Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Club Conflict IV - Post-Op - The Group Response

Our library Book Club is very informal. We have no "official" group leader other that the volunteers who coordinate ordering. We are scheduled to start at 6:30 pm, the third Tuesday of every month, and people generally arrive between 6:30 and 7:00. We start by going around the circle, with each person answering: Did you read the book? Did you like the book? Sometimes the answers include Why?

For Not Yet, nine readers show up. Two have not read the book and hope perhaps that the discussion will help them decide whether to read it or not. Two people do not like the book. Three people love the book. Two are ambivalent. Messages are received from three absent readers. One could not read the book as she had just lost her spouse under very similar circumstances. One sends one word, "Boring." The third says she liked it.

Then we go around again. People object to: the narrator's selfishness, self-centredness; the waste of taxpayer money treating someone who doesn't look after himself; the narrator/writer being a lost soul, without an anchor, not Chinese enough; to an adult choosing to live with other people. "He should be independent like me." To the lack of sex in the book. To his seeming lack of commitment. Others offer: that it is a book about "how not to live your life"; about how allergies can kill. Those who like the book speak of love, of loving his previous books, of the writing style, of the Chinese heritage, of the cats and the puffers. People identify with his asthma, his hoarding tendencies. They say they love the writer because he is handsome and because he loves people and life. They keep going back to the cats. The readers who are indifferent say they read it but do not see the point -- he had an attack, was treated, recovered, backslid, and ended up in hospital again. So what? A medical history is hardly literature. Are there no themes, no ideas, no lessons?

How not to live your life has already been suggested. The cats are important. Page 85-87, I suggest, whipping out my photocopied pages.The scene in rehab where the nurse hosing him down points out "Buddha, Buddha . . . all Buddha." and the offending spray transforms to a shower of diamonds. Numinous, but I wouldn't use that word in public. "Beautiful writing," someone suggests, but surely it is more than just beauty. "What does Buddha mean?" someone asks. "Enlightenment," someone else answers. There's theme. There's the possibility of the sacred, spirituality, of something beyond the human, even if it dwells within others. Choy doesn't say be believes it, but he records it, he shares it. He started this scene, by asking the nurse if she could see the Buddha on his belly. She didn't get his joke. She was more enlightened than he was. It is a story shared by a man who is truly Canadian, not self-centred but self-deprecating, humble even, yet wise enough to include all the wisdom offered to his denying eyes, his stressed heart, through the love of many others. This nurse, alert medical staff, restaurant owners, exorcist monks, filmmakers, market stall vegetable sellers, housemates, step-children, coaches, etc, etc, etc. Pay attention, they are all saying to him. Do something. Think differently. Change yourself. Your life.
So it is a book about denial (the cats, the puffers), about how not to live your life (ignoring symptoms, creating medical emergencies), about the importance of taking notice (the signs, the symbols, the mythic characters, ghosts.) About the way Confucius and Buddha both represent paths to enlightenment, ways to live a better life. The narrator is anchored by his calling; his eyes, his writer heart see diamonds in the shower spray, symbols of permanence and transformation. But you have to Pay Attention. In life, and in reading.

Copyright Creative Commons Attribution "A Shower of Water Diamonds" by Paul Sapiano, from Flickr via Wikipedia.

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