ACOM Book Club for April 2020

GimmicksThe ACOM Book Club met on Thursday, April 16, 2020, ... well, kind of. We held a virtual meeting using the Zoom meeting software. Since nobody had to leave their homes, we had the largest group attendance in a long time, if not ever. Thirteen members joined in using their computers or cell phones. Attendees were Tom, Joan, Jim and Margaret, Andrea, Joe, Kass, Cynthia, Azad, Francis, Peter, Tashina and me. While most of us were at our homes, one attendee connected in from San Francisco and actually had a fourteenth attendee, 2-year old Agni, sit in for awhile.

The book for the month was "The Gimmicks" by Chris McCormick. We had originally hoped that the author, who lives in Mankato, MN, would be able to join in, but that didn't work out. We hope to have a group discussion with him sometime in the future.

This time we tried a token ring type discussion where the token was passed around the group to allow each of us to give our opinion of the book.

Tom thought that the author did an excellent job.

Joan hadn't had a chance to read the book yet, but she read a lot of book reviews for it and came away impressed with the idea that some people had that Armenians took to wrestling as a way for the wrestlers to express tenderness to other men.

Margaret especially enjoyed the book because she had visited Vanadzor multiple times and recognized a lot of the references in the book. (Such as the water jug (?) sculpture.) While she was reading it she couldn't help thinking about the former governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, and other pro wrestlers that she remembered seeing on TV.

Jim was disappointed in the ending. Since he also had visited Vanadzor multiple times, as well as the Los Angeles area, he could relate to the locations. He also noted the gimmicks used in wrestling.

Andrea thought that it was a wonderful book. She also had been to the Vanadzor area and enjoyed reading the descriptions of the area.

Kass finished reading the book more than a month ago so it wasn't fresh in his mind, but he liked the use of the narrator to tell most of the story. He noted how several of the characters were acting on assumptions which in many cases where not true, that they had false ideas about each other. He attended the talk that the author gave in the Twin Cities a few months ago. He had learned that the author's mother was Armenian, that he learned about Armenia from an aunt, and spent a few years living in Armenia when he was young.

Azad has also visited Vanadzor many times, he has an uncle (or two?) buried there. He was surprised when, on a recent trip, he found out that they had a ski hill there. He thought that it was obvious from the book that the author knew the area. One quote from the book stuck with him: (probably misquoted by me, but close) "The wedding is the easy part. Wait until the first baby is born when you actually have twins, because the husband is as dependent as the baby."

Joe thought that this was one of the better books that the club has read. It mentions the genocide and lays it out as a basis for some actions in the book, but doesn't dwell on it. He thought the book pointed out that the killing of the Turkish ambassador was not a good thing to do. He didn't like the character of Ruben, but thought that he was a very despicable character. He liked the development of the story and really enjoyed reading the book.

Francis had just finished reading the book 15 minutes before the meeting. He didn't like the ending of the book. He was hoping for something more dramatic. He related to the contact that Ruben had from the Armenian revolutionary(?) group. He had a similar contact in his college days and said that if he had had a little bit more money to allow him to travel he might have ended up in a similar situation. He very much liked the interesting sayings and colorful language that the author used. He also liked the way that the author was able to blend recent Armenian history into the book.

Peter also just finished the book maybe 20 minutes before the meeting. He liked the way that wrestling provided a link to various metaphors. He never caught the link in the book to the breaking of thumbs which was mentioned on the first page.

Tashina hadn't read the book yet but was looking forward to reading it and wanted to hear the comments of the other members of the group.

I expressed surprise that nobody had given any comments on two main points of the book: Backgammon and cats. A main part of the early story line was how Ruben and Mina were competitors in backgammon training and both hoped to be chosen to attend the world championship competition in Paris. The result of that competition led to Ruben's recruitment into the terrorist group and Avo's guilt feelings which probably kept him from getting together with Mina. The cats, and the narrator's raising cats for sale, led to Mina's original false reason for contacting him when trying to find Avo. I disagreed with some of the other members in that I liked the finish to the book. All of the major plot lines had been completed so I thought that a gentle, quiet finish was appropriate.

After our circle of discussions there were a few comments on Ruben and different opinions of him. Joe really disliked him. Andrea thought that he was a damaged person, but that the others in the story seemed to trust him for some reason.

Comments were made about the way that Avo died at the hands of a Turkish policeman for no real reason and without any of his friends ever being able to know how he died.

Joe tossed out a question about the differences between backgammon and tavloo. His father and grandfather and other family members played tavloo but not backgammon. Apparently backgammon has a 'doubling' feature which can make the playing of the game much more complicated. He was wondering whether the competition in the book was one or the other. Nobody could really give an answer.

Several people commented that they thought that McCormick was a very good writer. Someone said that that's probably why he's teaching a creative writing class at Mankato State.

I'm sure that I missed a lot of important comments that people gave during the course of the discussion, and for that I apologize.

With that I'll finish the notes for this month's meeting. For next month we will probably have another virtual meeting, but Francis offered to host a meeting at his house, with proper 6 foot spacing between attendees. We'll see what the pandemic situation is at that time.

The book for next month is "Armenian Crisis of Identity" by our own Ruth Charchian. Originally, we were going to be meeting at the Charchian house/apartment for the discussion but, again, we'll see what develops.

Until then, keep warm and safe.

Leroy Erickson

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