Last night we hosted the second meeting of the Orchard Street Reading Society! We had a great time discussing Jesse Ball's experimental novel Census.
Snacks: Book-related snacks are very important to the OSRS, and this time we had cider, peanuts, and un-grilled grilled cheese (cheese cubes and mini toasts) were all mentioned in the novel. Caroline also found some dried persimmons. "[...] but then I realized, the persimmon should go to the one who will eat it in a gulp when you turn away. Persimmons aren't for people who soberly wait for their apportioned amount. That isn't the kind of food they are" (p. 26).
Activities: Our readers made their own maps of the census territory (complete with lots of alphabet stickers, of course), wrote postcards to friends about the book, and tattooed each other with temporary tattoo ink. We also played a couple of games where we guessed what the census marks looked like, and drew pictures of what shapes we all felt like (these games make sense if you've read the book--I promise!).
"I just feel, she would say, that there are things I would never say to you--things you need to know.
"Also, she thought the person she was in her letters was someone she herself did not know until the letter was written, and then it was like she was meeting herself." (p 174)
Discussion: While not everyone loved this book, it generated some fantastic conversation. A lot of the discussion focused on the book's introduction in which Mr. Ball explains how he wrote Census about his brother, who had Down syndrome and died at age 24. The introduction shaped both our expectations for the fictional story that followed and our understanding of the relationship between the father-son story at the heart of the novel, and the device of the census that they have both committed to taking. We also touched on the relationship between reason and kindness, the importance of empathy, and the appearance of clowns in literature. Like I said: it was a great conversation!
Next up: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. I first read this book earlier this year on a quick trip to Paris and loved it (tears were shed on my return flight as I finished the book, which also takes place in Paris). In short, it's about two lost souls and the person who brings them both out of hiding. But of course in long it's about much more than that: the beauty of everyday objects and rituals; the joy of great works of art; the difficulty (and the reward) of opening oneself up to others. It's definitely less experimental than Census, so I hope all of you will read along. You can pick up a copy in our shop, or find one from an indie bookstore near you.
Next meeting: Wednesday, August 29, 7:30pm-9:30pm at CW Pencil Enterprise, 15 Orchard Street (Between Canal and Hester)