Wednesday, January 12, 2011

JANUARY 2011 BOOKERS MINUTES - The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

"We've come a long way baby."

Braving twenty-four degree temperatures, 20 members of The Clan of Bookers gathered at the hearth of Bonnie Magee to discuss Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear.  Rosemary Farmer co-hosted the meeting making certain the hunter-gatherers felt right at home by displaying a table set with an animal skin, a bowl of nuts, and baskets of fresh rosemary.  Bonnie’s idea of sharing responsibilities for our meetings clearly shows what a good thought looks like when implemented.  Great job and thanks to both of you for contributing to Bookers.

MN’s sister, Dianne, attended her last Bookers meeting as she is returning home this week, much to the chagrin of those who have become accustom to seeing her.  Personified in this charming example of gentility is the true language of the South.  We are going to miss her and hope she will come back to Bookers the next time she is in town.
Pat Faherty, slated to lead the review of this selection, was blindsided by a snowstorm in the midst of moving to her new house and was unable to join us.  Flexibility being our strong suit…really!...MN pulled a couple of reviews from the Internet and Lorene used her velvet voice to deliver us back to the dawn of modern humans in prehistoric Europe during the Ice Age. 
Animal totems played a significant role in Auel’s book as each child of the Clan was “anointed” with a spirit identifying their persona.  Instead of The Mog-ur determining our totems, our animal personality was revealed in a warm-up exercise of ‘Name Your Totem.’  Eunice, the spirit of owl, hovered quietly above observing the scene sharing air space with our other feathered friends – Bonnie, the spirit of flittering bird, Madelyn, the spirit of bluebird, and Rosemary, the spirit of chickadee.  A match of wills emerges as Lorene, the spirit of bull and Daryl, the spirit of ram squared off with Aulsine, the spirit of mountain goat, and Marsha, the spirit of horse.  Janet and Lois, both spirits of prairie dogs, continuously popped up out of their holes curiously eyeing the aquatic group of Pam, the spirit of crab, Sandy, the spirit of beaver, Leslie, the spirit of dolphin, and Patsy, the spirit of penguin.  In the corner Donna, the spirit of golden retriever, growled playfully at JoDee, the spirit of cat who hissed at Cherry, the spirit of peacock, strutting her colorful feathers in front of Melanie, fittingly in the spirit of our medicine woman.  MN…(have you ever heard the spirit of tiger roar with a southern drawl?)    signaled an end to the naming game, corralling us in to listen to the discussion of the book while Dianne, being quiet as a mouse, settled in to endure yet another discussion of yet another book.  (Alabama, I’m coming home!)  Rest assured we were not chewing on any root or swallowing anyone’s essence, nor were we tempted to dance naked until we dropped from exhaustion, just attending another monthly (ho-hum) meeting of fellow book lovers.
Jean M.Auel is seventy-five years old and the latest (and reportedly the last) novel in this series, The Land of Painted Caves, is due to be released March 29, 2011.  Between 1980 and 1990 she published the first four in the series, The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, and The Plains of Passage, but her fans had to wait twelve years before the fifth, The Shelters of Stone was released.  She is “not a trained novelist and certainly not a trained scientist,” but her attention to detail and passion for prehistory endears her to anthropologists, archeologists, and book lovers.  She admits freely to taking literary license throughout the novels (defined as speculative alternative historical fiction,) but does so for the sake of the story.  As a whole, the series is a tale of personal discovery, coming-of-age, invention, and cultural complexities, encompassed within a profound study of humanity.
An earthquake left five-year old Ayla orphaned and near death.  The Clan, on the move in search of a new cave, stumbled upon her lifeless body.  From the onset, they knew she was not one of them…they were The Clan (Neanderthals) – stout and short.  This child was blond with eyes “the color of the sky,” – long and lean…clearly a product of “The Others” (Cro-Magnons.)  The novel follows her journey into this new world and details the clash of two diverse cultures striving for the same resources, space, and survival.  This helpless child wins the hearts of medicine woman, Iza, and Creb, The Mog-ur; chief of spirits, the holiest of holy men, and the most skilled and powerful magician of the Clan, and finds a home within their “hearth.”  Signs, omens, and superstitions dictate everyday life of the Clan and manifests in their ritual naming ceremony in which Ayla is anointed with the powerful totem, the Spirit of the Cave Lion.  Confusion, awe, and dissention follow the ceremony, especially since she was not by birth, “one of them.”  This designation set the tone for her emergence into their lifestyle at the same time alienating her from full acceptance into her new family.  The Clan could not conceive a future any different from the past – everything they did was a repetition of something that had been done before.  They were dependent on their racial-genetic memory.  A child’s brain is encoded with this information, which makes Ayla’s grasp of medicine an anomaly to the Clan members – she was capable of absorbing her “mother’s” medicinal memories ensuring her path as heir apparent to the Clan’s medicine woman.
Communicating with body and sign language, it was impossible to lie to the Clan because “spelling an untruth with one’s hands is possible, but one’s posture will betray you.”  Additionally, they used a formal language or spirit language to converse with ancestors.  Although she struggled to grasp it, to Ayla, it was a language of compassion amid a few foreign grunts, gestures, and signs – a universal language of nurturing instinctive without verbalization.  She knew she was cared for.
When battle lines were drawn between Ayla and Broud, the Clan leader’s “child of his mate,” the story developed into a test of wills fueled by extreme jealousy (or was it love?) leading to an explosion of graphic violence, submission, and revenge.
The tenderness of the book amid the brutality of the times in which they lived endeared the reader to the characters and quite possibly, to the Internet to order the rest of the series…“The last thing Ayla heard as she disappeared behind the broken ridge was (her son’s) plaintive wail – Maama, Maaama, Maamaaa!”… heart wrenching and leaving the reader wanting more…well done!
       On The Business Side:
Most of you either are currently members of other book clubs or have been in the past.  The emphasis of Bookers has always been the books, rather than the social aspect of getting together.  Last month’s meeting again set a record (37) for attendance and no one can argue that the mood was festive and in line with the celebration of the season.  However, it highlighted the need to address what we do in the future as it applies to our two “party-themed meetings.”  The combination of eating, drinking, business, warm up, a book review and discussion was too much to pack into our allotted time.  MN & I feel strongly the book and the person who has volunteered to review the selection suffers because of the current format, and it is unfair to ask you to spend time reading something that is not going to be given due credit.  We discussed several options to balance the issues and voted to eliminate the book and review from our May Wine & Cheese evening meeting.  We will substitute either a book sharing or exchange or just swap stories of our favorite books.  There was a reluctance to give up the holiday party so, next December our book reviewer will be first on the agenda; we will simplify our food choices, but continue to toast the spirit of the season.

                  Recommended Reading List:
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese, an epic tale of twin sons of a secret love affair between a Nun and a brilliant British surgeon unfolds across five decades in India, Ethiopia, and America.

 Outcasts United by Warren St. John, a non-fiction account of a settlement center near Atlanta for refuge families from war zones in Africa and the Middle East.

 Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler is about a 40 year old wife and mother feeling unappreciated, unnoticed, and unnecessary who walks away from her “normal” life and starts over in a new town.  Vintage Anne Tyler – quirky characters addressing mid-life issues.

 A Week in Winter, Marcia Willett who is hailed as the new Rosamunde Pilcher delivers an easy escape into the English countryside chocked full of characters that draw us into their lives, at the middle of which lies an old family farmhouse named Mooregate.

                   COLOR CODING SYSTEM:

WHITE:                        Light read
PINK:                           Moderately challenging
RED:                             Challenging

February 8th:                 The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
                                    Recommended by MN, Cherry, & Jane Freer
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Reviewer: Melanie Prebis

                                    Still Alice by Lisa Genova
                                    Recommended by Kim, MN & JoDee
                                    Home of Jane Freer
                                    Reviewer: Kim Hand

April 12th:                     Room by Emma Donoghue
                                    Recommended by MN & JoDee
                                    Home: TBA
                                    Reviewers: MN & JoDee

May 10th:                     4th annual Wine and Cheese Evening Meeting
                                    Bonnie Magee, food czar
                                    Format to be discussed – no book selection
                                    Home: TBA

If you can’t find me, I’ll most likely be lolling around Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West.)


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