Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods Book Club

A new friend and I recently connected with a discussion of books.  She had recommended to me Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and told me how humorous it was, so I was sold and ordered myself a copy from the library (attempting to save trees and money while keeping our libraries in business).  Brutally vivid descriptions, “If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it”  (81), alarming statistics (six deaths on Mt. Washington’s slopes in the first half of 1996), and hilarious analogies fill the pages:

So woods are spooky.  Quite apart from the thought that they may harbor wild beasts and armed, genetically challenged fellows [think The Hills Have Eyes] named Zeke and Festus, there is something innately sinister about them, some ineffable thing that makes you sense an atmosphere of pregnant doom with every step and leaves you profoundly aware that you are out of your element and ought to keep your ears pricked.  Though you tell yourself that it’s preposterous, you can’t quite shake the feeling that you are being watched.  You order yourself to be serene (it’s just a woods for goodness sakes), but really you are jumpier than Don Knotts with pistol drawn.  Every sudden noise [. . .] makes you spin in alarm and stifle a plea for mercy [ . . .].  Even asleep, you are a coiled spring.  (44-45)

This memoir retells not only 870 miles walked on the Appalachian Trail, but also uncovers a touching friendship which had not been nurtured since childhood.

Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville, IL

Not simply an entertaining, informative read, but also a motivator to walk in the great out-of-doors.  So, a leisurely stroll in the woods, perhaps a nature preserve, is a must for book club with a backpack loaded with water, Snickers bars, Slim Jims, and raisins.

Bill Bryson

Cathi Hanauer’s Gone Book Club

Years ago shortly after we had our first child, my husband and I read Cathi Hanuer’s The Bitch in the House and had great belly laughs (while pointing fingers at one another) at her honest writing as well as the writing of others anthologized in the book.  So, while reading Hanauer’s article in Real Simple Magazine, I noticed she had recently published Gone, a novel in which I had not read (in case you were wondering how books find me- chance, mail,  text recommendations in the middle of the night, and inviting covers).
Immediately intrigued by the ideal of a sculptor husband, Eric, up and vanishing with the babysitter one night after a romantic dinner with his wife, Eve, I did not feel hooked, though, until I had reached the vicinity of page 80.  For me, the beginning needed a metaphorical boost of vitamin C with the wife’s reaction to circumstances being a bit too accommodating for belief.  A strong front for the sake of the children is understandable as Eve has always been the one who holds the family together through routine and healthy eating, but as a reader, I yearned for more depth from Eve.
Nevertheless, again, once page 80 was reached, I needed to read on and on through the night so that I could know what eventually happens to this family dynamic.  Hanauer manages to keep the reader in suspense until the near end regarding  whom decides to do what with whom, yet I turned the final page feeling as if I still wanted more- more explanation, more layers, more . . .
As Eve is a nutritionist and her mother-in-law is eating more healthfully after a breast cancer scare, numerous, mouth-watering meals are described in detail.  Perhaps, a bruschetta much like Danny’s would be a nice starter for book club.
Then, perhaps Penelope’s meal of chickpeas, spinach, and tofu sausage (or chorizo for the carnivore).  Finally, a carrot cake with plenty of icing initially meant for a birthday girl, but instead enjoyed by bookies.

Cathi Hanauer

Cheryl Strayed’s Torch Book Club

Having recently inhaled Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I was then eager to read her first novel, Torch.  With similar life experiences as the female protagonist Claire- a parent who suffers a gruesome death at the hands of cancer, various familial dysfunction, and a previous longing for the consummate romantic relationship- I bookmarked passage after passage which seemed to have come from my own thought processes during my near-identical life experiences:  
Years passed. . . Slowly, stingingly, she forgave them [her parents] without their knowing about it.  She accepted the way things were- the way they were- and found that acceptance was not what she’d imagined it would be.  It wasn’t a room she could lounge in, a field she could run through.  It was small and scroungy, in constant need of repair.  (52)

Strayed does not romanticize life, but, instead reveals it in all its awkwardness, ugliness, and blessedness.
In addition, Strayed is not only author, but also neologist with the creation of parentified– “‘ . . . where a child who is still a child doesn’t get to be a child entirely because he or she has to take on things that children shouldn’t have to take on . . . common in single-parent families- where the child has to look after younger siblings, cook meals, and stuff like that'”  (56).  Recalling my own childhood, I can easily see how my older sister was definitely parentified,  and certainly not of her own volition at the tender age of fourteen.
For the purposes of book club, an assortment of vegetarian dishes in honor of Teresa Rae Wood would be appropriate.  Perhaps a scalloped potato casserole with peas along with herbal tea would be ideal items offered at your book club discussion.

Cheryl Strayed