Having rid myself of first-timer nerves at our first book club meeting in July (you can read about that experience here), I was really looking forward to our second session, when we would discuss Wayne Grady’s Emancipation Day and I could focus more on the novel itself and less on my worries about book club etiquette. Here is what our second Books and Brews session taught me:
1. You don’t have to like a book to have a meaningful discussion about it
Don’t get me wrong – this book is very well written, weaving historical events into a family saga that gave the narrative a lot of depth, plus Grady’s examination of race relations in the 1940s -1950s is very timely given what is happening in our world today. But I had a little trouble getting into the story because I really wasn’t a fan of the book’s main characters – Jack and Vivian. I was repelled by the way Jack treated the people around him and the feminist in me was endlessly disappointed by Vivian’s submission to her husband. I was much more intrigued by the story’s minor characters (namely Peter and Della) and turned each page hoping for more insight into their experience, only to be left wanting more.
However, discussing the book with those who liked it (and others who hadn’t) was a really enlightening exercise – our book club participants brought up interpretations and ideas that hadn’t occurred to me and forced me to look at the story – and the characters – from different angles. We discussed historical and modern race relations, connections to St. Catharines own history, the role of women and the meaning of “emancipation”. Reading the book made me think but discussing it with our book club expanded my thinking beyond what I would have done on my own – so a big thank you to our Books & Brews participants!
2. Making (a safe) space makes a difference
Both of our Books & Brews sessions have dealt with very difficult histories – Three Day Road addressed the treatment of Aboriginal people in Canada along with the residential school system, while Emancipation Day examined racism, discrimination and racially motivated violence. In preparing for our sessions, we were nervous, but did our best to create a comfortable environment to discuss these issues and then hoped for the best. As it turns out, such worries are unfounded when you have an exceptionally brave group of book clubbers who actively contribute to create a safe and accepting space! Our participants asked hard questions, generously shared personal experiences, disagreed and debated in a way that truly enriched our experience with the novel and with the group. For me, our discussion had elements of catharsis and learning and I truly appreciated the opportunity to discuss these difficult histories openly and honestly – I can only hope others had a similar experience.
For the final meeting of our first Books & Brews series, we’re happy to host Prof. Daniel Samson, Chair of the History Department at Brock University, for a discussion of David Macfarlane’s The Danger Tree.
For more information about our book club check out this past blog post:https://stcatharinesmuseumblog.com/books-brews/ and if you’d like to join our book club, give us a call at the Museum – 905-984-8880.
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.