Here is this month's guest post from Jeff Kamin, reporting on Minneapolis' Books & Bars Book Club which met this time to discuss Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed. Last month Jeff reported on their discussion of The Monsters of Templeton, read that here. I love how the below conversation went -- anarchy rules!
It might seem obvious to try to stay on topic when discussing a book with your club, but when you’re dealing with 80 people raising their hands to talk, you may have a tougher time.
Usually, I run the Books & Bars discussion based on research and questions I’ve brought to the group. People raise their hands and I call on them to speak. I try to pick people who’ve not spoken yet to give everyone a chance to explore the aspects of the book they came to share. Sometimes our conversations bounce around quite a bit while still talking about the book.
This time, in honor of our latest pick, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, we attempted a new trick. No hand raising, no waiting to be called on, just jumping into the discussion when you had something that applied to the topic. Cut off your neighbor! Make yourself heard when you want! Sounds rude, but it was actually quite civil.
Believe it or not with a slightly smaller group (75 people) in attendance, it worked. Our classic sci-fi pick was not as popular with everyone as I would’ve hoped, but a greater number actually read and liked it than I had anticipated. As many sci-fi books go, there’s a lot of early exposition and made-up names to get through, but the meat of the story gets juicier around the half way point. And no, to answer my question from last month, this was not the stellar winner I was hoping for in the club. But, we had no regrets for our lively political discussion and genre-expanding tale.
The Dispossessed’s protagonist states, "Revolution is our obligation; our hope of evolution." We pondered whether it’s the people’s responsibility to maintain the mindset that made the initial revolt possible in a society founded upon revolution. Are laws or popular opinion a more effective tool of governing? What keeps us more honest: fear of getting caught or being shunned by our neighbors and society?
Loyalty is regarded as the characteristic that allows the strongest to survive in the utopias presented in The Dispossessed. One of the major themes is the ambiguity of different notions of utopia. None are presented as perfect here. We were able to compare and contrast current notions of socialism, communism and capitalism along with allusions to the feminist movement in the 70s and Vietnam. Did I mention we drink during our meetings?
Next month we enter the dreamy world of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.
I’m thinking about hand raising and calling on the members again, but maybe asking for people to try staying on topic and exhausting it before moving on to the next one. I’ll be back to let you know how it went.
Thanks! -- Jeff Kamin, Moderator