By Patti Hartog
The New Directions book club, a group of avid readers has a deep appreciation for the perspective each member brings to the monthly book discussions. We caught up with Robert York, who led the recent discussion of their summer read My Antonia by Willa Cather.
The range of book topics the New Directions book club has covered include history, travel, autobiography, social commentary, and collections of letters. The responsibility of facilitating the book review rotates among members.
Q: What did you learn from this book?
Robert York: My Antonia explores the challenges of Eastern Europeans migrating to the Great Plains during the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s. The story is told through the eyes of Virginia native Jim Burden and covers a period from his arrival in Nebraska during childhood through his middle age. The novel’s portrayal of title character Antonia Shimerda, who was Jim’s friend growing up, and her Bohemian parents and siblings gives readers a glimpse into the difficulties of assimilation. You also learn about the history of the struggles of immigrants arriving on the East coast hoping for something better out West.
Q: What did the book bring to mind?
Robert York: My Antonia moves slowly but gracefully. I appreciated the deliberation in detail, the mimicry of the pace of life itself without a compelling adventure or convenient conjuration at every turn, and the multifaceted characters who are at one moment sympathetic and, as in real life, difficult to accept the next moment. Also, the balance between the elements of a female writer of this period, the male narrator of her novel, and the female title character promotes close observance on the reader’s part of the layers of sympathy and suggestion. The author’s objectivity and absence of hardline judgment leaves it to readers to form their own impressions.
Q: What is the best book you’ve ever read?
Robert York: I’ve repeatedly returned to a novel by one of Cather’s contemporaries, William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying (1930). Reading this novel is like solving a puzzle. It’s highly experimental with a cast of 15 both reliable and unreliable first-person narrators across 59 chapters. The author pivots between that which can be read as literal and that which is purposefully and artfully elusive. This is fiction as fabulously fictional!
The New Directions meet on the second Friday of every month in various locations. Contact Larry Hartog for more information.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Know of any other great summer reads? Comment and let us know!