Shirley Jackson's fiction (although it should be noted she did write other novels besides her most well-known titles, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived In the Castle, and many short stories besides "The Lottery").

I should probably just open by saying I loved The Haunting of Hill House. I remember finding We Have Always Lived In the Castle interesting, too, but there was something about Hill House that blew me away. Perhaps it was knowing more about Jackson and being in awe of her breadth of writing talent:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute relaity; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more." (p. 5.)

I love the way, BOOM, that drops you right into the story AND the mood. In two sentences. Awesome.

So, two questions today:

1. Why do you think these novels endure as "classics"?

2. If they are not typically "scary," as commenters have pointed out, why are THOHH and WHALITC (and "The Lottery," to an extent) classified as "horror"?

Shirley Jackson Menage: Nonfiction.

Thanks for the great start to our Menage discussion yesterday, everyone!

Today I thought we'd discuss Jackson's nonfiction in particular, while tomorrow we can pay more attention to the fiction. So: did anyone read Life Among the Savages
or Raising Demons? I have two questions.

1. How did you like the book (we started this a bit yesterday, but I'd love to hear more)? Can you think of any recent books of this "genre," the Mommy Memoir, that are similar in subject and humor?


2. These books are often described as "fictional stories" based on Jackson's family. If they were published today would they be called memoirs? And how fictional do you think they were, really?*

There's my questions--what think you?

*A quick search reveals that these books are still discussed quite a bit in the blogosphere. I particularly enjoyed this review.

Book Menage: Shirley Jackson, Day 1.

Welcome to our book menage, where two books + 1 reader = a rollicking good time.

This time out we're considering the works of Shirley Jackson. Your assignment, if you chose to accept it, was to read one work of Jackson's fiction, and one work of her nonfiction (or the biography of her by Judith Oppenheimer).

So we'll open with an easy question today. Which books of Jackson's did you choose to read, and why? What were your initial impressions of the books you chose to read?

Please answer in the comments, and join is as much as you'd like! More questions tomorrow, and the rest of the week, and if you have a question you'd like to pose to the group, list it in the comments and I'll put it in the body of the next day's post, or send it to me in an email (to [email protected]).

Let the Menage begin!

Book Menage reminder: Shirley Jackson edition.

Happy Monday!

Just a little reminder today that our book menage starts next Monday, December 4. We'll be reading your choice of books by Shirley Jackson--fiction like her story "The Lottery" or We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and nonfiction like her books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons (or the biography of her by Judith Oppenhemier, titled Personal Demons).

Join me next week for a discussion of all things Shirley Jackson--and invite your friends! The more the merrier.

Book Menage: Shirley Jackson edition.

I just finished Shirley Jackson's fiction/nonfiction parenting memoir Raising Demons, and I continue to be fascinated by Shirley Jackson. Because it's also a somewhat spooky time of year, and Jackson was mainly known for her spooky writing, I thought now might be a good time to host a book menage, featuring Shirley Jackson as our featured author.

So here's the plan:

1. Read one work of nonfiction by or about Shirley Jackson. This would include either of her parenting memoirs, Life Among the Savages or Raising Demons (the sequel to Life...). If you're not interested in either of those titles, please try and track down Judith Oppenheimer's biography of Jackson, titled Private Demons.*

2. Read one work of spooky fiction by Jackson, such as her infamous short story The Lottery,** or her novels The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics) or We Have Always Lived in the Castle.***

3. Meet back here the week of December 3, and we'll discuss whatever we've read.

*Apologies: Some of these titles may be hard to find. If you can't track them down, consider reading the Wikipedia page about Jackson instead, or just read one of her novels.

**Please be aware there's some advertising at this page, which provides the full text of the story, or you could check out any short story collection of Jackson's and find it there.

***She wrote a lot of other novels, but is most well-known for these.

Book Menage: Joanna Kavenna's answers, part 2.

Today I have the rest of author Joanna Kavenna's emailed answers to some of our Book Menage questions.

Question: Did you keep notes during pregnancy and right after labor, or were you just able to dredge up the details of labor (which everyone seemed to concur were accurate) from memory?

Kavenna's answer: "I have always written diaries and copious notes, so I did have lots of writing about my own experiences of labour. However, it was very important to me that Brigid's labour wasn't the same as my experiences of labour.  I didn't think I'd be able to exercise any sort of editorial judgement if I was just writing up what happened to me. Also I felt it wasn't really fair on my children, to use the stories of their birth in my fiction, without asking them if they minded. So I created Brigid's labour from an amalgam of stories friends had told me, stories I had read. Inevitably, though, I drew on my own recollections of that relentless, escalating pain, and also on what I mentioned above, that dreamlike state, the sense that what you are doing in labour is both completely commonplace, billions of women have done it, and yet utterly bizarre at the same time. And how ordinary reality becomes dreamlike." 

Question: How do you pronounce your last name? Kuh-ven-na or like "Cavanaugh"?
Answer: "Your first guess is the right one - Kuh-venn-a. It's a Norwegian word, anglicised."
Our sincere thanks to Joanna Kavenna, author of the novels The Birth of Love and Inglorious, as well as the nonfiction title The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule.

Book Menage answers: Joanna Kavenna

Good morning! Does everyone still remember our book menage, where we discussed Sherwin Nuland's The Doctor's Plague and Joanna Kavenna's The Birth of Love? We raised a few questions for Ms. Kavenna, and after I emailed her with those, she was gracious enough to reply. I'll post the answer to one question today, and to the other tomorrow. And our thanks to Joanna Kavenna!

Our Question: Did you purposely contrast the "doctor's intervention" in Semmelweis's time and modern day intervention in the form of Caesarean sections, both of which result(ed) in higher mortality rates? (I think this reader had in mind that c-sections carry an increased risk of danger for the mother.)

The answer: "I was very interested in good medicine and bad medicine, or rather the idea that there are medical procedures and then flawed individuals trying to decide when to apply them. Medicine is very interesting to me because a wrong theory or wrong action can be completely devastating and even lead to the deaths of patients. My own equivocations, and those of most people, are less significant in their effects.  So in the Semmelweis, Brigid Hayes and future narratives I was looking at scientific conviction, and even at times dogmatism. The doctors in the Semmelweis narrative thought they were right, and that Semmelweis was wrong, and yet it turned out the whole thing was inverted, that he was right all along. When I was reading about the professional resistance to his theories, it amazed me that some of his colleagues refused even to contemplate the possibility that he might be right. As with the present day, there's a slender distinction between having convictions, being able to take decisions, and becoming rigid in your certainties, refusing to change. 
I wrote The Birth of Love after my own experiences of birth, in hospital.  Towards the end of the birth of my first child, the doctors said I might well have to have a caesarean, made me sign forms, wheeled me off to the operating theatre.  In the end, I didn't need a caesarean after all, but there was an interval when I was lying on an operating table, completely inert, my lower body paralysed by an epidural, with these doctors coming in and out, talking to each other, or sometimes to me. I was lying under a bright light in a sterile room, everyone wearing surgical gowns, myself - my body - the passive centre of it all. Even though I knew the doctors were doing their best to keep me informed, were really being highly professional and kind, there was still something very uncomfortable about the whole thing, losing control of your body, being surrounded by masked figures. It was very strange, like a bad dream.  And later, it made me think about all those women - say, in Semmelweis's hospital in Vienna, who were examined by one doctor after another, and not really told what was happening to them, just that it was 'the best thing', and how, doubtless, those poor women had submitted to it all, because they didn't want to endanger the lives of their babies. And yet, in the end, the doctors were infecting them with childbed fever, unnecessarily, because Semmelweis had already realised how it could be prevented. So much human suffering, so many mothers who died in agony as their babies cried beside them and so many children deprived of their mothers, and all because of a few rigid-minded individuals, who clung to what they regarded as the 'facts', which turned out to be wrong. 
I didn't want to say that all medical intervention in birth is intrinsically bad - it can often be life-saving and completely necessary. But I was very interested in that basic dilemma -  that doctors need to be able to act, without being paralysed by a sense of uncertainty, and yet certainty can become dangerous, even fatal, when it becomes dogmatic and unyielding." 
Tune in tomorrow for another answer from Joanna Kavenna!

Book Menage Day 5: The wrap-up.

Well, I can't begin to tell you all how much I enjoyed this Menage. I'm going to wait a week and then re-read all the comments; there was so much good stuff here it's almost hard to take in over the space of just five days.

No questions from me today. But if there's anything else you'd like to discuss about Sherwin Nuland's The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis or Joanna Kavenna's The Birth of Love, please feel free to do so in the comments. Any last thoughts you have on either book or the experience of reading both books together are also welcome.

Although, I lied. I do have just a couple more questions. Did you like the fiction/nonfiction Menage or should we go back to two nonfiction titles? Any suggestions for next time?

Thanks, all, and have a wonderful holiday weekend.

Book Menage Day 4: Questions, questions.

And welcome back to our Menage discussion of Sherwin Nuland's NF title The Doctors' Plague and Joanna Kavenna's novel The Birth of Love! I have so, SO enjoyed this discussion so far; in fact, after I write this I have to dive back in to the comments of previous days and make sure I'm catching everything. What a great time--thank you all for participating.

I didn't have much planned for today other than to leave it open for others' questions. Here's the two, both about The Birth of Love, that people have asked:

1. What WAS the switching of the ultimate birth gender in the scifi part trying to suggest?

This question was asked in the comments yesterday, and now I have to go back and re-read TBOL to see if I missed that. This question is from Care--thanks, Care!--but I'm a bit confused. Care, could you tell me where the gender changed? (If you don't have the book anymore, no worries.)

2. The details of the birthing in TBOL seem pretty accurate--do you think the author has given birth? Did she keep journals about the experience, or does she just have a great memory?

If you've got any other questions, don't hesitate to ask--we can discuss any and all questions in addition to these! Thanks again for all the great comments. Have a good Thursday, all.

Book Menage Day 3: The Birth of Love

And welcome to Day 3 of our Menage, in which we'll discuss Joanna Kavenna's 2010 novel The Birth of Love.

Again, in case you haven't read it, I can provide a quick synopsis. Kavenna tells four interrelated stories of childbirth, medicine, and personal choices: that of nineteenth-century doctor Ignasz Semmelweis and his sojourn in a mental asylum; that of a modern-day author publishing a novel about Semmelweis; that of a modern-day woman laboring to give birth to her second child; and that of a woman being questioned for her role in helping a laboring mother escape the oppression of the dystopian society of the year 2153.

These are the main questions I've got for you on this one:

1. Which part of the narrative did you find most interesting, and why?

2. Where did the section headings of "The Moon," "The Empress," "The Hermit," and "The Tower" come from, or what do they mean?

3. There's already been some talk about the title of this one. Do you think it was a good title? If not, what would you have titled it instead?

As always, please feel free to ask your own questions in the comments; if there are any we can cover them tomorrow.

Book Menage Day 2: The Doctors' Plague

Welcome to Day 2 of our Book Menage! I thought today we'd discuss Sherwin Nuland's The Doctor's Plague (nonfiction first--after all, we're primarily about the NF around here), tomorrow we'd handle The Birth of Love, leave Thursday open for any questions you might want to ask of the group (leave them in the comments or send me an email with them at [email protected]), and Friday we'll have a round-up. Sound like a plan?

For anyone who hasn't read it, Nuland's The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis is an entry in the "Great Discoveries" series published by Norton, and it relates the story of Dr. Ignac Semmelweis, a nineteenth-century Hungarian doctor. Dr. Semmelweis is best known for tackling the problem of "childbed fever," which was responsible for the death of hundreds (if not thousands) of women who went to European hospitals in the mid-1800s to give birth. The problem? Most of the doctors in such hospitals were dissecting cadavers and working with other patients with communicable infections directly before they would perform not-always-so-gentle internal exams on laboring mothers, introducing the bacteria that caused the infections that would kill them. The solution that Semmelweis found? Doctors washing their hands better (basically). The problem with Semmelweis's solution? He wouldn't do experiments to prove it, he wouldn't write down his case in article or book form, and he basically alienated everyone around him until his premature and sad end.

So what to ask? Here's the questions I had:

1. Did you enjoy this book? Did you find it interesting? Why or why not?

2. What aspect of this story (if any) did you find most intriguing?

3. Did you find Semmelweis a tragic character? Why or why not? Do you think his "difficult" nature was part of what helped him solve the initial childbed fever riddle?

4. If you had to pick one, how would you categorize this book? Biography, history, or science?

Have at, and have fun!

Book Menage: Day 1

Welcome to our first-in-a-long time Book Menage, featuring the titles The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis by Sherwin Nuland and The Birth of Love, by Joanna Kavenna!

I thought what we'd do is open today with a few general questions about both books, and then cover each book individually in the next few days. On Friday we'll have a wrap-up. As always, feel free to leave a question for the group in the discussion comments, and I'll happily pull those out and post them. So here we go! Thanks for participating, and enjoy the Menage!

1. Which book did you choose to read first, and why?

2. Do you think the order in which you read the books affected your experience of them?*

3. How do you think men and women would react differently to these books? Do you think men would read them, based on their subject matter?

4. Were you more interested in this subject after you read these books, or was that "more than quite enough, thank you"?

As always, feel free to answer any or all of the questions in the comments. I'll wait to participate--I don't want to skew the discussion.

*This question is from Care, who posted her reviews of each of these books last week. If you'd like to post reviews of these books, let me know in the comments or send an email to [email protected] with your links and I'll include links to your reviews in Friday's post.


Sorry for the lack of posting this week; I got Anna Dean's Austen-esque mystery novel, A Gentleman of Fortune, or The Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent from the library and I've gotten sucked into that.*

We will return to regularly scheduled nonfiction posting as soon as I finish Dean's delicious little novel. In the meantime, here's a reminder that our Book Menage, wherein we will be discussing Joanna Kavenna's novel The Birth of Love and Sherwin Nuland's The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis, will be starting in a couple of weeks on May 23? I figure, reminders are good. I don't know about the rest of you, but lately when I blink entire days and weeks seem to disappear. Time is a wild beast that will not be tamed, I tell you.

*Although it'd be a lot more fun to read this in the winter, when I could get all cozy inside and read it while drinking hot chocolate. Reading it while springtime temperatures outside boomerang from 50 to 80 and back again, and while fearing hail from scattered thunderstorms, just isn't quite the same.