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Led by Spiderweb’s Reading Advocacy Host, Sarah Ruth Alexander, Follow the Reader is an ongoing online discussion group and once-a-month meetup every last Thursday of the month. Friends near and far are welcome to join the literary adventure. Each month we’ll have a book to read together, accompanied by a optional supplemental text for the most ambitious readers, and titles will be announced at least two months in advance. We look forward to some lively discussions and enlightening reads!

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SEPTEMBER 2019: The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

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Fernando Pessoa was many writers in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternate selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology, and horoscope. When he died in 1935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, an astonishing work that, in George Steiner's words, "gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce's Dublin or Kafka's Prague."

Published for the first time some fifty years after his death, this unique collection of short, aphoristic paragraphs comprises the "autobiography" of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa's alternate selves. Part intimate diary, part prose poetry, part descriptive narrative, captivatingly translated by Richard Zenith, The Book of Disquiet is one of the greatest works of the twentieth century.

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Supplemental Reading:
The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector

The Chandelier, written when Lispector was only twenty-three, reveals a very different author from the college student whose debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, announced the landfall of “Hurricane Clarice.” Virgínia and her cruel, beautiful brother, Daniel, grow up in a decaying country mansion. They leave for the city, but the change of locale leaves Virgínia’s internal life unperturbed. In intensely poetic language, Lispector conducts a stratigraphic excavation of Virgínia’s thoughts, revealing the drama of Clarice’s lifelong quest to discover “the nucleus made of a single instant”—and displaying a new face of this great writer, blazing with the vitality of youth.

 

October 2019: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

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THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 'Unforgettable . . . a hilarious, poignant and impassioned plea to revolutionise our attitudes to death' Gavin Francis, Guardian From her first day at Westwind Cremation & Burial, twenty-three-year-old Caitlin Doughty threw herself into her curious new profession. Coming face-to-face with the very thing we go to great lengths to avoid thinking about she started to wonder about the lives of those she cremated and the mourning families they left behind, and found herself confounded by people's erratic reactions to death. Exploring our death rituals - and those of other cultures - she pleads the case for healthier attitudes around death and dying. Full of bizarre encounters, gallows humour and vivid characters (both living and very dead), this illuminating account makes this otherwise terrifying subject inviting and fascinating.

 

PREVIOUS BOOK CLUB READS

August 2019: The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

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This is one of McMurtry's most memorable novels - the basis for the film of the same name. Set in a small, dusty Texas town, it introduces Jacy, Duane and Sonny, teenagers stumbling towards adulthood, discovering the beguiling mysteries of sex and the even more baffling mysteries of love.

Larry McMurtry was born in Wichita Falls, Texas on June 3, 1936. He is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two essay collections, and more than thirty screenplays. His first published book, Horseman, Pass By, was adapted into the film "Hud." A number of his other novels also were adapted into movies as well as a television mini-series. Among many other accolades, in 2006 he was the co-winner of both the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain."

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Supplemental Reading + Follow the Reader Field Trip!
Walter Benjamin and the Dairy Queen by Larry McMurtry
Field trip to Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, date TBA

In a lucid, brilliant work of nonfiction -- as close to an autobiography as his readers are likely to get -- Larry McMurtry has written a family portrait that also serves as a larger portrait of Texas itself, as it was and as it has become. 

Using as a springboard an essay by the German literary critic Walter Benjamin that he first read in Archer City's Dairy Queen, McMurtry examines the small-town way of life that big oil and big ranching have nearly destroyed. He praises the virtues of everything from a lime Dr. Pepper to the lost art of oral storytelling, and describes the brutal effect of the sheer vastness and emptiness of the Texas landscape on Texans, the decline of the cowboy, and the reality and the myth of the frontier. 

McMurtry writes frankly and with deep feeling about his own experiences as a writer, a parent, and a heart patient, and he deftly lays bare the raw material that helped shape his life's work: the creation of a vast, ambitious, fictional panorama of Texas in the past and the present. Throughout, McMurtry leaves his readers with constant reminders of his all-encompassing, boundless love of literature and books.

Have a book you think is awesome? Tell us about it here, and it could be our next read!

 

July 2019: Being Dead

Being Dead by Jim Crace

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Selected by Spiderweb Reader Shadan Kishi Price!

Lying in the sand dunes of Baritone Bay are the bodies of a middle-aged couple. Celice and Joseph, in their mid-50s and married for more than 30 years, are returning to the seacoast where they met as students. Instead, they are battered to death by a thief with a chunk of granite. Their corpses lie undiscovered and rotting for a week, prey to sand crabs, flies, and gulls. Yet there remains something touching about the scene, with Joseph's hand curving lightly around his wife's leg, "quietly resting; flesh on flesh; dead, but not departed yet."

From that moment forward, Being Dead becomes less about murder and more about death. Alternating chapters move back in time from the murder in hourly and two-hourly increments. As the narrative moves backward, we see Celice and Joseph make the small decisions about their day that will lead them inexorably towards their own deaths. In other chapters the narrative moves forward. Celice and Joseph are on vacation and nobody misses them until they do not return. Thus, it is six days before their bodies are found. Crace describes in minute detail their gradual return to the land with the help of crabs, birds, and the numerous insects that attack the body and gently and not so gently prepare it for the dust-to-dust phase of death.

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Published by MacMillan Publishing

Supplemental Reading:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Published by Random House

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Joan Didion is an American journalist and writer of novels, screenplays, and autobiographical works. Didion is best known for her literary journalism and memoirs.

June 2019: Choose Your Own Adventure, Summer Edition!

We all have a book we’ve been meaning to read (or re-read!), so allow our summer choose-your-own-adventure challenge give your the motivation to pick up a book and share what you’re reading with our bookclub! On our monhtly meetup (last Thursday of every month, IRL & online!), we’ll each share an excerpt from the book we chose and discuss our thoughts. At the end we can swap books for further summer reading adventures! Let us know what you’re reading, join the conversation, and access our live streams via our Facebook group. We can’t wait to see what everyone dives into!

May 2019: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

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The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Published by Dorothy, A Publishing Project

Surrealist writer and painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) was a master of the macabre, of gorgeous tableaus, biting satire, roguish comedy, and brilliant, effortless flights of the imagination. Nowhere are these qualities more ingeniously brought together than in the works of short fiction she wrote throughout her life.

Published to coincide with the centennial of her birth, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington collects for the first time all of her stories, including several never before seen in print. With a startling range of styles, subjects, and even languages (several of the stories are translated from French or Spanish), this book captures the genius and irrepressible spirit of an amazing artist’s life.

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Supplemental Reading:
Farewell to the Muse: Love, War, and the Women of Surrealism by Whitney Chadwick

Published by Thames & Hudson Books

Farewell to the Muse documents what it meant to be young, ambitious, and female in the context of an avant-garde movement defined by celebrated men whose backgrounds were often quite different from those of their younger lovers and companions. Focusing on the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Whitney Chadwick charts five female friendships among the Surrealists to show how Surrealism, female friendship, and the experiences of war, loss, and trauma shaped individual women’s transitions from someone else’s muse to mature artists in their own right. Her vivid account includes the fascinating story of Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe in occupied Jersey, as well as the experiences of Lee Miller and Valentine Penrose at the front line.

April 2019: Choose Your Own Adventure (Poetry Month!)

In honor of National Poetry month this year, Follow the Reader is embarking on a choose-your-own-adventure reading month! Pick up your favorite poetry books, select some new ones, and/or even consider supporting your local poets by purchasing their books and reading their poetry online (a complete list of Spiderweb-affiliated poetry materials and recommendations will be released early April!). We’ll share what we’re reading with one another in our Facebook Group throughout the month, and everyone will select their favorite poem(s) to bring to our monthly meetup, where we’ll read them out loud and discuss!

Supplemental Reading:

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For the super-committed poets among us, we’ve selected an excellent supplemental read to go with all this poetry: Marty McConnell’s Gathering Voices: Creating a Community-Based Poetry Workshop.

Available from Yes Yes Books here.

“Would you like a blueprint for running successful workshops?
Are you looking for innovative and interactive writing prompts? 
How about exercises specifically designed for poems by some of our most exciting contemporary voices?
Marty McConnell offers start-to-finish instructions along with a grounding in the Gathering Voices approach for both aspiring and seasoned facilitators who want to establish or invigorate a poetry learning community or for poets who want to deepen and expand their own poetic voice.” 

 
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March 2019: The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse

The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

Published by Harper Collins Publishers

This is the story of Father Damien Modeste, priest to his beloved people, the Ojibwe. Modeste, nearing the end of his life, dreads the discovery of his physical identity -- for he is a woman who has lived as a man.

In a masterwork that both deepens and enlarges the world of her previous novels set on the same reservation, Louise Erdrich captures the essence of a time and the spirit of a woman who felt compelled by her beliefs to serve her people as a priest. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a work of an avid heart, a writer's writer, and a storytelling genius.

Supplemental reading:
Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Published by Ballantine Books

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Within every woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women. But she is an endangered species. For though the gifts of wildish nature belong to us at birth, society’s attempt to “civilize” us into rigid roles has muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés unfolds rich intercultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories, many from her own traditions, in order to help women reconnect with the fierce, healthy, visionary attributes of this instinctual nature. Through the stories and commentaries in this remarkable book, we retrieve, examine, love, and understand the Wild Woman, and hold her against our deep psyches as one who is both magic and medicine.

Dr. Estés has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and life-giving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.

 
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February 2019: Kindred

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Published by Beacon Press

The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

”Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”

Supplemental reading:
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Published by Penguin Random House

“Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde-scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde's philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published.”

 
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January 2019: Sphinx

Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan; published by Deep Vellum Books

A landmark literary event: the first novel by a female member of Oulipo in English: a sexy, genderless love story.

“Anne F. Garréta is the first member of the Oulipo to be born after the founding of the Oulipo. A normalien (graduate of France’s prestigious École normale supérieure) and lecturer at the University of Rennes II since 1995, Anne F. Garréta was co-opted into the Oulipo in April 2000. She also teaches at Duke University as a Research Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. Her first novel, Sphinx (Grasset, 1986), hailed by critics, tells a love story between two people without giving any indication of grammatical gender for the narrator or the narrator’s love interest, A***.”

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Supplemental Reading:
Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature by Daniel Levin Becker

Published by Harvard University Press

“Daniel Levin Becker's brilliant and entertaining book about the Oulipo combines meticulously researched history, a complete panoply of thumbnail portraits (he uses both thumbs), shrewd critical appraisal, and - bless him! - autobiography. If Oulipians are 'rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape,' he has explored the subtle channels of the labyrinth and caught all the rats; and he movingly describes why he is happy to have become a rat himself.”