Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Alchemist

We started our meeting yesterday with an unusual treat from Carolyn, an Alchemy Cake. She said it gets its name from the ingredients of this and that, but the alchemy is the change from caloric to low calorie. The recipe uses any box cake mix and a can of diet soda. She used chocolate and served it with fresh raspberries. It was fabulous. Her sister Connie said that it really does need to be chocolate. She tried it with a lemon cake and diet 7-Up and wouldn't recommend it at all.

It was a great way to begin an unusual discussion. The book, published in 1988, meant different things to different people, leaving the group quite divided when it came to like or dislike. Joanne read it for the first time (she doesn't reread), and said it reminded her too much of The Celestine Prophecy. Mary, on the other hand, has read it periodically over a number of years and it has been an important book to her. Kathy said it's her feeling that it depends on where we're coming from when we read a book, what we bring to it, and that a person can read the same book a number of times in their lives and it will be a new book each time.

I said that it felt sexist to me, in that Fatima's Personal Legend was to wait for her man, not seek anything on her own initiative. The group was in agreement that it would have not been culturally correct for her to have demonstrated initiative. I was reminded of my own complaint about The Pillars of the Earth, saying that a woman wool merchant would not have been tolerated or permitted in that time. I finally had to agree with the group. Then Carolyn quipped, I still think she shouldn't have waited! I think some of the dichotomy in perception is that we were reading a Latin American book in translation, where the literature has a strong mystical element, and we brought our Western thinking to the table.

The discussion wasn't as long as some others have been, though it was thoughtful. Joanne observed the periodic silences around the table as we digested the comments and weighed them again our personal perceptions. I am once again reminded that one of the goals of a book group is to cause us to read outside our comfort zone, and this was the case for me. I left with different feelings about the book than when I came, and not for the first time.

Because discussion was short and we had some time left, we went around the table with a round of "what are you reading now." I liked that so much, I'd like to see us do that again in the future. Cleopatra by Stacey Schiff seems to be the book to read, if you haven't read it already.