S4L Book Club – Bel Canto

S4L Book Club, Bel Canto, by Ann PatchettReviews, summary, synopsis at

This whole book club thing is new to me. I’ve never been a member of one, let alone led one. While I love the idea of discussing and dissecting books, I’m not sure how to go about it, and I’ve been contemplating different methods. Should we share overall impressions and then dive in to some details? Should we start with details and wind up with overall impressions? Will our overall impressions change when we discuss the details?

Mike and I read Herman Melville’s Bartleby a while ago. I liked the story much better after discussing it with him. There were points I hadn’t noticed and connections I hadn’t made initially, and once we ironed out the finer wrinkles of the story together, I think we both liked it better. I imagine such a thing could happen through these Club discussions.

I’ve decided to start with details. And I want to present all the canned questions in addition to my own. Maybe the makers of canned questions know how this book discussion stuff works, right?

Would it help you all to know when to expect Book Club questions? How about we post them on Tu/Th/Sa until we run out of questions? At least, that’s what I’ll try to do. I can’t be held responsible for power outages, chocolate chip cookie crises, writer’s block, mood swings, and such.

We’ll start with Roxane. What is it about her that makes such an impression on the other hostages and the terrorists? Is it merely that she is famous? How does her singing and the music relate to the story?

Categories: Reading

7 replies »

  1. I’m looking forward to the discussion. Here are my thoughts on bookclubbing, in no particular order:

    Canned questions are just fine, but I’m also very interested in whatever the other members of the club find interesting or worth noting…what struck a particular nerve with them for whatever reason. I find that in photography I prefer candid shots to posed ones; in like manner, I like off-the-cuff discussions moreso than planned ones.

    Posting on Tu/Th/Sa is fine, as are any other days of the week for me. Whatever works well for the poster is what I think would work best.

    I’ll come back to you with thoughts on Roxanne.

  2. This is really going to be fun, for me:
    canned = in a box?
    candid shots = sweets you drink?- I am not good at drinking shots…
    off the cuff = not in the sofa?
    I will post my thoughts about Roxane after my Qi Gong session, when I am really relaxed, so I do not worry so much about stumbling over difficult and puzzling language-pictures… And I will bring my Webster (the Oxford one can stay in the shelf for now) and google translate 😉
    Regards from Harriet

  3. LOL!

    canned – someone else made the questions up and makes them available to book clubs

    candid shots – (love the idea of “candied shots” you describe) In this case, “shots” are images or photographs. “Candid” is informal or unposed.

    off-the-cuff – spur of the moment, unplanned

    Shelly is comparing (in lovely literary style) candid photos with unplanned conversations, ones that arise naturally in the moment.

    The questions we ask here are meant to start the conversation, and from there we hope it continues organically.

    I have a list of questions I want to ask, and I have a list of canned questions that I got online. I doubt one list is better than the other, but they certainly are different.

    Shelly, you just gave me a new idea, too. I’ll post it tomorrow.

    This is fun! I’m so glad we’re doing this.

  4. I think Roxane embodies a combination of things that make her a force to be reckoned with.

    1. She’s pretty. As a performer, she must take care of herself and can afford to. Pretty people attract attention, get respect, and are generally treated better than unattractive people.

    2. She’s a diva. Her fame and talent garner respect, and being accustomed to getting respect and admiration, Roxane no doubt expects it. This gives her an air of confidence and self-assurance.

    3. She’s passionate about music and singing. Passion creates a drive that compels Roxane to do things she might not do in more rational moments; i.e. the way she defends her accompanist and they way she insists on having music brought in for her.

    4. When the others are released, she’s the only female hostage. That alone makes her stand out as special.

    I think music is a big part of the story. It’s what levels the playing field between terrorists and hostages, wealthy and poor. It’s what humanizes everyone and brings them together.

    Now, part of me thinks the role of music in the story is overblown, that too much is made of it; but at the same time, I know that music can alter my mood, my perspective, who-knows-what. Unlike many people, I don’t have music constantly in the background. My world is mostly silent. I have noted the difference music can make. So I’m divided on the importance given to music in this story.

    What do you think?

  5. Jen, I agree with all of your points, but have a few additional thoughts. I listened to the audio book and initially, I wasn’t terribly impressed with either the story or the narrator. They both grew on me.
    I found Roxane the least developed of all the major characters- or maybe I really mean the least dimensional. It seems that the only thing we know about her is that she is attractive and that her voice is incredible. She is the recipient of adoration and love (not the same thing), but we know little of who she is. It is as though she was created as a character to be this recipient and was placed in the story intact, with no changes and no real analysis.

  6. Oops! Hit post when I didn’t mean to! I don’t mean the above comments harshly, I just feel that I know her less than the other main characters and therefore don’t actually care as much about her, even though I am told that characters I do care about love her.

    I think that music is the heart and soul of the book- as its title indicates. It is the inspiration, the leveler and the thing that keeps everyone going. One thing I didn’t initially like about the book’s narrator was that I felt her voice lacked the “music” called for. I would have still liked more music from her, but she did an excellent job of voicing the reactions of people to the music.

    On a personal level, the importance of music resonates with me. I was widowed at age 27. My first husband was a wonderful musician and we often sang and played instruments together. After his death, I didn’t have music in my life for several years. When I eventually reintroduced music into my existence, I realized just how potent it was for me. Like you, I don’t listen to music all the time, and silence is actually important to me. But music is vital, critical and necessary for me if I am to be whole. I understand Gen’s (sp? As I said, I listened) comment at the end that he has to hear her sing every day

  7. How interesting! I hadn’t consciously noticed how little developed Roxane is, but now that you mention it, yeah, you’re right. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t so taken with her; she seemed distant and not especially likable to me–though not awful, either–but I attributed that to her diva personality.

    I wonder if that lack of development was deliberate. If it was, what might the purpose be? If it was to make her standoffish, I’d say it worked. Can you think of any other story where the central character is the least developed? The author goes into extensive detail with some of the other characters.

    I find your point about the lack of music in the reading interesting, too, because I thought the same about the writing itself. I’d call it nuanced, but not musical. I was hoping for some beautiful, lyrical writing, and I wouldn’t say I got it. Not that I am the ultimate judge, of course. And it probably didn’t help that I was reading a Barbara Kingsolver book simultaneously. I find her writing very lyrical.

    Widowed at 27-yikes! Oh, Becca, what a trial. I think beauty is necessary, in whatever form suits us best. There’s a saying–and a great book by Katherine Paterson–“Bread and Roses, Too.” Which is to say, we need beauty as we need food; it is essential.

    What, of all beauties, do you find most nourishing? I believe mine is nature.