Sunday, December 21, 2008

tea and books

Earlier this month, I went to a tea house for a joint meeting of two book clubs. These two book clubs get together for a joint meeting once a year. As I had joined my book club in February, this was my first experience with the other book club.
To prepare for the meeting, I had to obtain and read Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, in thirteen days. Of course, one of those days was Thanksgiving! Fortunately, I was able to get a copy of the book at the library. The library lends out new books such as this one for just seven days so I had to return the book a few days before the book club meeting. Fortunately, the book was just 288 pages so it didn't take long to read.
The book is actually structured as a series of thirteen short stories that are tied together by the presence (either as a major character or in the background) of Olive Kitteridge, a retired math teacher, whose relationships with other people tended to be uncomfortable. Because Olive keeps her pain inside of her and because she is not exactly the warm and fuzzy type, people tend to view her in a negative light.
Olive's life comes across as incredibly painful. She endures one trauma after the next. The other characters don't fare much better. A girl suffers with anorexia, a man finds that his marriage has gone cold and his wife is no more than an acquaintance...
The book was well written and I liked the short story format. I found Olive's story to be difficult to read at time, however, because it was so unbelievably harsh. In fact, the mood is constantly dark. I see that as a weakness in the story. It's sort of like music. If there are no dynamics in the music... if, for example, the musical piece is played at the same volume all of the time... the music becomes less interesting. I wanted to experience the characters' joys, as well as their sorrows.
We discussed all of this at the book club meeting. Some liked the story, some did not.
It was a good conversation... and we had tea and scones and pastries in a charming tea house. We drank our tea out of bone china tea cups. We were presented with wooden boxes, in which there was a great selection of tea bags. I especially enjoyed the passion fruit tea. I also enjoyed the scone with whipped butter.
It was all great fun and the only thing that I didn't care for was that the fun had to end.
Alas.
I am always ready for a tea party!

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