Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Club Meeting: Runaway


In theory, I suppose it was a good idea -  expand our literary horizons by reading a short story collection from recent Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro. In reality, it was a poorly attended meeting where nobody finished the book.

Five of us gathered (eight is considered a good turnout, though we occasionally get twelve or more for summer pot luck events) Monday morning to discuss Runaway by Alice Munro over coffee and pumpkin bread, but it turned out that none of us had actually finished the book. Two of us had read four of the eight stories, and the others read only one or two. We were unanimously underwhelmed and struggled to maintain a discussion.

So what was the problem? We all liked the writing, but had trouble working up much enthusiasm for the stories themselves. I liked the linked aspect of the stories featuring Juliet at different points in her life. My favorite was "Silence", the third Juliet story, where she loses contact with her now-adult daughter, Penelope. It mostly made me sad, but I really wished for another story told from Penelope's point of view. Other member used words like "weird", "unsatisfying", and "meh" to describe the first two stories. After 15 -20 minutes, the conversation shifted to holiday plans, wedding preparations, and winter travel.

You might remember that this was all my idea. Runaway was chosen because it had the most library copies available. Perhaps her other collections were checked out because they are better? In the end, we were all glad to have tried something new and I'm happy no one is holding this against me. However, I have a feeling it will be a long time before we select another story collection.


Runaway
by Alice Munro
Vintage, 2005
352 pages
source: purchased

32 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the results of this selection. I hope next time your discussion is better.

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    1. Pat - We are reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry for December. I'm sure that will be received better.

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  2. The fact no one finished it says a lot.

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    1. Kathy - That was very disappointing.

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  3. Short stories are hard to discuss unless you figure out a way to relate them to each other or compare them to real life, etc. You can't really talk about them individually so much because some members may have read the one and not the others, and vice versa. You can discuss the overall theme, if there is one. I've read some really great short stories but discussing them for any length of time would be a challenge.

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    1. Ti - So true… and if nobody finished the collection, then you can't even talk about theme :-(

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  4. I haven't read any of Munro's work yet, but definitely want to try. One problem I have is that I've never known where to start! Not here, methinks. lol

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  5. I'm sorry it didn't work out better, especially since you were adventurous & trying something new. I admire Alice Munro's work, but I don't enjoy it.

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    1. Lisa - That's the perfect way to put it! We all admired her writing, too, but didn't enjoy the stories.

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  6. I meant to add, that's a gorgeous picture on your header!

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    1. Lisa - Thanks, I took this photo with my phone! We had the most beautiful sunset a few days ago.

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  7. We've got a member pushing to do the same thing but we've never had success with short stories before. In fact, the exact same reaction as your club had with this one - no one finished it. I'm going to keep searching for something by Munro that might work but clearly this is not the one.

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    1. Lisa - Munro does have one novel, Lives of Girls and Women. Maybe that might work better for book clubs. Hope you have better luck than we did!

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  8. Gee, too bad this did not go over well with your group. (haven't tried it)

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    1. Diane - Yeah, definitely not one of our better meetings :-(

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  9. I have a book of her short stories on Kindle and have read several. They are good, and the thing about short story books is that you can always pick up where you left off.

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    1. Harvee - That's one thing I love about short story collections, too. I still have to read the last couple of stories in this book, but I can do that any time.

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  10. I don't really like short story collections--just my preference. At least you tried something different with your club. I would assume that the format was what turned off some of your members and not her highly praised writing. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. Rita - I just started reading short stories again a few years ago and have been surprised by how much I enjoy them. It works better for me when I read a single story from a collection, rather than sitting down to read one right after another.

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  11. Wow, no one finished it? Not good. I checked out one her books on cd a few years ago, but only made it through one cd before returning it so I get it.

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    1. Stacy - Oh dear, I was wondering if I might have reacted more favorably toward the audio…

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  12. My book club also read this book a few years ago and many of us (I among them) struggled with it. I agree - the writing is very good - but I just couldn't get into the stories.

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    1. Colleen - Think this would have been better if I'd just read one story at a time.

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  13. I have several Alice Munro's short story collections, including Runaways, but like your group, have only read a couple from each. For some reasons, I couldn't finish the whole book. However, I think it's still fine to every now and then take the dusty book out of the shelf and just read one, or two stories. Your idea was still good, considering she's now a Nobel Laureate. At least you tried. ;)

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    1. Arti - I'm now convinced that's the best way to approach Alice Munro. I will read more of her work, but in small doses.

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  14. It's interesting because her books are supposed to be so good. I don't very often read short stories but I've not had an inclination to read this one anyway. Sorry it wasn't a great bookclub meeting. Hopefully your next one will be.

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    1. Darlene - The stories weren't bad, I think the problem might have been trying to read them one right after another.

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  15. Sounds a fair amount like the reaction to The Beggar Maid--interesting but not riveting, good writing that ended up not really satisfying. I wonder whether it's the genre that is at fault.

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    1. JaneGS - That could very well be. While I generally enjoy short stories individually, trying to read and discuss an entire collection may not have been the best idea.

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  16. Oh dear, I did the same thing. I suggested to my book club that we read one of Alice Munro's collection in 2014. We're going to read Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You. Most people aren't short story lovers so I may be also hoping they don't hold it against me. Oh well, we'll see.

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    1. Margot - I hope your group has better luck than we did! Hope you'll let me know how it goes.

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