In January Emma Watson started a virtual feminist book club. And it is kind of a big deal. With over 100,000 members, it is undoubtedly the largest group on Goodreads. So far the group has explored Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road (in January) and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (February’s book). For those of you who are curious, but just don’t have the time, here is a synopsis of what is happening in the club:
The Discussion Topics range from the super popular and super broad “Finished the Book” to the virtually ignored “Shrinking Evil.” There are a few of my favorite threads:
Discussion Topic: Finished the Book
The most popular discussion is “Finished the Book” which was started by over-achiever Amy, who read the entire book in one night and opened up a thread for other speed readers to discuss their thoughts without having to worry about us slow-pokes getting upset about spoilers. Most commenters loved the format of the book, and pretty much everyone struggled at first with the dialect in which the book is written, but got used to it. One commenter mentioned that the subject matter, especially in the beginning, was like a “punch in the face.” I have to agree. I had no idea what I was getting into, and the first couple of pages had me reeling. I was hooked, though, by what another commenter described as a “horrific and beautiful” novel.
Discussion Topic: Book vs Film
This discussion opens with a link to a review of the film adaptation of The Color Purple. Apparently when the movie was released in 1985, there was a backlash from males in the black community who resented that the film depicted them in a negative light. Commenters in this thread largely found that to be a bit short-sighted and thought such views kind of missed the point of the book/movie. As commenter Jackie put it, “I’ve always read it as the story of an undereducated, abused woman coming into her own with the help of other strong and supportive women.” And group member Iluminada agrees, “To me, it seemed the book was trying to convey the loss in a man’s life, white or black, when he can’t see women as human beings.”
The thread goes on to discuss some of the differences, good bad or indifferent, between the book and the movie:
- The relationship between Shug and Celie: though some thought it was not as well portrayed in the movie as it was in the book, commenter Jackie argued, “I actually thought that the Celie/Shug relationship and the Celie/Nettie Relationships were the only ones that transferred well in the film.”
- The character of Mary Agnes/Squeak is not explored enough in the film.
- The redemption of Mr ____ is left out of the movie version.
- The time sequence (sooooo many readers had an issue with the time sequence) is different in the film.
- Shug singing is a powerful addition to the movie that we were not able to get in the book.
Another important point that this thread brought up was the incredible jobs Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny Glover did in the film. Group member Kressel noted, “Wow. IMBD says 11 nominations and not one win. It makes me think differently about the boycott on the Oscars this year, which I was skeptical about until now.” This is just one of the ways that this book seems to transcend time (more about that below).
Discussion Thread: Indifference
This thread was largely and woefully overlooked. It touched on the indifference that the native tribe in Africa, the Olinka, had towards missionaries in the book. Though the thread was started out of what seems to be a super personal experience, I think it touched on a very important issue. As one group moderator noted: “Missionaries are often unwelcome, and native populations are under no obligation to welcome their teachings.” The Color Purple touches on so frickin’ many issues it is unreal. And, as I mentioned above, it completely transcends time as every issue is still being discussed today.
I hadn’t given much thought to missionaries until I was an Anthropology minor in college. Let me be clear that I am speaking to religious missions, not humanitarian aid. The two are very different, though I know that modern missionaries have endeavored to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the people they are traveling so far to help. The problem for me is the underlying idea that these people need spiritual help in the first place. Generally, a missionary’s understanding is that the group to whom they are proselytizing have an inherently WRONG understanding of the world and must therefore be saved. Missionaries tend to go into their mission field with the understanding that their own story is correct and worth sharing, while the stories of the people whose homes they are entering is wrong and needs to be changed. This is tragic to me because it misses the beauty and richness that has lived and thrived in the native culture. The so-obvious-it-really-shouldn’t-need-to-be-said-but-I-will-say-it-anyway exception to this is any tradition or custom that infringes on basic human rights, like child brides and female genital mutilation. That shiz needs to be changed.
Discussion Thread: Other Aspects of the Book
Being a feminist book club, this thread was started in order to touch on other issues (besides the growth and empowerment of the female characters) the book brings up, like colonialism/missionaries and sexuality. These issues are what make Purple so timeless. The book was written in the 1980s, but these issues are nowhere near outdated. Some issues that were not mentioned in this thread, but are also vital to the book are the concept of faith (this is touched on in another thread, though) and how the image of god changes through the course of the book, and the human relationship factor– the growth of each individual character and how that personal “coming of age” impacts the relationships the characters foster.
This is my first time being involved in a book club of any sort, and I have absolutely loved it so far. A couple of things I especially love about this group is the sense of community that has already grown within it. For example, last month the book was VERY difficult to get a hold of. For some, it was a money thing– $16 for the e-book just wasn’t in the budget. For others, the book was simply not yet available in their part of the world or in their language. One member responded by putting the entire book on her OneDrive and then sharing it with the whole group!
Another awesome thing that is happening is meet-ups. From Belgium to Los Angeles folks are getting together and talking about these books, which I think is pretty darn cool.
I also love the diversity of this group. There are entire discussion boards in Spanish and French. I just wish I spoke those languages!
And one more thing I love about the group– Emma has been great about interacting with authors. Shortly after we started reading Gloria Steinem’s book, she announced that she was going to have the pleasure of interviewing the author at an event in London and opened up a discussion thread for members to suggest questions for Ms Steinem. For The Color Purple, Emma talked to Alice Walker over the phone and shared some insights from the author herself. And Emma just announced the book for March, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. Again, Emma has a connection with bell, as bell recently interviewed Emma for Paper Magazine.
I love that this group is a thing. And I love that I get to share it with you!