The Library at Mount Char: 3 Life Lessons from Attending a Public Sci-Fi Book Club (and then an actual book review)

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  1. You think you know the kind of people who attend an open-invitation Sci-Fi/Fantasy book club because you have ideas about the kind of people who a) read Sci-Fi/Fantasy and b) attend open-invitation book clubs. Your ideas are not charitable. And they have – for some reason – not expanded to include yourself (even though you are attending said club). Like most occasions when you confront your assumptions (about anything) you discover that there is much more variety involved and far fewer references to LoTR (though there is one).
  2. Your belief that you can power-read* a novel (in under a day) (the way you did in undergrad) is as steadfast – and as erroneous – as your belief that you can still drink the whole bottle of wine and not get a hangover. You learn that you are older than you once were, and older than you imagine yourself to be.
  3.  Open-invitation book clubs include 500% less conversation about pregnancy, childbirth and baby-rearing than all your other book clubs combined. Which is to say: none. Unless these conversations are relevant to the book. You realize these baby-less spaces are precious and that – right now in your life – you need them.**

*Power-reading is the sort of reading that broaches no interruption. It is the head-in-the-book-while-walking-to-the-bus-stop reading that has resulted in so many honked horns and curb-falls. It is the sort of reading that begins with the alarm clock and ends with holding your eyes open for one-more-page. It is willfully ignoring your partner/parent/pet/bodily needs in order to read one-more-page. It is brought upon both by deadlines (e.g. you decide to attend open-invitation bookclub two days before the club meets) or by delight in the reading material (e.g. David Mitchell publishes a new novel). It is some of the best reading you will do because the book becomes the Most Important Thing – the way books should always be.

**For friends in my book club(s). This is not the same thing as saying I don’t want to hear about your babies and pregnancies. I do. I’m able to enjoy, revel and share your happiness in part because I find/have found these other spaces. So no guilt!

Right. So *spoiler* I joined an open-invitation, sci-fi/fantasy book club and it was #great. We read The Library at Mount Char which all of the readers (me included) enjoyed (though K. thinks it was terrible). As a reader less familiar with the genre, I began the book willing to suspend belief and readily accepting that I wouldn’t know where I was in time or space for a little while. A necessary suspension that held true for much of the book as the novel spans genre in neat ways, equal parts mystery, fantasy, horror, romance and (in this reader’s opinion) comedy. The novel explores the limits of choice and destiny, the perversion of knowledge, militarization, animal welfare and if nothing else, the need for better gun control laws in the US.

It’s set in a fantasy-future(ish) Earth where a cadre of twelve super-powerful adolescent ‘librarians’ have been raised by Father (*cough the first of many, many Biblical allusions in the book. Frankly I’m not sure ‘Father’ is subtle enough to warrant ‘allusion’ – anyway). They’re each masters of a particular skills – animals, healing, languages, war – in ways that had clear resonance with Greek and Roman mythology. Our principle protagonist, Carolyn (the linguist) is looking for ways to unsettle Father’s power, in no small part because Father is a sadist and super fucked up.

What I really think about it? I think that readers love this book for the same reason viewers love Game of Thrones (as if there is one reason): gratuitous violence, lust for power and a fantasy wherein we get to wield the violence and power. Proximity to holding these beliefs as our own through the vicarious lens of our protagonist, we get the satisfaction of scheming, threatening, wielding, bleeding (+being rich and all powerful) without the guilt associated.

So yeah. I liked reading it. I’m not proud that I liked reading it. But there you go. And you know, you can make convincing enough arguments about its interesting thematic questions and narrative structure (it does have some neat twists) to reassure yourself that you don’t *just* love it for the violence and power. But you kinda do. #speakingmytruth

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