Friday, April 27, 2007

The CFI book club meeting

I did not get to work peacefully on my laptop throughout the first meeting of the CFI fiction book club: I was kept from it by the other 4 people who attended! So much for my hope that no one would show up! :-) (Just kidding. Though I was prepared for a possibility that no one would show up.) The experience was a bit unexpected. Not just because I don't often find myself in a position of leadership (or coordinator, which isn't quite the same, of course :-)) but because people's expectations were quite different from mine. Before the meeting, I sent out a notice that pretty much repeated what the director of the CFI Austin told me in the past: his idea was that this should be primarily a science fiction book club, though it does not have to be limited to this genre. Since the theme of the club is "Science and religion in fiction", SF would fit well, but mainstream fiction that ponders questions of science and religion would qualify too. I also asked people to bring their suggestions of books they would like to read and discuss at the club.

Well, one guy brought a list of books that left me a bit stunned. Two of the three books he suggested were "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom. I didn't know what to think. After all he was a member of (or affiliated with) Center for Inquiry, which, according to their mission statement, "encourages evidence-based inquiry into science, pseudoscience, medicine and health, religion, ethics, secularism, and society". Based on that, I thought that exploring the theme of religion in fiction would mean reading books that critically examine religion, not books that affirm / promote religious feelings! :-) Recovering from momentary speechlessness, I stammered: "uh, actually, the <director> thought this should be primarily a science fiction club." The guy said, "oh, never mind then!" Apparently he had not read the announcement I sent out.

But I had more luck with other people's recommendations. There were some books that the majority of the attendees found appealing. We gradually worked out a list that represents a little from genres of hard SF, light SF, fantasy, and satire. (Not that we deliberately tried to cover all subgenres, it just so happened that the favorite books of the attendees covered the whole spectrum.)

To make a long story short, the book slated for discussion at the next meeting is "Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, and the one after that is "Towing Jehovah" by James Morrow. I've read "Sparrow" before, and liked it very much. It's a great read, a very moving story (even though I disagree with some of its philosophy). The next meeting is Thursday, May 24, at the Barnes & Noble at the Arboretum.

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