Our Read this week comes with a story of its own, Reader Leader Charlie recommends Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers.
Every month, graduates from our Read to Lead course are treated to a Story of the Month on the Shared Hub, an online platform where readers can share tips and reading recommendations for Shared Reading groups. This story is suggested by Al, an old colleague who has a read just about everything and I wait with anticipation for his story of the month.
Not only does it provide an ongoing connection with the big man himself, but almost always provides a sure-fire new story to try with my groups. I think I’ve used just about all of them, that is bar one. This was the story for last April, by Kent Meyers, Rodney Valen’s Second Life.
I actually first encountered this story in a pub, in a lovely bit of impromptu shared reading with Al and our colleague Lynn, and its haunting oddness stayed with me. But for a group? I really wasn’t sure that I could risk reading it in prison, and a brief chat about it with colleagues confirmed my instincts.
Yet the story wouldn’t leave my head, and then Al gave me Twisted Tree – a complete novel by Meyers, that includes, in only a very slightly altered form Rodney Valen’s second Life as one of the chapters: Traces. Each chapter of this book is a stand-alone short story and all of them interconnect into a portrait of a mid-west American town. The dark, at times very dark, subjects could suggest that this is another kooky exploration of Americana freaks – the exploitative fare of comic books and mock-indie Hollywood cinema. Yet the cumulative effect is much more than this, and, importantly, much more human and often very intimate. It touched me.
Traces is by no means the only memorable chapter. Many now compete in my crowded head for space with Second Life. Lots work as stand-alone pieces but would always be a challenge. Sometimes subject matter means that they may be unsuitable for any Shared Reading groups, but others really feel that they could be a great to explore with groups.
The hook of childhood marbles in Losing to win, one of my favourite chapters, could make it a great story to try with groups – I’ve given it to one of my peer-readers to read to see what he thinks, and I’m going to unleash it on my group in coming weeks. This book might not be for everyone, but it certainly is for me, and has really made me think about the edges of our practice, a place that Al always helped me to explore. Read it yourself and see what you think.