Two in twenty-four hours! Book discussions, that is…

April 6, 2008 at 2:35 am (Book clubs, books, Uncategorized)

[Spoilers lurk in ths post – beware!]

Last night, Literary Ladies (aka “Book Babes”) met to discuss The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller. I’ve already posted a review of this novel, and I was interested in what the group members would have to say about it.

The marriage of Delia and Tom Naughton was the subject that intrigued everyone the most. Why would a woman stay with a man who was such an unrepentant philanderer? There followed some discussion on the mysteries of the human libido – especially, as it is manifested in the male of the species. Did we reach any profound conclusions? No – but we had fun speculating!

Ultimately, we decided that Delia must have been genuinely hooked on the adrenalin rush of campaigning. Also, she had never really stopped loving Tom. As a result, Tom more or less got to have his cake and eat it, too. That is, right up until he was felled by a stroke. Even then, it seemed as though he would continue to enjoy the comforts of home, nursed along by Delia as he slowly recuperated. But then “the oddly sullen Meri,” as one reviewer called her, had to work her mischief…

I have to say that this was one of those book discussion nights in which the book itself almost seemed beside the point. All nine of us were either present or former employees of the library and we had alot of gossip to catch up on. This we did during the delicious dinner served to us by Kathy, that most gracious of hostesses. (Mmm, that salmon nicoise was to die for! I’m always grateful when something I’m allowed to eat plenty of also happens to taste good.)

After that most excellent repast, we talked about the book for a time, and then the conversation took a somber turn. We remembered two of our departed library colleagues; then some of us talked about loved we had lost, and how difficult the experience had been. I felt cocooned in compassion and empathy while these sad recollections were being recounted. And we did, finally, get happy again as the evening drew to a close.

I just have to say this: I am profoundly grateful – honored, too – to have these women as my friends.


This morning, at the library, I led a discussion of The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. (Run, Roberta, run!) I’ve already posted twice on the subject of this singular writer and her memorable masterpiece, and to be honest, I almost did it again earlier this week. I’ve had several days’ worth of Willa Cather immersion leading up to this morning’s discussion.

What a remarkable woman Willa Cather was! Growing up on the plains of Nebraska, she soaked up the cultural riches that Eurpoean immigrants had brought with them to the new land. She read the classics, studied foreign languages, and developed a passion for classical music and opera that lasted throughout her life. She attended the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1895.

While still in her teens, Cather experimented with her appearance and her dress, cutting her hair short and wearing men’s clothing. One gets the sense that her parents were reasonably enlightened people who, realizing that they had a prodigy on their hands, albeit a somewhat eccentric one, allowed her the freedom to follow her muse.

I asked the group this morning if anyone felt frustrated by the way in which the story of Tom Outland’s sojourn in the Southwest (and briefly, and disastrously, in Washington D.C.) interrupts the story of Professor Godfrey St. Peter and his family. One reader was in fact made so impatient that she skimmed a good deal of that part of the novel. We all agreed that it was an unusual structural dislocation, and that as readers, we were made to shift gears rather unexpectedly. And yet, there is some magnificent descriptive writing in Tom Outland’s Story. Those of us who have traveled in the Southwest appreciated the love of the landscape that Cather expresses so eloquently.

On reading The Professor’s House again, I felt, to a greater degree than on my first reading, the pervasive sadness that suffuses this narrative. Godfrey St. Peter has known passion, both intellectual and romantic, but as he enters middle age, he must come to terms with the fact that his great adventures in both spheres of activity are behind him. What lies ahead represents a diminution of all things, culminating finally in that greatest adventure – “that last hard bed” – that last house.

One final word here: I’d like to recommend Willa Cather: The Road Is All, a film that appeared originally as part of the American Masters series on public television in 2005. It is beautifully done.


  1. Weekend Miscellany II… « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] leading a discussion of The Professor’s House, I’ve been needing more Willa Cather in my life. Recently I listened to a wonderful reading […]

  2. It might interest you to know…recent gleanings from newspapers, magazines, and online sources « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Gosh, what a relief; I would hate to think that I had to read The Great Gatsby or a Willa Cather novel in order to be counted among the literate – sigh… On the other hand, works from genre fiction […]

  3. “‘Plato said all science begins with astonishment.’” – The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] strictly linear path. One example would be Shadow the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Another would be The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. Shadow moves back and forth in time with great fluidity, while Professor contains […]

  4. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] The Professor’s House – Willa Cather Lady Audley’s Secret – Braddon The House in Paris – Elizabeth Bowen Washington Square – Henry James The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald […]

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