The past few books we’ve read for book club have been heavy, serious, and complex. I take that back, almost ALL of them have been like that. Including our last book The Vegetarian by Han Kang. So after discussing The Vegetarian we decided that December’s book needed to be a little lighter so we read Christmas in Paris by Anita Hughes.
The actual vegetarian in our group picked the book and hosted our meeting where we ate a vegetarian meal of course. Not that it mattered because everything she offered was so delicious. I kept saying, where is this from, where is that from? What are these cookies!? The salad was one of those premade ones from Trader Joe’s that was so good not only did the host give me her second bag she didn’t use, but I went to Trader Joe’s and bought more that week. The cookies were from a local company called Whisked! and everything by them is delicious. Now I’m hungry.
This book had mixed reviews from the group. Some loved it, some thought it was just okay. I was in between, but the longer I think about it, the more I liked it. I also think because I read a really terrible book right afterward, it made me appreciate this one even more. It was strange and interesting with a lot of themes going on. However there is a part about art that I’m sure some people thought was weird and I didn’t (you will KNOW what I’m talking about when it happens).
Honestly I can totally see the characters getting wrapped up in the art of it (you will know what “it” means if you read the book) and not realizing the effects your actions or the effect that the art itself would have on you or your family afterward, but can understand them focusing on the experience as art as a separate thing. Like how people can compartmentalize emotions or things in their brain.
So I think what other people might think is weird art stuff and that might be the part that weirds them out about this book, that part I actually thought was beautiful. I think there are beautiful parts of this book and a lot of topics were hit on like dreams vs. reality, mental illness, art, Asian culture, marriage, roles of males and females in marriage, the pressure of culture. It was an interesting take on those topics.
A few passages that stuck with me:
Perhaps the only things he truly loved were his images—those he’d filmed, or then again, perhaps only those he had yet to film. The first time she went to one of his exhibitions, after they were married, she was taken aback; she couldn’t believe that this man, who had looked as though he might be about to collapse, had carted his camcorder around all these various places, with all the difficulties that must have involved. Indeed, it was hard for her to even imagine how he’d managed to negotiate to be allowed to film in sensitive places, the courage and sheer nerve he must at times have had to display, the patient perseverance that seemed so at odds with everything she knew about him. What it all came down to was that she just couldn’t believe he’d been sufficiently passionate about the project to put himself through all that.
This hits me as an artist. I dare say that most artists just feel compelled to make work, no matter how crazy the concept seems to the outside world. Even if you have no idea if people will like it or if it will sell or even turn out how you think/hope it will. It’s just this unexplainable driving force that makes you unable to say no to creating it. You will do crazy things just to create the work. I get it.
From a certain point onward he began to work himself even harder than before. He shut himself up in the studio, not even coming home in the evenings or at weekends, and yet he never seemed to have anything to show for it.
This hits me again. Even harder. The struggle as an artist — sometimes the experience of things helps create the work later. You can’t put pressure on one event to create work. Sometimes the experience has to marinate. Sometimes you have to go gather inspiration and you will gather and gather, and think, and simmer on it, and then one day the work will just come. You just never know. So for her to say he didn’t have anything to show for it, ya maybe not tangibly but it could be forming up in his head. Basically, I sympathize with him.
The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure.
This passage just made me think, ugh, I never want to feel that way!
I think the ending disappointed me the most. A lot of my book club agreed and thought it could have ended a little better. I don’t like finishing a book and thinking, whaaaaa!?!
So would I recommend it? Hmmmmm, I think it’s one of those things that you should probably decide for yourself. As with every book, I’m only one person, one perspective, and I think if you do a little research into it, you can decide for yourself if you’d be interested or not. Clearly it wasn’t my favorite, but I did feel like it was interesting. I like to be challenged to read books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise read.
If you’ve read The Vegetarian please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, I’d love to know what some of your favorite books are! Any you think would be good for a book club discussion?
Editor’s note: When I write about books, I’m simply writing my opinion but with immense respect for the authors. Writing any sort of book is hard! I respect all authors and books even if I didn’t like them or didn’t understand them just on the simple fact that they were written by someone. Someone passionate enough to actually write and finish writing a book, whether I think it’s good or bad, I still respect the work it takes to write a book. Personally I think it would be so hard to write a book, especially fiction! So everything I say, I say constructively and as an opinion, and with respect.
I dubbed this book club the Serious Book Club because we seriously read the books and seriously discuss them, not because we only read serious books!