Seventeen months, seventeen books – that’s the history of the Bloor Street Book Club. On the first Tuesday of each month (usually), eight to ten members of Bloor Street United have met in the Board Room to dissect and discuss the chosen book. The criteria for choosing are simple: we prefer Canadian books, and we try to alternate a fiction and a non-fiction choice.
For further information contact Bob Farquharson by email.
Here are some of the books we have read, and enjoyed in varying degrees, over the past months.
This is the noted theologian’s first and, thus far, only attempt to put his thinking forward clothed in the novel form. At the centre of the story, is Kate, a very popular religious studies professor in a small mid-western American college. Her thinking is progressive, her mode of lecturing is engaging, and students with a wide range of Christian conviction flock to hear her. The older professors in her Department, moved in part by suspicion that her thinking is too Christian for a liberal college, and in part by envy of her popularity, defer her tenure bid. Kate`s tortured path to tenure is the thread that runs through the whole story.
Just as interesting is the account of the students who hear her and how they react to a theology that asks searching questions yet doesn’t quite deny the Christian tenets. A fair number of the students are from a strict fundamentalist background – this is set in bible-belt America after all -- and it is fascinating to see how they handle blunt questioning of their faith. Other students are struggling with the threat of a more liberated theology and are earnestly seeking answers to questions about who is Jesus, what is Good, how much of the Bible is relevant today.
To sum up, Marcus Borg had probably better not give up his day job and devote himself to novel writing, but our thanks to him for laying out his theology in a straightforward undergraduate manner.
The story is told entirely by Jack, her son. His knowledge of the world is limited to the four walls of their hut, the skylight above, and his favourite TV program, yet with a series of imaginative games and conversations, the mother manages to instil in Jack a surprisingly complete, if somewhat limited and distorted, comprehension of life’s ways and wiles. Because every object within his purview is unique and intimate – there is only one bed, one rug, one door, one wardrobe – all objects are personalized. He names them in the singular, without a definite of indefinite pronoun, and with a capital letter: Bed, Rug, Door, Wardrobe. Wardrobe he knows with particular intimacy since that is where he must sleep when Old Nick, their jailer, makes his nightly visits.
On his fifth birthday the mother persuades Old Nick to bring Jack a special gift, a remote-controlled toy auto. In the night, Jack plays with the remote, causing the car to fall from the shelf and wake Old Nick. Furious, Old Nick cuts of Room`s electricity for three days – no light, no heat, no cooking, no TV. This event brings to a head the mother`s growing realization that her son cannot continue to live this way. She begins to devise the plan that eventually leads to their escape.
That is half of the book. The second half tells of their difficulties and triumphs as they attempt to adjust, Jack with surprising ease, the mother with greater effort and less success, to a life so foreign to them. This is an intense book, marvellously imagined and realized, carefully thought out and eloquently presented. Recommended.
At its usual First Tuesday meeting, the BSUC Book Club discussed Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiographical reflections on being a Muslim woman at large in a foreign world. (Spoiler alert:)The first part of the book tells of the family relationships she is leaving behind and the second part deals with her thoughts about what it means to be a Muslim in Europe and America. Ali, the daughter of a Somali family that is rather more privileged than most Somali families, is commanded by her father to marry a man in Toronto whom she has never seen. She instead flees her homeland and seeks asylum in Holland. It is a measure of her extraordinary intelligence and spirit that she establishes herself so firmly in her adopted country that she is elected to Parliament. When it is revealed that she lied to gain refugee status, she flees again, this time to New York where she finds work with a think tank.
From reading and discussing the book, we learned a good deal about the impediments and problems a Muslim woman faces -- genital mutilation,. child marriage, educational deprivation, honour killings -- and at the same time, a good deal about the threat the Muslim religion poses to the culture and values of the American way of life. In all aspects, the book gave us a good deal to think about and good reason to admire the spunk and spirit of the author.