Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book Club Meeting – Monday, March 5th, 2007
Present: Willow Pearce, Alison Carr, Craig Harris, Carolyn Boatman, Ian Boatman, Amin Smith, Martha Ferguson, St. Clair Trott

• The meeting was held at the home of Willow Pearce and began at 6:15PM.
• Conversation began informally on the subject of Poetry. Willow shared details of his recently published book of poetry – “A Drop in the Ocean”. This book is currently available at
• It was reiterated that to avoid future difficulties the club should resume the practice of being ‘one book ahead of themselves’ in the selection and ordering process. This lesson was previously learned and the membership agreed it was a sound policy.
• Our last selection “Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China”, by Paul Theroux, was debated.
• The majority consensus was that the members had enjoyed reading this book. Martha ‘liked it’. Craig ‘loved it’. Alison ‘liked how it was written’. Willow appreciated ‘how he wrote about the English’.
• Craig did note that he found Theroux’s treatment of his fellow Western travel companions stereotypical.
• Martha added that she thought he was ‘a bit snobbish’.
• Interestingly, Willow noted Theroux’s numerous failed marriages and questioned how these influenced his writing.
• Commenting on Theroux’s writing style, Martha observed that he ‘wasn’t very deep’.
• There was some discussion on the element of ‘escapism’ evident throughout the book. Examples included the eagerness that some people’s displayed in obtaining consumer goods such as televisions and cassette players.
• Amin thought that the characters Theroux described were not ‘nice’ characters.
• As the book had aroused initially good sentiments amongst the members, yet there were also numerous complaints, the question was posed as to whether or not the members ultimately really did like the book?
• Craig cited it as a very good travelogue.
• Martha criticised it for ending so abruptly – like ‘a Chinese banquet’.
• It was then debated as to what kind of experience did Theroux actually have in China? Did the Chinese know who he was? The book at times suggests, and it was agreed, that he was probably known and welcomed as a famous Western writer. It was thought that the Chinese government probably hoped to elicit favourable reviews from him in print.
• Mentioning the varieties of laughter that the author described Martha questioned if this accurate? She also noted that while the Chernobyl disaster had been mentioned at the beginning of the book it was then ignored throughout the remainder of the book. Some in the group considered that this might have been purposely done to highlight the Soviet government’s reluctance to release information on the event.
• Considerable discussion ensued on Theroux’s ability to meet so many common Chinese citizens and engage them in conversations on issues ranging from the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s legacy to the behaviour of the modern Chinese government. Could this really have occurred so freely and easily? Did it seem plausible? The members seemed divided on whether this was an accurate portrayal of his interaction with the people he met on his journey. The theory was advanced that perhaps there was a measure of ‘creative license’ used in his recounting of these events.
• Several members had visited China and shared their own experiences. Martha described her opportunities to meet common Chinese citizens in her travels there.
• There was some discussion of the country’s single child policy and the ensuing spoiled children that this has created.
• Referring again to the Chinese people’s interest in obtaining Western consumer goods, Craig noted that the growing preponderance of televisions and satellite dishes would be likely to have an adverse effect on China’s society and culture.
• The group reminisced about Bermuda’s small Chinese population.
• Martha kindly shared a DVD of her 2004 visit to China, a trip that included visits to many of the same locations depicted in the book.
• It was suggested, and agreed, that the club will host another movie night. The film to be shown will be Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”. This will be organised for an evening after the next meeting.
• In the ‘Page Turners / Page Burners’ portion of the meeting Amin offered Joe Miller’s ‘Cross X’. This is a recently published book that he said was proving very interesting. Craig brought two books to the attention of the members. These were “Genghis Khan: Conqueror of the World” by Leo De Hartog and “Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the China He Lost” by Jonathan Fenby.
• Amin selected the next book to be read. It is the Russian novel “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev. Craig selected the following book to be read. That will be “The River of Lost Footsteps. Histories of Burma” by Thant Myint-U.
• The next meeting date will be May 7th.
• The meeting ended at 8:05PM.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Minutes 1/29/2007


PRESENT: Willow Pearce, Martha Ferguson, Amin Smith, St Clair Trott, Craig Harris, Alison Carr, Ian Boatman, Carolyn Boatman

· The meeting began at 6:10PM

· The club welcomed three new members: Ian & Carolyn Boatman and Alison Carr.

· It was noted that in the last month there have been approximately 25 enquiries, via email, to the club. These enquiries were generated via a posting on the website. It was agreed that the club should maintain this posting indefinitely as it apparently garners a lot of attention and interest. The club thanked Willow for his continuing efforts on this project.

· Conversely, it was also noted that although there have been numerous enquiries there appears to be little follow-up interest from most people. The club members noted, and agreed, that this club was not to everyone’s taste and we were pleased to attract quality members rather than aim for ‘quantity’. There are two others who did express interest in attending tonight but were unable to – they have advised they would like to be informed of our next meeting date.

· Details of the club meetings, and our philosophy, were discussed with the new members and they were in agreement with our goals and methods.

· The last book read, “Murder in Amsterdam” by Ian Buruma, was discussed. This book details the death of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the struggle in the Netherlands to remain tolerant of Muslim immigrants.

· Amin opened our discussion by confirming that he had liked the book. The other members who had read it agreed. Amin explained that he was intrigued by the ‘open society’ of the Netherlands as well as the broad social assistance they offered to their citizens.

· Willow interjected that although the Dutch were known as being very liberal they were actually quite bigoted.

· Continuing with his point, Amin opined that one cause of unrest between the ethnic white Dutch and Muslim immigrants in the country was that the immigrants were not assimilating. They were maintaining a separate existence in every way possible including their appearance. As an example of integration he described the United States where ‘immigrants were proud to be an American’ and said it was ‘easy to spot an assimilated American’.

· Craig disagreed with this last assessment noting that many immigrant groups now arriving in the United States, such as those from Mexico or Latin/South America, were not assimilating. They were, in fact, attempting to change American culture to reflect their own.

· Alison, who is from the UK, described the situation in the Leeds/Bradford area where she has lived. It was her experience that Muslim immigrants to this area were ‘sticking together’ and ‘forming their own communities’. She highlighted the fact that there was much distrust between the native English in this area and the recent Muslim immigrants. She suggested this could be the result of neither side meeting and talking to the other.

· Loosely quoting the Koran, Craig said that Muslims were taught that there are only three ways to interact with a Christian – ‘to convert them, to subjugate them or to kill them’. He also reminded the group that very often the Imams teaching the Koran were as poorly educated as their students. Many could not actually read and understand Arabic and so their ‘teachings’ were often circumspect.

· Amin questioned whether better treatment of immigrants in general might improve relations between the two communities?

· Carolyn commented that the way the West has generally treated immigrants or the populations in their colonies has been ‘morally wrong’. This instigated considerable discussion on the history of colonialism, such as in the Belgian Congo. There were also parallels drawn between the large expatriate populations in many Arab countries, and even in Bermuda, and how they interacted with the indigenous population of their host country.

· Martha made the point that Bermuda’s difficulty at times in assimilating and living harmoniously with foreigners would be exacerbated if the foreign population outnumbered the local population here, as it does in many other countries.

· St Clair spoke on the effects that the influx of foreign workers has had on Bermuda’s society. He mentioned the cost of homes and how many Bermudians cannot afford to purchase one.

· Both St Clair and Willow lamented the demise of the Technical Institute.

· Returning to the book, Craig described his personal experiences of the mainstreaming of the Turkish community in the Netherlands. He drew attention to the fact that they were not described in the book as being a problem in the country in the way that the Moroccans were.

· Discussion continued on the benefits of colonialism in the form of infrastructure, language, the civil service, etc.

· Craig suggested many of Holland’s problems might be the cause of their own ‘white guilt’. He commented on the current backlash against this philosophy in many white, Christian countries.

· Amin countered that he was skeptical of the Dutch sense of atonement.

· In the ‘Page Turner/Page Burner’ segment of the meeting St Clair again brought the book ‘The Tower’ to the attention of the club. Craig mentioned that this book had figured heavily on many year-end ‘Best’ lists. Willow professed to not liking the book very much. Craig suggested the group might enjoy ‘The Embarrassment of Riches’ by Simon Schama. This is an interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age and a good primer for understanding modern Dutch history. Amin again recommended ‘Fathers & Sons’ by the Russian author Turgenev.

· The group agreed to meet again on Monday March 5th.

· Willow and Amin both volunteered to choose the next two club selections.

· The meeting adjourned at 8:10PM

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Minutes 12/10/2006

Book club Meeting October 12th, 2006
Present: Willow Pearce, Craig Harris, Amin Smith
Regrets: Martha Ferguson, Laura Sweet

The meeting was held at Willow’s house and began at 6:15PM.
To generate further publicity it was decided to ask the Bermuda Bookstore if they would kindly add a link to our blog on their website. Craig is to investigate this possibility.
In the future it was agreed that Craig would no longer email ‘reminders’ to club members. Members will be expected to record meeting dates, or access the blog, and attend if interested.
The last book, ‘Orwell’s England’ by George Orwell, was discussed.
Although unable to attend, Laura offered the following comments via email: she found ‘Wigan Pier’ (This essay appears within the book) fascinating, not only in terms of the vivid depiction of slum life but also in Orwell’s trying to fathom the causes for the squalor and suggestions on how it might be remedied. She added, that in terms of class and social division, she thought his sentiments were as relevant now as they were 60 years ago, especially as it pertains to the UK. Laura found it interesting that Orwell’s notion of class was based more on educational and cultural attainments rather than money. This was something that she believed was very current today in England.
Laura considered Orwell a ‘great writer’ (as well as a ranter) and was inspired to read more of his work.
Willow considered Orwell ‘an interesting guy who died too young’. He added that he led a hard life when he was young and was nearly tried for treason.
Commenting on his socialist leanings, Craig noted that Orwell considered his first literary success as being published in the Left Book Club.
Willow noted that without ‘Animal Farm’ he would never have been so highly thought of as an author.
Willow also recommended ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’.
Craig enjoyed the discussion of England’s class system. This sparked great debate on class and castes. Where do they still exist? Do they exist in Bermuda? What form do they take? Is there a difference between a class and caste system?
Discussion continued on topics such as India’s program of forced sterilisation and China’s ‘1 child per family’ decree.
Orwell’s masterpiece ‘1984’ was thoroughly discussed. All who have read it agree it is a riveting book and very prescient.
Amin likened it to the film ‘Minority Report’.
It was questioned whether Orwell’s socialist beliefs were properly explored in ‘1984’?
Amin questioned whether ‘1984’ was actually an endorsement of socialism or not?
Craig thought that ‘1984’ showed what socialism would become in post WW2 Russia.
Interestingly Amin traced the connection of socialism back to the era of Rasputin.
Finally Craig countered that he believed the book was actually a discouragement of socialism.
In the ‘Page Turner/Page Burner’ segment of the meeting Amin offered ‘Father’s & Sons’ by Ivan Turgenev. It was commented that this book has been mentioned previously in ‘Alexander II’. Craig suggested the members might enjoy ‘What We’ve Lost’ by Graydon Carter, a liberal expose of modern American politics.
The club’s recent film night was discussed. On September 28th we viewed ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Those who attended enjoyed this film and it was agreed we should hold another Film Night in the future.
Craig mentioned that a new film on Marie Antoinette was being released. The membership agreed that we would attempt to see it together if it is shown locally.
The next meeting was set for November 20th when we will discuss ‘Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton’ by Edward Rice.
The meeting ended at 8:05PM.