I am in two active book clubs, and I know what you are thinking—does she live in a nursing home? No, but I do have a rich and exciting life that also includes watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every weeknight. I joined the book clubs on accident, not even realizing I was in an actual club, just having drinks and then someone suggests a book and next thing I know I am being asked when we can schedule the next meeting. Some people get drunk and wake up the next morning pregnant or in a Vegas hotel room with a new husband they don’t recognize, but I wake up and realize I have been indoctrinated into a book club.
The last book I read for one club was The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, written in 1983 and now the basis for the popular Netflix series. I wanted to read Queen’s Gambit mostly so I could be the asshole who says, no I didn’t watch the show, but I did read the book.
I was concerned that I would not like this book because I do not know how to play chess. I can barely play checkers. Actually, I play all the games with squares at a toddler level. I have never won a game of Connect Four. My kids started beating me at tic tac toe when they were still being lovingly bottle fed. However, now that I have read Queen’s Gambit, which is drenched in detailed explanations of chess play, the vision of the board, the strategy, I think I am ready to compete in chess professionally.
At the beginning of the book, coinciding with Beth’s discovery of chess, she also becomes addicted to tranquilizers because her orphanage forces the green pills on all the kids to subdue the little bastards. I was never addicted to pills as an eight-year-old, but that does seem like the most fun time to try it. For starters, children have no responsibilities, like work, children of their own, or ageing parents to care for also at the same time. I don’t have many regrets from my childhood, but I wish I had experimented with drugs at an even earlier age. Maybe then I would be a world champion in something, like Hollywood Squares.
For my other book club, we recently read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, written in 1993 but set in an apocalyptic future. It is an epistolary novel told through the diary entries of the young protagonist, Lauren. The book starts in the year 2024 in California and describes an unimaginable world where the wealthiest few are hoarding the majority of resources and everyone else is left to try and not die. Many people are addicted to bizarre drugs and committing mass murder, space is being colonized by private companies, and police are more deplorable than dependable.
In 1993, the year Butler published Parable, I graduated from high school and then later that same year failed out of my first college. I was definitely not predicting 31 years into the future. I could not even predict how much money I would have tomorrow if I spent all the money in my account today. Butler depicts a close parallel to our world today, like when a Black male character seeks the police’s help after his sister and her family are murdered, and Lauren implores him not to go because she worries the police might kill him and steal his money.
Parable was written in the wake of the 1991 beating of Rodney King by police on a California highway and then the 1992 riots that erupted after the four officers were acquitted. As with all good science fiction, Parable is a caricature. It simply exaggerates what is already there, and the result is a future where all the masses are left struggling to survive because those in power have been allowed to jackknife the system. The moral might be that we should all work together, or we could end up in a dystopia with some people starving in the streets and many more struggling to get by while billionaires in cowboy hats blast into space for their vacay.
Meanwhile on the East Coast in 1993, I was way too high at a Widespread Panic concert in Boone, North Carolina listening to an endless jam that seemed, at the time, to last about 31 years. Now, I am a grown woman, but I am still waiting to reach psychological maturity. My bildungsroman has been a slow burn—a stream of consciousness life. The young women in these novels are both survivors and as someone who is also surviving, I think we have a lot in common.
My protagonist as a young woman doing the worm.