Monday, May 18, 2009

Bookleaves Meeting: The Red Tent

While I was reading The Red Tent, I kept trying to imagine exactly how it looked. The closest I could get in my mind was this: Something tells me I'm pretty far off.

Anyway, the BOOKLEAVES book club met at Mitzi's, and she created a red tent by draping a wine-colored throw over her exercise machine. It was exotic, imaginative and funny -- just like Mitzi. I forgot my camera, so I hope someone took a picture of it.

Even better, Mitzi went to Ali Baba in Itaewon and had them make up a gorgeous feast of Middle Eastern cooking to fit in with the book's locale. We had pitas -- both steamed and baked, sweet yogurt, sour yogurt, yogurt with nuts, hummus and falafel. That was actually the first time I'd eaten falafel, although I've loved that word for decades. Delicious. I may have to make a trip to Ali Baba myself. Since Mitzi's birthday was the following day, she ordered a scrumptious lime pie from Tartine's and Veronica brought a beautiful ice-cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. Wonderful stuff.

Most of the group had a favorable response to the book, but it didn't seem to generate a lot of conversation. While I was reading it, I wished several times that I had a Bible with the Old Testament, so I could compare The Red Tent with Genesis 34. I also mentally kicked myself once more for not buying a book I saw last year called Reading The Bible As Literature. I think it would've helped.

Although I like the idea of a red tent for those special days, and I enjoyed reading about the daily routines and customs of Jacob and his wives, The Red Tent didn't really rock my world. The pacing of the story often felt off -- either too rushed or too leisurely. Also, I don't think the first-person narrative by Dinah was the best choice stylistically. Another thing that bugged me is that Diamant seems to tip her hand too much. For example, young Dinah is practically dying with excitement to meet her grandmother. She goes on and on about it so much that the eventual disappointment she encounters is somewhat diluted for the reader.

I'd really like to hear other opinions of this novel because part of the problem was me. I'm at a point in my life where I'm just not interested in reading about mating and menstruation and childbearing. Twenty, fifteen, even ten years ago I couldn't get enough of stories like these. Now they just make me tired. I would rather have been following Jacob and his sons through their workdays.

Because of this, I was relieved when one of the BOOKLEAVES members, Rebecca, pointed out that we've been reading a lot of books lately with a feminine bent and she suggested Child 44 as a future read. I've seen this novel reviewed on several blogs, and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm going to head over to the library now and look for a copy of the Old Testament.


ambearo said...

I am SO JEALOUS about your meeting. I really miss Bookleaves. (T T) and that food sounds amazing. Mitzi really is one of the most awesome hosts I've ever met. What's Child 44 about? I'm going to have to google it since I've never heard of it before...

Bybee said...

You miss us? We miss you, too. Thank goodness we have Dana, but you know what to do...sign on for another year (or 2 or 3) in Korea!
You're right; Mitzi is amazing!

Lezlie said...

I wasn't super impressed with The Red Tent either.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I really enjoyed The Red Tent, but more for the new unique look at the Old Testament characters that I was already very familiar with. I liked challenging my accepted opinions of them by seeing them in a different light.

I think you'll be disappointed with you read Genesis 34 though. The pastor of my church preached on Gen. 33-34 just yesterday so it is fresh in my mind, and really, there isn't much there when compared with The Red Tent. The Biblical story is REALLY short and no mention is made of what happens to Dinah in the end. Quite disappointing from a literary standpoint, at least in my opinion. But the sermon was good! :)

Eva said...

I almost spit my tea all over the keyboard when I saw your mental red tent. :p

I read this book four or five years ago, but I agree with you about the pacing; I remember not liking the speeded-up bits because they were too much of a mish mash. Other than that, the only thing that really sticks in my mind is the frog figurine (I think it was a frog! hopefully you know what I'm talking about!). I'm not Christian, so I think I read it mainly for the historical fiction aspect of it...I imagine it'd be a somewhat awkward choice for a co-ed book group, lol.

raych said...

You know you can find the Bible on the intraweb, right?

Also, Child 44 is teh awesome. I hope you like.

Anonymous said...

I've got a book to recommend if you want a more male oriented book (visit me) and I'll make an exception for you as a non-US based contest entry (I can do that, right? It's my blog.) I've read The Red Tent but don't remember much so I'm no help on agreeing or disagreeing w/ you.

Ana S. said...

lol, I'm afraid that's the mental imagine I get, too :P I haven't read this yet, but I have a copy here which I'm hoping to get to this year. I've seen a lot of mixed reviews, so I'm not going into it with every high expectations.

Anonymous said...

My book club with be reading this book in a couple of months. Should be interesting given there are a couple of men reading it. And it's a book I've wanted to read for some time now.
Sounds like you had a great time. I miss hanging with you folks every other week.

Carrie K said...

That's going to be my mental image of the red tent from now on, thankyouverymuch. I haven't read it, probably due to my own lack of interest in mating, menstruating and childbearing lately. I could barely get through Cattery Row and that's a cozy mystery.

Sounds like a great book club meeting!

SuziQoregon said...

I'm one of those few who didn't like this book at all. In fact when my online book group was reading it a couple of us started calling it The Big Book of Biblical Bleeding and Birthing.

I think my disappointment in the book was partly the things you mentioned. I also didn't like that most if not all of the male characters were pretty wooden and negatively portrayed.

Too much estrogen in this one for me.

Melissa said...

Nah, it's not just you: The Red Tent had moments of brilliance, but doesn't hold up.

I also think you have a point about younger versus older: in my mind, The Red Tent is a 20-something empowerment book. Like Mists of Avalon. It's better read when you're young.

Bybee said...

I'm relieved -- feel almost as if I'm a traitor to women.

I found a bible in the lounge at the student dorms and read the verse. I'd love to hear a sermon now that I've read The Red Tent.

Bookleaves read it at just the right time...we don't have any guys now. They all moved back to Canada. Sad.

I gotta be honest: Of course I know that the Bible is on the internet, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to read it online.

Thanks for pulling those strings. Wink. I do have a US address.

I hope you like it better. There are many good things about the novel..for example, Diamant has some lovely, evocative images, but for me, it doesn't add up to a whole.

I thought you were the one who warned me against The Red Tent. Is my memory faulty?

Carrie K,
Happy to help! lol

You sized it up better than I did.

There was an age factor...the younger women seemed to like it a lot more.

Citizen Reader said...

Tee hee--
I too enjoyed the mental image of the red tent.
"The Red Tent" ranks in my top ten of most hated books ever-I thought it was pointlessly long, and the only thing that seemed more annoying than having my "special" days was READING about my special days. I'm in the time of life when I should be interested in childbearing (and all that jazz) and it did nothing for me. I think I often skew "male" in my reading though--lots of nonfiction; lots of novels by male British authors. I need women AND men in my stories (although they don't necessarily have to be love stories) or I'm completely bored.

Although the food at your group sounds MAHVELOUS.

jenclair said...

This was recommended to me by a friend (over and over)shortly after it was published. Not only did it fail to rock my world, I actively disliked it! I never told my friend that I read it because our views were so widely divergent... :/

Bybee said...

Citizen Reader & Jenclair,
I really thought I was going to get a lot of nonlove for curling my lip at this book. I envisioned everyone in the blogosphere turning on me like that first scene in Carrie. Whew and whew.

Tara said...

It's interesting - but not surprising that you're tastes have changed. Mine do too, sometimes rather suddenly. I read this a few years ago, and remember having a very positive response to it but that's about it. (Good thing I blog now so I can remember what I thought about books!) I wonder what I'd think now.