I'm pleased to offer the latest guest post from Jeff Kamin at Books & Bars in Minneapolis who last month discussed Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses (which my book group just picked btw). This month this unique book group met to discuss Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You. What I love about this post is how it reinforces the value that being in book club adds to a book -- even if it's a book you don't enjoy, there is always something to be gained from talking about it.
No One Belongs Here, Reading This Blog, More Than You
Books & Bars discussed Miranda July's short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, for our January event. Another standing room only crowd of about 100 people wowed me with their insight and appreciation.
Miranda July has said she wants to create art that makes you want to create your own art. She loves it when you see a movie, read a book, or see a painting and then feel propelled or able to create something. Things are not the same anymore. July is also striving for the mutual recognition between strangers with her writing by conveying simple truths. Many of us at Books & Bars got it and felt that, too. It seems some very talented authors can make it look easy, almost effortless. From our discussion it appears she has succeeded on these fronts. Members talked of being inspired by her prose style and method of story telling to write their own fiction.
It had been a while since we read a collection of short stories by one author. Her stories followed a kind of pattern:
Person is unhappy -> Something offers them happiness -> They realize it's unreality -> They end up in unhappy reality over happy unreality. The longer these stories were, the more invested we were. A few of the shorter ones didn't affect us as much. Standouts were: The Swim Team, Something That Needs Nothing, I Kiss a Door, Making Love in 2003, Mon Plaisir, Birthmark, and How to Tell Stories to Children.
Not everyone agreed. Others felt the stories were incomplete or sounded too much like the same narrator (Miranda herself?). Some thought they would have enjoyed them more if they read them separately. Her characters and observations were unique yet some of us could relate while others wondered what was wrong with these people. We debated whether the characters are just lonely or whether they are longing for things they can't realistically have. July's writing style is eccentric and original which was a pro and con for some of us. Some of it was pretty dark, especially sexually, again for our group a turn on/off, depending. It was too much of the same darkness and loneliness to handle in one collection. The book had a lot of laughs and poignancy but was a bit too similar over the course of 200 plus pages.
I thought there were brilliant glimpses into the human psyche. It contained moments of observation and conversation which rang true. I found it insightful and funny and really was into some of the quirks and foibles of the characters. July captured the beauty of our individuality. As Poi Dog Pondering sang "You should wear with pride the scars on your skin. They're a map of the adventures and the places you've been." I recommend you read it, maybe in smaller doses, at least try a few of her stories and see for yourself.
Overall it was a good pick for Books & Bars because many of the people who didn't love the book left our meeting with a greater appreciation for it than when they walked into the theater. They told me this is why they come to our events even if they didn't really like the book. They can enjoy that others enjoyed it. And that is really all I can ask for from our meetings. We'll laugh, get a new perspective and appreciate someone else's point of view for a while. (All while drinking and making friends.)
If you're interested in more of our thoughts and comments on Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You, please see our forum at booksandbars.com. Feel free to read along with us and join the discussion. Our next book is The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff for Feb 10th.
Jeff Kamin, Moderator, Books & Bars
"For those who take their books straight up - not off Oprah's list - Books & Bars is the cure.
Bookended by social hours, it's a perfect opportunity to meet hip literary types -
and the liquid courage doesn't hurt."-- MPLS. ST. PAUL magazine, July 2008