In The Required Reading Revisited Book Club we focus on books considered “Required Reading” by most educational institutions, i.e. books you read (or were supposed to read) in school – either high school or university.
Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Our October Required Reading title was the 1973 science-fiction classic Rendezvous With Rama. In the later part of the 20th century Arthur C. Clarke was part of what was informally known as “The Big Three” – a trilogy of influential sci-fi writers that also included Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. These guys transcended the pulpy sci-fi of the 50’s and brought big ideas in to their writing about the future and the human condition. Their influence is still felt in contemporary science-fiction, both in the literary scene as well as cinema.
The story takes place just over a hundred years from now, and the human race has begun colonizing the solar system (namely Mars, Mercury and the Moon). Approached from a hard sci-fi perspective, the story is about a ship of humans who explore a mysterious vessel that has come in to the solar system from interstellar space. The vessel, that they dub Rama after the Hindu god, itself is quite a mystery, and seems to be uninhabited. The vessel is apparently just passing through (they deduce, based on its trajectory), so the humans take this opportunity to research its mysteries and see what can be learned. It’s a very Star Trek-esque vision of how human beings might react to such a vessel, and indeed I suspect Gene Roddenberry was influenced by Clarke’s writings, at least a bit – endlessly optimistic about the future and human nature and all that.
There isn’t much in the way of character development in this story, so the character’s motivations and inner conflicts don’t much come in to play (though you do get a little of it). It’s the mystery, and description, of the landscape of Rama itself, and the scientific conundrums it raises, that is compelling. That Rama’s purpose, at least in this book, is never explicitly explained, also makes the book all the more fun as one’s imagination is left to discover the why of it all. We spent much of the discussion talking about what that purpose might be.
The Required Reading book for November is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
Published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a day in the life of one Clarissa Dalloway, as she prepares her home for a party she is to give that evening. The setting is post-WWI London and covers many themes – mental illness, feminism, homosexuality, and other existential issues.
Virginia Woolf herself struggled with bipolar disorder and was institutionalized several times in her life. Her treatment at various asylums no doubt informed her attitude toward how the mentally ill were treated at large, as well as her particular dislike of the medical profession at the time. Her commentary about the treatment of the mentally ill, and mental illness in general, is illustrated through the character of Septimus, a shell-shocked war hero, whom Clarissa never meets. He spends the day in the park with his wife, but has frequent hallucinations about his fallen comrade, Evans.
Mrs. Dalloway is one of Woolf’s best known novels, and in 2005 was included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best Novels Written since 1923. A film adaptation of the book was made in 1997 starring Vanessa Redgrave in the title role. And the book (and film) The Hours is based heavily on Mrs. Dalloway.The Hours is about a single day in the lives of three women of different generations who are affected by Mrs Dalloway: Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is writing it, Laura (Julianne Moore) is reading it, and Clarissa (Meryl Streep) is living it out.
The Required Reading Revisited Book Club, hosted by Consuelo Hacker and Sarah Holdgrafer, meets on the 2nd Sunday of every month at 4pm at Book People (the next meeting is Sunday, November 8th). We typically meet on the 3rd floor. Just stop by the 1st floor information desk when you arrive if you are unsure where to go. Rendezvous With Rama and Mrs. Dalloway are both available online at Bookpeople.com. Use the code BOOK CLUB when purchasing online, or if you come in to the store, mention it’s for Book Club at the registers and you’ll receive 10% off! Join our Facebook page to get all the latest information on what we’re reading! We look forward to talking with you on Sunday, November 8th!