Friday, August 27, 2010

My book club got NUMB from something besides wine

I've been part of the same book club for over 10 years.

We've read some incredible books, and have had the opportunity to talk with a number of authors whose books we've chosen. Sometimes, the author joins us in person (as was the case with Diane Hammond, author of HANNAH'S DREAM) but usually we cluster tipsily around a speakerphone, giddy with excitement at getting to talk with a real, live author.

The author making us giddy last night was Sean Ferrell, debut author of NUMB. According to him, he phoned us from the floor of a bus station and wasn't wearing any pants.

According to us, we're all Swedish swimsuit models dressed for the occasion in fur bikinis with lion tails sewn to the back.

It's possible some of us were lying. Certainly Sean has a talent for storytelling, if NUMB is any indication.

Here's what the book is about:
Numb, a man who feels no pain and has no memory of how he came to be this way, travels to New York City after a short stint in the circus to search for the answers to his past. But when word of his condition spreads – sparked by the attention he attracts from letting people nail his hands to bars for money – he quickly finds himself hounded on all sides by those who would use his unique ability in their own pursuits of fame and fortune. There's the best friend who doesn't quite know how to handle Numb's newfound celebrity, the savvy talent agent who may or may not have Numb's best interests in mind, the sadistic supermodel whose idea of a good time involves lion claws and can openers, and the blind girlfriend who might actually see something in Numb others don't. As Numb navigates this strange world, and as he continues to search for clues from his past, he is forced to confront one of life's toughest questions: Who am I?

We loved it (and I'm not just saying that because Sean threatened to beat me up – dude, I could totally take him). The book was sweet, funny, thought-provoking, touching, and – at times – uncomfortable to read.

That was one of the things I loved best about it.

Several book club members brought lists of questions to ask Sean. What did you mean by this? How did you come up with that? What was the inspiration for this character? Have you spent significant time in an insane asylum?

And though he answered all of our questions cleverly and engagingly, he was quick to point out that the book is less about his intent as the writer and more about our experience as readers.

As the only writer in the bunch, that struck a chord with me. Weren't we just talking on this blog about the importance of getting outside perspectives on your writing? This is why that matters so much. When people pick up a book and start reading it, they filter everything through their own life experiences and viewpoints. How one person chooses to read something might be totally different from another reader's take on it.

At one point in the discussion last night, I asked Sean about the contents of a video in the story (I'm not saying more because I don't want to give anything away).

"Do you know what was in the video?" I asked.

"Yes," Sean answered.

"You're not going to tell us, are you?"

Nope. Not even if we held him down and tickled him until he peed (which we totally would have done if we'd found a good flight from Central Oregon to New York at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night).

But I get his point. It matters more what we think might be in the video then what Sean – in his warped twisted brilliant mind actually intended.

Oh, and if you're part of a book club and would like to talk with Sean about NUMB, I have it on good authority he's willing to do this again (though obviously he loves us best and all other book clubs will pale in comparison). You can contact Sean on his website to set it up, and you can buy the book here.

So what are your thoughts on the balance between what an author intends and how readers interpret things? Have you ever had the pleasure of talking with the author about his/her book? What was that like? Please share in the comments.

For now, I leave you with this lovely image of our book club after we changed out of the fur bikinis.

19 comments :

Patty Blount said...

yep. so totally would have crashed this party had it been on the East Coast.

I thought NUMB was brilliant, too. I love what Sean said about the story being more about how readers experienced it.

Love it!

Linda G. said...

Forget you ladies--I think you should've posted a pic of Sean in a bikini!

I'm reading NUMB now, and enjoying it immensely. Sean is a superb writer. And I'm sure he would be even better if he wrote while wearing a bikini.

Karla Nellenbach said...

Hey, I blogged about NUMB today, too! Although he never called me :( *is sad*

GREAT book! I seriously can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

SM Schmidt said...

If only I had no class today there might have been an epic road last night. I second Linda, that pic would be priceless, especially if in said bus station.

I think my next trip to a legit bookstore (not the one on campus) will have to involve sneaking Numb into my checkout basket.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like such fun! :)

JentheAmazing said...

I don't have a book club or anything that I attend, but do you think I could just call Sean and chat with him like we're BFF? Share a glass of wine over the speakerphone? Why, if I'm alone, I'm on speakerphone, I don't know.

(Sounds like a good time had by all. Btw, I still can't get over that "saddle." It frightens me. Any word from the doctor?)

Andrezollars.com said...

I'm expecting Numb on my doorstep today. It sounds delish - kind of like you Swedish supermodels in fur bikinis - or Sean without pants. Did I just say that

Kristi Helvig said...

I've also been part of a book club for over 10 years. What amazes me is that there are 11 of us and some months, the discussions sound like we each read a different book. It's incredible how much your own life experiences color your interpretation of a story.

We've had several authors willing to come to our meeting, but some people in the group weren't comfortable with the idea--they felt they couldn't be honest if they didn't like the book.

Pamala Knight said...

I've just finished NUMB and it was fantastic!! And now that it's been revealed that Sean is willing to endure a grilling via telephone, I might suggest to the Read 'Em and Eat Bookclub (that's my bookclub) that we add it to our lists.

Our bookclub acquired that name because we meet at restaurants instead of imposing on anyone's spouse, significant other and kids for an evening in their home. That's really code for we get a night out away from said spouses, significant others and kids to eat great food, booze it up, ogle the waitstaff and discuss books in a manner that sometimes resembles a bare-knuckles brawl. ;-)

Thanks for the review.

Jan Markley said...

It's great that your book club has been together for that long. My writers critiquing group has been together, in various iterations, for more than 25 years.

Candyland said...

I want to move closer to you to be in this book club! And Sean just doesn't get much cooler (or more terrifying...is that the right word?)

Penelope said...

I like Sean's comment about it being for the reader--I am reading and thoroughly enjoying NUMB.

What a fun looking group!

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I can't believe this is the second time this week I've read about fur bikinis. I must have very specific reading tastes. I'm sharing this so that you now know the lens through which I read your blog, you understand.

That said, both Sean and your book club sound seriously awesome.

Indigo said...

Sounds like fantastic fun. I loved Sean's response to the book being more about the reader's experience. In the end all an author can do is write a great story and let the readers take what they will away from it.(Hugs)Indigo

Trisha Leigh said...

So. Jealous.

That is all.

Patrick Alan said...

You talked to Sean on the phone and I haven't?

You're dead to me now. DEAD!

Eleven Eleven said...

I've heard that particular kind of sage advice from a lot of writers. Just read it in Steven King's On Writing this morning:

"Your stuff starts out being just for you...but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right as you can, it belongs to anyone who wants to read it...or criticize it."

Your writing is a ship you put out to sea. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that perspective.

Tawna Fenske said...

Patty, this makes up for the fact that I'm still insanely jealous you got to attend his book signing.

Linda G, did you get to the scene with the fur bikini yet? :)

Karla, rally your book club together and get Mr. Ferrell on the phone!

SM Schmidt, it's well worth sneaking it into your checkout basket (er, preferably paying for it).

Jemi, it was definitely a lot of fun!

JentheAmazing, how are you with making up funny voices? Maybe you could just pretend you've got a group of 10 women sitting around discussing the book?

Andrezollers.com, we are all very, very delish. Very.

Kristi, we've had that happen before where some of the group members weren't crazy about a book and the author was scheduled to talk with us. Absolutely without exception, those members have come away from the author chat saying, "I wasn't in love with it before, but I totally dig it now." Kinda funny how that happens.

Pamala, we dubbed our book club the "Book Bitches" (there's a third word at the beginning of that, but I'm not giving it here since it's the name of my town and I never reveal that on the blog).

Jan, that's AMAZING about your critique group!

Candyland, weren't you guys toying with the idea of an Oregon move? Come on over!

Penelope, did you say "fun looking" or "funny looking?"

Elizabeth, were both fur bikini comments in connection with NUMB? Because there's this scene in the book...well, you just have to read it :)

Indigo, exactly! And Sean definitely did write a great story.

Trisha, you definitely SHOULD be jealous. On top of all that, we drank some really nice wine that night.

Patrick, don't think you're balancing things out that easily. I still hate you for meeting Michelle.

Eleven Eleven, what a great quote from Steven King!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Haha, nope. Then the multiple fur bikinis would make sense. These were two totally unrelated books.