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.

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.

Book Club Update

I am having trouble sticking to my 100 page per week goal in order to finish reading A Game of Thrones by mid-August. I can’t put the book down. I’m like 600 pages in and I know that I’m going to finish it soon.

Part of me says that I should slow down and savor the reading experience. I should be making notes about my thoughts as I read. I should be looking for writing devices and topics to discuss when the book club meets.

And then the other part of me says, “Read, you fool!”

I’ll give you one guess as to which part I am listening to.

Maybe I’ll have time to read it a second time before we meet and I’ll make good on my intentions.

So for those of you who wanted to join the book club but were scared off by the amount of reading there is to be done, rest easy. It is a fast read, and addictive.

Also, I’m pretty sure that we’ve decided on a location for the book club to meet.

Date and time have yet to be determined. It’ll depend on what the new baby will allow (she’s due in less than 3 weeks now).

Back to School & Book Club Reminders…

I just got an email from the fine people at Coursera and thought I’d share it with you.

How does the Internet work? Why were LinkedIn passwords easier to break into? What is the time value of money? What do the novels Alice and Wonderland, Dracula, and Frankenstein say about the relationship between science, technology, and our hopes and fears? Did my 3rd-grade teacher explain only a suboptimal algorithm for multiplying two numbers?

Come geek-out with us over these and tons of other interesting questions explored through our summer courses!

We’ll be sending out this newsletter 1-2 times a month to keep you updated on new course offerings and Coursera news. We hate spam too, so we’ll only send out our newsletter with information that we think will be useful for you. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to get the most current updates.

Happy studying!

Your Coursera Team

If you remember, I am signed up for the free course being offered by the University of Michigan called “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World“. Back then, I asked if anyone would be willing to do this with me. My good friend Bob volunteered and a few of my Facebook friends showed interest, but I thought I’d mention it again for any newcomers to be able to join us. If you are curious check out the link here.

And not so long ago, I blogged about the book club that my friend Bruce and I were starting. Anyone is welcome to join us, either in physical form (if you live in the West Michigan area) or in a digital form (if you live anywhere else).

We’re reading A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and we’ll be meeting to discuss it in mid-August. That means that you still have time to pick up a copy and read about 100 pages per week to finish in time for the discussion. Even if you are reading other books at the time, you can squeeze in 100 pages of this book. It is a fast read and engaging so far, and I’m only about 100 pages in.

I realize that HBO recently made this book into a mini-series that was well-received, but I ask that you take the time to read the book. I’m sure that people who have both seen the series and read the book can attest to the fact that books are almost always better to their on-screen counterparts.

Anyway, I just wanted to remind you about what we have going on here at my blog. If you are interested in joining the book club, but you can’t afford the book (or if you don’t have access to a good library), send me an email. I have an extra copy for the first interested party.

Be sure to mention in the comments if you are thinking about joining me in either of these endeavors!

A Game of Thrones | Summer Reading

This past weekend, my wife and I got together with my coworker, Debbie, and her husband, Bruce, to play board games and eat pizza. Our guests met while working together at Baker Book House (in fact, back when they started, I was the store trainer and trained them how to be good employees), but due to a company policy against married people working together, one of them had to find another job. Of course, Bruce ended up finding a job in another local, indie bookstore.

Now, my wife and Debbie are part of a book club that is primarily made up of people with some connection to Baker Book House (employees, friends of employees, spouses of employees, you get the idea). I’m not going to say that I am jealous of their group, but I’m jealous of their group. True, I am part of a men’s Bible study that reads books and the Bible together. True, I am part of a writer’s group that gets together to discuss our own books and occasionally other books that pass in front of us. But neither of those are really a book club.

Our first book club book

So, Bruce and I decided to start our own reading club. Our first book is going to be George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Though the book has been made into a faithful film adaptation by HBO, neither Bruce nor I have seen it, which is all to the good, as I am a firm believer in reading the book first when a filmed version is being made. This may make me a purist or a book snob, but I don’t care. Those names don’t bother me.”But when will you fit the reading in?” asked my wife, and rightfully so.

You see, my wife is pregnant and nearing the July due date and we are already parents of an adorable and energetic one-and-a-half year old. We also both work full-time and I do this writing thing when I have a moment or two to spare. Throw in family obligations and a small social life with friends and we already have a lot on our plate.

“I’ll find some time,” was my hopeful response.

Here’s the plan: Bruce and I are going to start now and read about 100 pages per week (it isn’t really that much). The book is a bit over 800 pages, so it will take about two months to finish. We’re going to meet up some time in August to discuss the book. We don’t know the date or the place yet. We’ll figure that out when the time gets closer.

Here’s the offer: If you want to be part of our book club, just mention your desire in the comments and read the book with us. Need the book? Get it here. If you are in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area in August and feel like being part of the discussion, you’re welcome to join us. I’m thinking that we’ll meet up in a public location anyway.

Here’ the challenge: What should the book club be called? We exist to balance the fact that our wives are part of a ladies book club which reads memoirs and pop fiction. I’m guessing that this book club that Bruce and I are starting is going to focus more on Fantasy/Sci-Fi or other more male-dominated genres or titles. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are excluding ladies from reading with us, it is just to define the type of books that we are going to read. If you have a book club name idea, leave that in the comments too.