Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Discussion of "Housekeeping"

I attended the Lighthouse Writers Workshop facilitated book discussion group on Friday, April 18, along with a number of LAC members and other participants interested in literature.  The book being discussed was Marilynne Robinson's "Housekeeping".  A National Endowment of the Arts grant to the Lighthouse Writers Workshop allowed for distribution of free copies to organizations such as the LAC, which participated in the "Big Read".  Books were available at the gallery in February, and takers were encouraged to sign up for the book discussion event.

"Housekeeping", according to the accompanying reader's guide, is a book about "the precarious and eccentric lives of three generations of Foster family women.  "Housekeeping" chronicles the deaths, abandonments and insecurities that beset the Fosters so vividly that it is often heartbreaking, but the novel also radiates a mysterious joy and tender humor commensurate with Ruth's childlike capacity for the sheer wonder of being alive."

Dan Manzanares, Creative Curator and staff member of the LWW, and educated in the literary arts, led a "generative" session for our book discussion which delved into the meaning, mechanics and mental images of the novel.  This generative approach was achieved by four different prompts, asking us to respond by sketching our reaction, or writing a brief response.

The first prompt asked us to use our imagination to draw or write about what we might find if we dipped a net into the hole in the icy lake that resulted from the derailment of the passenger train from the bridge in the book's setting of Fingerbone, Idaho. I was very moved by the images created by the participants in the discussion group -- either by their written responses which suggested stories in themselves, or the drawn images showing children's clothes, toys, or a hat to be worn on an anticipated vacation.

In prompt #2, we examined a mysterious section of the book which made us question reality and how it is experienced by Ruthie and Sylvie, the two main characters.

Water was an all-encompassing theme in this book, in all its forms: ice, snow, flood, rain, lakewater.  As a metaphor for consciousness, we again examined a section of the book and visually or literally recorded our response to it.  And lastly, speculations were shared: the author's methods, mechanics, our thoughts on how the book fit into the events of the time period.  Although consensus was that it presented a dreary overtone, with a lack of plot, her writing was lyrical and enjoyable to experience and the discussion session was beneficial in not only understanding  the book itself, but made us examine our own reactions to it.

The LAC was delighted to participate in the "Big Read" program, an initiative of the NEA designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American Popular culture.  In expanding our literary outreach, the LAC hopes to bring you more opportunities to participate in these types of activities.  Check our calendar for upcoming events.

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