Book Club Report | A Game of Thrones

Well, the book discussion was last night. I can proudly say that a good time was had by all who attended, both of us. With legitimate excuses, the others who I expected to show up were unable, which left the responsibility of filling two hours with intelligent discussion about George R. R. Martin in the capable hands of my friend Bruce and myself.

By the way, if you don’t want any spoilers for A Game of Thrones, you should stop reading this post and go read A Game of Thrones. But I digress…

After claiming a booth in the back of Graydon’s Crossing, Bruce and I started off the evening with genial conversation. By the time we were done shooting the breeze and settled into the idea of looking over the menu, our waitress has visited the table three times to see if we were ready to order. The fourth time was the charm, however. Bruce ordered the Beer City Pale Ale, a drink that was the collaboration of 10 local breweries in celebration of the fact that Grand Rapids, Michigan was recently crowned “Beer City, USA“. I couldn’t make up my mind, so I got a sampler of three beers, the Beer City Pale Ale, Dragonmead Sin Eater, and Magner’s Irish Cider.

Once the drinks got to the table, our discussion began. Bruce had painstakingly taken and typed up notes for all of the points and themes that he wished to discuss, only to leave them accidentally at home. He did remember the chart that he found though, which proved invaluable in discussing the different characters and remembering all of their names.

We discussed our views on who the main character of the novel was and whether Martin gave us any heroes. Bruce made the case that Eddard Stark was the main character of the book, as most of the plot revolved around him and his struggle to act morally in increasingly evil scenarios. I thought that the true hero of the book was Tyrion Lannister, as his character develops from being the court fool to being instructed to rule over his nephew, the new king. Tyrion’s ability to rise to the top of whatever situation he is in, to inspire others to follow him, and to overcome his brokenness puts him in the hero spot in my opinion.

We talked about what Martin was trying to say by showing that Eddard’s strict moral code led to his downfall, while Tyrion’s flexible morality meant his survival. We didn’t really come to a conclusion on the matter, assuming that the theme had not fully played out by the end of the book one and that we would be able to better see the author’s intentions further into the series.

We talked about how surprising it was that Martin allowed the book to be made into an HBO mini-series, given his views on fan-fiction and allowing others to have control over his characters.

We discussed the different points of view that were used to tell the tale. We both enjoyed the fact that we got to see the story through so many of the character’s eyes. And jumping from conflict to conflict kept the story interesting and fast-paced. We talked about the fact that While most of the Starks got to present the story from their own lips, Robb and Rickon were left out. We see their stories through the lens of either Jon, Bran, or Catelyn. Also, Ser Jaime Lannister was notably absent in the narrator’s seat. The reasons we came up with were that the characters of Rickon and Ser Jaime were mostly one-dimensional (they don’t undergo any great change throughout the book) and narration from their perspective would have been tiresome. For Robb though, we are held at a distance, I think, because he is undergoing too great a change to portray well from his own perspective. At the beginning of the story, Robb is pretend fighting with sticks, but by the end of the story, he is taking on Ser Jaime and leading a group of battle-hardened warriors and ends up being named “King of the North”.

This led to a discussion on the different claims to the throne by the end of the book. With Robert dead, Joffrey takes the throne, though he is not Robert’s real son. The rightful heir of Robert is a bastard working in an armorer’s shop. Though with that knowledge being secret to most, many of those in the realm  believe that Stannis Baratheon will challenge Joffrey’s kingship and take it by force, but then who claims the kingship by Stannis’ younger brother Renly. And that is leaving out the fact that the Baratheon line was only just established on the throne after the Targaryen line has been exiled and Daenerys is fast-approaching to reclaim the empire for herself. But very little of this will matter when the Others overcome the wall (across which another character has claimed to be King Beyond the Wall) and reign down their undead terrors upon the living.

After this, we discussed the leadership styles and some of the differences in the societal structures between the kingdoms, the wall, and the plains. We talked about our favorite scenes and favorite quotes (“Mercy is never a mistake” – Eddard Stark) and what really happened in the tent when the maegi took over care for Khal Drogo.

In the end, we both agreed that George R. R. Martin knows how to tell a good tale. And since I got the second book in the series for my birthday, I’m looking forward to digging into the continued story.

That, however, is not the next book club selection. For anyone wishing to join next month’s book discussion (and digitally contributing in the comments is good too), we’ll be reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs.

We decided to alternate fiction with non-fiction, and both of us liked the idea of reading Chabon. It’s also topic-appropriate, since Bruce and his wife are going to have a baby, and my wife and I just had another one.

Long post today. Just the way it goes sometimes. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Advertisements

Winter is Coming. Also, a Book Discussion.

Tomorrow night is the scheduled book discussion of A Game of Thrones. The details are here if you want to come. And for anyone who is coming, I wanted to offer a last-minute cram session for the discussion, along with some things to consider in advance of meeting.

If you didn’t bother reading the book, there are some good in-depth synopses here and here. These are also good if you read the book a while ago and just need to brush up on the basics.

These are some of the questions we’ll discuss:

  • What were your thoughts on the different viewpoints in the novel? Was there a point of view that you felt was missing?
  • What instances of symbolism did you find? How did your interpretation of those symbols skew your reading of the book?
  • Who was the main character? Was there a hero?
  • Compare and contrast life on the wall with life in the kingdoms and on the plains.
  • What is the next book that we should read as a book club?

I’ll post again next week with how the discussion went and announce what the next book will be.

Book Club Update | Time & Place

I’ve floated the date of the book discussion of A Game of Thrones out to the group of guys who I know have read the book and we have confirmed August 23rd as the date. The book discussion will start at 7pm.

We’ll be meeting at Graydon’s Crossing. The discussion is free, the food is not. Bring money to eat or drink. Browse the menu by clicking on the picture.

The address is 1223 Plainfield NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505.

The goal of the book discussion is to enrich each others’ understanding of the book and to think about the story, characters, and message critically.

Or we could just talk about the bits we liked and why we liked them.

I’ll leave it open to the people who show up how we do it.

If you think you might be coming, drop me a note in the comments so I can reserve adequate tables at the pub.

When Bad Things Happen to Characters (and then Keep on Happening)

So, I finished A Game of Thrones. I’m not bragging. I was just caught up in it.

But I met up with my friend Bob the other night to do some writing and we spent a few minutes talking about the book (he joined my book club – see here). Bob is having a tough time getting into it. Admittedly, it is an 800 page book with a huge cast of characters and Bob has little to no time to read, but the same things are true of me and I had no trouble getting hooked on A Game of Thrones.

So what is the difference?

The difference, I think, is that Bob is a modern knight who believes in chivalry and noble fights. And I like the evil characters almost as much as the good ones.

Bob told me that there was only one or two characters that he really liked and that he was sure that if he keeps reading, within three chapters or so something horrible would happen to them. He isn’t wrong.

Authors cause terrible things to happen to their characters all the time. They do it to increase tension in the plots. They do it to show the mettle of their characters. They do it in order to make the resolution all the sweeter because the stakes were as high as they could be. They do it for shock value.

I was relatively young when I first read 1984 by George Orwell. *Spoiler Alert* Big Brother wins. When I read the ending for the first time, I had to read it again just to make sure that I didn’t miss something. This was completely unlike any of the fairy-tales or sitcoms that I was used to, where everything works out in the end. At the realization that not all stories had to have happy endings, my worldview changed and with it my reading preferences.

I went on to devour the works of Kurt Vonnegut. A friend passed me a copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 because he didn’t like it. I drank it down like an alcoholic drinks down a bitter ale. Dystopian books took prominence on my bookshelves. They became a part of who I am.

In a way, I’m glad that Bob isn’t having an easy time reading A Game of Thrones because it means that the world isn’t full of jaded folk like me. The world needs more people like him.