Friday, April 1, 2022

Bookclub for Dyslexics by Josh Stallings

Q: Book club members are usually free to say anything about the book they just read. People attending author events usually say nice things or nothing. But what about when authors visit bookclubs? Do rules exist? Should we invent them?

A: I love books. I love reading, aways have. I’m not averse to clubs. When we were teens my siblings, friends and I built The My-O-My Club, a disco for teenagers. I’m currently a member of Costco, AA and AAA. 

Clearly I like books and clubs, but combine the two into a Bookclub and my dyslexic brain panics.

In school a reading list always felt like a long list of tasks I would fail. Yet as long as I can remember I have had a book  I was reading. Just slowly. 

When a friend tells me they are reading X and I should too so we can discuss it… Even though we start at the same time, by the time I finish the book, odds are they will have moved on and are thinking about a new book. 

Weird thing about my reading superpower, when I was in 3rd grade they ran some tests to try and figure me out. They discovered that my reading speed was several grades below where I should’ve been. My comprehension was several grades above where I should’ve been. Additionally, my vocabulary was advanced. Looking back I can see that my brain doesn’t allow skim reading. I have to read every word or they scramble. So when I read a book, I read every word. 

Knowing all this, you can guess that I’ve never been a member of a book club. I have yet to be asked to speak to a book club. I do love talking books, mine and other writer’s. I have opinions. Every reader does. A great book taps into our personal experiences. For that reason they effect each of us differently. I can talk craft easily, or why this book moves me.

If I were to put one rule into a book discussion group it would be that we remove vague value judgments. “It sucks.” “It was dull.” “It was great.” They give me nothing to chew on. 

“The fluid way they drift through multiple time periods was great.” That statements leads me to think about how some writers put time stamps at the beginning of chapters while others leave it loose and catch up the reader with a prop (a pager, or a payphone) to tap you into the year. The point is by being specific in how you speak about a book you lead others to join in. 

We live in an era of thumbs up or down. How many likes did the cute picture of my curated life get? We are left to feel that our’s and other’s feelings are more important than critical thinking. 

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is a brutal book. Not in a blood orgy cheap way. It is bloody. But it neither glorifies nor condemns violence. McCarthy just shows it to us. Add to that his crystal clean prose. Like a poet he has no time for extra words. Hell he doesn’t even have time for quotation marks. I have been lost in his writing but I always catch up. Clarity is sacrificed for pace and rhythm. Do I LIKE Blood Meridian? No, that is too tame a word. I love it. I need it in the world. It was a hard read. I don’t know that I will ever read it again. Subjectively it’s brilliant. Objectively, I grew up with Quaker/nonviolence advocating parents who got violent with us kids. Then my father left when I was eight, leaving me confused as to what a “man” was or how to become that mythical beast. I used movies as a cultural starting point. The recipe they gave me was; two shakes of Taxi Driver and a pinch of Dirt Harry and just a splash of "Gravedigger" Jones. Confusing, right? I was also prone to irrational rages. This is a taste of the violent gumbo in my head that Cormac McCarthy helped me sort out. And that is personal. Critically I can say, McCarthy deals with the cost of violence to both the victim and the perpetrator. And I believe that is important to see in a book dealing with violence. 

I believe a book must be about something bigger than the plot. As a writer I don’t aways know what a book is about until I’m deep into the writing. Any messages we want to place in a book should be covert not overt. 

If I tweeted, “Intellectually disabled people are humans too.” I might get some likes. If I made it cleverer it might go viral. But if I wrote a book, say TRICKY and let the reader experience the truth of that statement. Introduced them to Cisco and had them spend time with a complex intellectually disabled character, I might help them have a richer sense of all the ways a neurodiverse person can be. 

What I like or don’t like is far less important than what moves me, helps me grow, and alters my viewpoint.


Here’s a few more thoughts on neurodiversity -


Catriona McPherson said...

I would say TRICKY is made for a bookclub - with actual pondering and consideration needing to be done before you could say you've really read it.

Josh Stallings said...

Thank Catriona. I would love to talk to readers or more importantly hear their opinions on things like, is personal transformation and or redemption possible? Where does the "real" us reside, in the brain, the body, the DNA, the, dare I say soul? That is a conversation I'd love to be a fly on the wall for.

Stephen Mack Jones said...

Tremendous, Josh.

Susan C Shea said...

Agree with Catriona that TRICKY is worth thinking and talking about, and doing it with the author present would be a real treat. A serious question might be :"what IS redemption?" Are you on a panel or two at LCC? I'll try to track you down and see if you do get a chance to share your thoughts with readers and other writers there. Otherwise, see you at the bar!

Josh Stallings said...

Thanks Mr Jones and Susan. I have one panel “writing Interesting characters, or something like that, should be fun. I really look forward to seeing you and getting to have a conversation in the real life!