Two weeks ago, Penguin announced the first official Twitter book club, a new initiative born from the company’s search for new ways to interact with their fans. As with traditional book clubs, Penguin will choose a different book written by a Penguin author each month and tweet out the date and time for the discussion, which can be followed at the hashtag #readpenguin. The author will also sit in on the chat when possible.
The first selection for the club was The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. I was extremely excited because I’ve heard wonderful things about this book, and Eleanor is an avid Twitter user (follow her @eleanorwrites), so I knew she’d be involved in the discussion. Penguin was kind enough to send me a copy of the gorgeous, newly released paperback, so when it arrived, I got cracking right away and finished the section we were going to discuss just in time for the meeting.
First, a synopsis from the lovely folks at Penguin:
Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to.
The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…
Second, I finished this over the weekend and loved it so much! It’s an incredible and beautifully written story of sisterhood, the power of reading, and of growing up, and it quickly earned a place in my “favorite books” category.
Now, the discussion.
NOTE: SPOILERS UNDER THE TAG!
- The narrator: The discussion kicked off with Penguin asking the group who the narrator was. Actually, all three sisters narrate, a.k.a. the first person plural. Eleanor thought she’d invented the device, only to learn that Faulkner beat her to it. She also said that it can take some getting used to, and a lot of readers agreed: at first, a lot of us thought that the narrator was a dead fourth sister, in the style of Desperate Housewives.
- The inspiration: The inspiration for The Weird Sisters came from questions Eleanor had that she couldn’t answer, like why she didn’t feel like a grown-up and what makes someone a success or a failure. Because she couldn’t find the answers in life, she decided to puzzle the questions out in a work of fiction.
- Shakespeare: Beth Fish asked Eleanor if she’s read all of Shakespeare’s works, as the characters quote Shakespeare constantly, to which Eleanor replied, “Not even close!” Eleanor said she used a lot of references to her favorite Shakespeares—Macbeth, Midsummer, and Lear—but that she kept the plays handy throughout the process. Someone else asked if she’d classify the book as comedy or drama, and she said it’s a “problem play,” or between a comedy and a drama (a dramedy?), because life is not one or the other–they all mix.
- Siblings: I asked which sister Eleanor felt she most resembled. Turns out, each of them has a little bit of Eleanor in her: “I took questions and traits I had and distributed them among the sisters. I hope they represent all of us in some way – a little bit independent, a little bit scared, etc.” She also did a lot of research into birth order traits and built the characters around her findings. It probably also helps that she’s one of three sisters, although she said she made a conscious effort to make them as different from her family as possible. Readers who are only children and readers who have siblings all chimed in to say how much they relate to the Andreas girls. For the record, I am definitely a Rose, just not as tightly wound (although, as Eleanor pointed out, no one is as tightly wound as Rose), which makes complete sense because we’re both the eldest.
- The setting: Someone asked why Eleanor chose Ohio as the setting for The Weird Sisters, and her answer was slightly surprising, at least to me: she was inspired by The Stand by Stephen King! “The Stand by Stephen King is one of my fave books. His love letter to America. This was my love letter to America. Wanted a typical small American college town. What’s more American than Midwest?”
- Details: Lots of questions about details, from why Rose is a mathematician and why she practices yoga as opposed to pilates, to how much money Bean stole, to why Cordelia came home with dirty feet, to how Eleanor knew that the third day after chemo is the hardest. One of the great benefits about the author being Twitter-savvy? We got answers to all of them (Respectively: because of the precision and order involved; thousands; because it was a strong visual to accompany the fact that she’d been on the road for so long; and because Eleanor did a ton of research).
Next week’s discussion continues through Chapter 11. Can’t wait!