A Book Picnic

Leas Miserables Book Club Picnic

Our June book club meeting took us back to Geist Park, where our book club began several years ago, for a picnic and our discussion of Les Misérables. After I had posted a few pictures from our June meeting to Facebook, one of my co-workers told me he would join our book club, but he was solely interested in the food. I can’t say that I blame him. The food was delicious.

Book Club Picnic Food

The décor was perfect for a summer picnic…

Book Club Picnic Decorations

And Sarah’s mason jar cheesecakes were a huge hit…

Mason Jar Cheesecakes

Quite a few of us attempted Les Misérables, some of us watched a film adaptation instead, and a few of us finished. One thing we realized is that all abridgements (and film adaptations, for that matter) are not created equal. The Barnes & Noble classic edition abridged by Laurence M. Porter that a couple of us had seemed to be the best at cutting out some of the lengthy passages that didn’t really contribute to the story (including about 15 chapters about the Battle of Waterloo). However, a couple of us had abridged editions that cut out so much, the story didn’t really make sense anymore. We spent a lot of the time filling in the gaps and recounting the story, talking about the characters of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Marius and Cosette as we went along. I think we all are looking forward to seeing how the new film adaptation of the musical that will be coming out in December will treat the story and how it will compare to the novel.

Book Club Group Photo

For July, we’re taking it a little easier and will be reading the (much shorter) essays “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau. Hopefully the summer weather and warm sunshine will give you some inspiration to read these classics by two of the most famous naturalist authors. We will see you July 12 at 7 p.m. We will keep you posted on the location for this month, so watch for that information coming soon.

Happy reading!

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Book Club Thursday

Book Club is TONIGHT!

We’ll be back at our original local for our annual picnic: The park where it all began many, many months ago. If you need a refresher of the storyline here are a few things you can check out:

~ The Character List from SparkNotes: This always helps me review.. especially on books that are THIS long.

~ Discussion Questions from 5 Minutes for BooksPenguin Group (scroll to the bottom for the questions) and the Book Club Forum.

~The Chronology of Les Mis: This is really helpful! If you’re book was an abridgment I’m curious if any of these events were skipped.

See you tonight at 7:00 at Geist Park!
~Happy Reading

That Book Is HUGE! (An Introduction to Les Misérables)

Undoubtedly they seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful, even, but those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it?

So far, this month’s book Les Misérables is way different from what I expected. And that is not a bad thing. I have to admit, that I was in no way familiar with the story line. When the Broadway musical was at the height of its popularity, I never saw it or heard more than a song or two from the soundtrack. I thought it was about the beginning of the French Revolution (wrong!), and the story is turning out to have way more suspenseful moments than I would have thought. I certainly didn’t expect a novel that would address so many themes. As Victor Hugo tells the story, his involvement in politics shows as he explores poverty, patriotism, justice, oppression, social justice, and redemption, among others.

One thing I did know, though, was that this book is HUGE! I received my copy for Christmas, and it looked like brick sitting under the tree with my copy of The Hiding Place that I also received as a gift.

Les Mis Comparison

My abridged version weighs in at a hefty 829 pages (and that is with pretty small print). I’m not usually intimidated by giant books (I count Gone with the Wind and it’s 1,037 are among some of my all-time favorites), but for some reason, this one seemed scary. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s abridged, or maybe it’s the French title. However once I’ve gotten deeper into the story, I would say it has been worth confronting my fear and diving into this novel. Perhaps you’ve had some similar fears of large novels, or maybe you tend to get bogged down when reading books of this kind of size. If so, I thought I would include some suggestions for reading big books, in particular, this one.

  1. There is no shame in reading the abridged version. Especially in the case of Les Misérables (see the page count I mentioned above). Hugo is a very descriptive writer, and he has a tendency to wax poetic for multiple chapters about topics like French society and the Battle of Waterloo. While brilliantly described, I am sure, these types of details aren’t really necessary to the backstory or moving along the plot. Judging from his critical essay included at the beginning of my edition of the book, the guy that did the abridgement was really smart, and I trust his judgment that what he decided to cut out (or summarize in an italicized paragraph) was probably OK to cut.
  2. Skim if necessary. As I mentioned before, Hugo is a very poetic author, so he often has very lengthy descriptions of scenes and characters. This helps create a very vivid visual picture, but in most cases these descriptions aren’t integral to the plot. If you get bogged down in the descriptive sections, go ahead and skim them so you have a basic idea of what is going on without getting stuck. If you miss a key detail, you can always go back.
  3. If it helps, take notes. There are a lot of characters in the novel, and some go by different names at different points in the story, so you might find it helpful to keep a list of who is who. Or you might want to make notes of key plot points.
  4. Make use of SparkNotes (or something similar). Les Misérables follows several main characters whose stories all overlap. You might find it helpful to look at SparkNotes or another outside resource for the plot summary after you read a chapter to make sure you didn’t miss anything important. If it is easier for you to read a book when you to know where the story is going, read ahead in the plot summary, or you might find it helpful to use the information to do your own “abridging” to skip some of the more flowery sections and jump ahead to where the action picks up.
  5. Give it a fair chance. Personally, I find that with a lot of books, it takes a few chapters or more to really get a feel for the author’s writing style, some of the characters and the overall “feel” of the book. Some of books take quite a bit of time (and pages) to set the stage and the scene before they really pick up. Les Misérables definitely falls into this category. Hugo takes great care to introduce you to the setting and his characters, which may seem tedious at times. Hopefully if you find it tedious, you can find some appreciation for his gift of description. This gift carries into the more action-oriented sequences of the novel, which makes him a master at building tension and suspense.

How about you? Have you found the book to be what you expected? Do you have any tips for reading this, and other large novels? I hope you give Les Misérables a fair chance and come and join us on June 14 at 7 p.m. for our discussion and Summer Picnic at Geist Park.

Happy Reading!