WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Should Your Book Club Read Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast?

Although I loved reading comic books as a child, I haven't read many graphic novels as an adult.  I picked this up because I had heard so much about it, and WOW, am I glad I did.  I spent an afternoon laughing out loud, weeping into my tissues, and sending texts to multiple friends imploring them to Run out RIGHT NOW and get this book!

Roz Chast, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, has written a memoir about her relationship with her elderly parents.  Let me 'cut and paste' the description from the back of the book here:
"Roz Chast and her parents were practitioners of denial: if you don't ever think about death, it will never happen.  Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the story of an only child watching her parents age well into their nineties and die.  In this account, longtime New Yorker cartoonist Chast combines drawings with family photos and documents, chronicling that 'long good-bye'."

So, should your book club read it?

Hmm...not an easy question.  You see, I think this book is important--we all should be talking about these things with our families, but I'm not sure that anyone, well anyone over the age of say 75, really wants to talk about these things with fellow book club members.  Don't get me wrong--I think this is an important book that raises important issues.  I also think it's brilliantly done.  As I said, I think everyone should read it, and I think all families should discuss it.  I think many book clubs would enjoy talking about it.  But I also think that it may not be the best selection for book groups with elderly members.

So what can your book club talk about?

The book raises questions that you should be discussing with your aging parents, a conversation that will differ from the one you will  have with your book group.  The latter conversation will be more about the book itself--although as I type this, I can imagine that many of those thorny 'aging parent' issues will be talked about also!  In fact, I think this is one of those books where the discussion will be about the book BUT ALSO about your own life.  Yes, it's a very personal story, indeed.

You'll want to talk about the form of the book itself.  Do you think, like I do, that the message could not have been delivered so brilliantly any other way?  Take it from someone who has lived a version of this book: if you don't laugh along the way, you will do nothing but cry.

I read somewhere once that it's a shame that grown-up books don't have pictures.  You really should each take a turn discussing your favorite picture from this book--and say why it is.  My personal fave: actually, more than one--all the real photos of the author with her parents.  They are smiling for the camera while she looks like she'd like to murder them and then the photographer.  A picture paints a thousand words...

What do you say to your parents when their home (possibly your childhood home) is...grimy?  Is this their sweet revenge for all those years you were a complete slob growing up?  Now the tables have turned, but you can't threaten to ground them if they don't clean up their mess.  So, how DO you handle this?

I suppose the conversation with aging parents is so difficult partly because there is an uncomfortable role-reversal taking place.
No doubt you'll want to talk about that role-reversal and how to handle it.  No right answer here.  Definitely no easy answer.

You'll want to talk about the relationship that Roz has with her mother and father.  Does it affect how she deals with them as they age?  Is she generous to her parents, especially when we consider how her mother treated her?  Or is it her duty, as it would be any child's, to care for them?  What is motivating her?  What would motivate you?

Perhaps you'll want to discuss the elephant in the room.  Yes, that's right.  $$$.
How does one plan for this?  Whose responsibility is it to plan for aging parents?  The parents?  You?  What if no one does?  What if there's not enough money? 

How can a child deal with the resentment of being put in the position of caretaker?  How can that child deal with her siblings who may or may not be helping?  How can that child deal with the guilt from having felt resentment for being put in the position of caretaker?  Not everyone can write a graphic novel to process her feelings!

You'll want to discuss whether this raw, honest, personal book goes too far.  Are Roz's parents disrespected in any way?

Perhaps you'll want to discuss how our culture--and other cultures--deal with the elderly and dying.  Nursing homes, hospice care, keeping one alive as long as possible--all topics you can consider.  Have other cultures figured out a better way than ours?

This book hit home for me, but I wonder if there are people who will read it and not relate at all.  How could that be?  Perhaps you can discuss this.

Rightey-ho, this should get you started.  Don't forget: when you've wrapped up your discussion with your book club, you've still got the MORE IMPORTANT discussion to go.  Call your parents!  Or, if you ARE the parents, call your kids!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Literary Masters Leads the Way and Facebook Follows!

The other day I posted a New Year's Resolution suggestion to join or start a book club.  Here's the post.  Then, this morning, I read that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, has done just that!  I'm not claiming cause and effect or anything, I'm just saying...seems like a strong coincidence, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Language Matters

This came to me from someone who knows how I feel about the power of language.  It is from the Financial Times, copy and pasted here.  Enjoy!

And the Golden Flannel of the year award goes to . . . 

Lucy Kellaway Lucy Kellaway


On New Year’s eve, just before the final judging session of my 2014 Golden Flannel awards, I put out a last minute plea on Twitter. What were the most irritating new phrases uttered by business people last year?

Reach out, lots of people replied. Lean in. Going forward. Push back. Space. Learnings. Passionate. Content. My ask of you.

As I read these suggestions I started to get pretty irritated myself. These phrases were aggravating in 2014. But they were also annoying in 2013 and earlier. Reaching out and going forward started grating back in the last millennium.

Yet the response proves something about the jargon space last year. If it was a feeble one for innovation, it was one in which existing guff spread wider and got more bothersome than ever.
This year I’m awarding a special prize to an organisation that ought to have risen above jargon, but has been dragged down into it. Winner of the inaugural Fallen Angel award goes to the Church of England, which in a paper on training bishops talked of “a radical step change in our development of leaders who can shape and articulate a compelling vision and who are skilled and robust enough to create spaces of safe uncertainty in which the Kingdom grows”. Our Lord, looking down on a sentence in which His Kingdom was obliterated by a dozen dreary management clich├ęs, must have found his genius for forgiveness sorely tested.

My next award is given to a big name chief executive who has delivered standout services to guff during the year. One has to admire the actually baffling way in which Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T said: “We actually think that the industry is at a place where you can actually see line of sight to the subsidy equation just fundamentally changing in a very short period of time.”

But in the end the judges actually felt that Tim Cook — who spookily was also chosen as the FT’s person of the year — deserved to be the 2014 Chief Obfuscation Champion. Under his leadership, Apple, hitherto the world’s only example of a successful company that uses words elegantly, succumbed to drivel.

As he took the stage at Cupertino he declared “At the end of the day . . . this is a very key day for Apple”, thus combining two empty, clashing phrases. More bafflingly, when all those topless pictures of stars escaped from their iCloud, he said: “When I step back from this terrible scenario . . . I think about the awareness piece. I think we have a responsibility to ratchet that up. That’s not really an engineering thing.” Maybe it isn’t. But it makes Mr Cook my 2014 COC.

One of my favourite prizes every year is the best euphemism for firing people; this year I’ve decided to withhold the award, as no entries were worthy of it. ABN Amro fired 1,000 people to “further enhance the customer experience”, which was good, but nowhere near the brilliance of EY, which in 2013 sacked people explaining it was “looking forward to strengthening our alumni network”.

Instead I’m giving a new prize for the least appropriate start to an email. Stephen Elop began a 1,200 word message in which he axed thousands of jobs at Microsoft with “Hello there.” But he was beaten to the prize by Uber, which started a message to customers concerned by the alleged rape of an Indian woman by an Uber driver with the jaunty salutation: “Hey”.

The next category is the Communications Cup, given out for the ugliest new way to describe the simple activity of talking to people. Here the competition was fierce: during the year I was asked to “hop on a call” — grating for its false jauntiness — and to “send me dates, and we can lock in”. Better than either was “circle back with”, which though not new, got worse in 2014 as the preposition “to” was replaced by the cheesy and nonsensical “with”. But then, in an email from a PR, I found something even better. To reach out is yesterday. The new and more fashionable way of using this hateful term is back-to-front: “I’m outreaching to you . . .”

The next award is for the silliest job title. The judges admired the way that Tesla calls its car salesmen “Delivery Experience Specialists”, but after fierce debate, have given the prize to PwC in Switzerland for calling its HR head: Territory Human Capital Leader. The first three words are intolerably pompous, and the fourth is a lie. HR people don’t lead.

In choosing my overall Golden Flannel phrase of the year, I considered the dementing “does that resonate with your radar?” but quickly saw it was puny compared to the terrific new verb “to action forward” which I heard an otherwise sensible manager utter last month. “Actioning forward”, with its dazzling combination of two of the most irritating bits of jargon ever, resonates with my radar so powerfully I fear I may have broken it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year! Literary Resolutions for 2015!

Happy 2015!  Have you promised yourself you will eat better and exercise more?  Good job--taking care of your body.  But how about your MIND???  It is vitally important to exercise your brain, your mind, and your spirit, and here's the perfect new year's resolution that will enable you to do all three:

Join a book club!  Or start one.  It is scientifically proven that reading is good for your brain, and do you know what's even better?  Talking about what you've read with others!

Your brain will thank you, and perhaps even more importantly, your spirit will thank you!  Being part of a book club checks off numerous "good for you" boxes, and my Literary Masters members constantly tell me that gathering with fellow members for our discussions is a highlight of their month.

Whether you join a Literary Masters salon or start/join your own, just do it!  (Thanks, Nike!)  And if you need tips on how to do so, stay tuned for future posts!

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful 2015!