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Census
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2018 Summer TOB > July: Census v. Circe

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments July's head to head features terse titles with lovely covers:
Census by Jesse Ball and Circe by Madeline Miller


Bretnie | 505 comments This will be an interesting comparison! I liked both books quite a bit - I thought Circe was a more enjoyable and pleasurable read while Census was more interesting and thought provoking.


Ellen H | 814 comments Census is one of two books I've already read.


Gwendolyn | 192 comments I recently listened to Circe as an audiobook, and it’s great in that format. The narrator really embodies the character of Circe and brings the book to life. Just an FYI for those inclined to listen to audiobooks.


Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments I've got the audio of Circe on hold, and got the audio of Census out today, so I'm glad to hear at least one of these will be a great listen!


Bretnie | 505 comments First half of Circe up a day early!
https://themorningnews.org/article/th...


Gwendolyn | 192 comments I loved this 3-way discussion this week. I thought the three commenters each had a unique and valuable perspective to bring. I’m with Kelly on this one, but I respect the other two perspectives as well. Great discussion!


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Second half of Circe discussion...https://themorningnews.org/article/th...

I apologize for being absent for the past few weeks. I've been reading middle grade ARCs for work (school librarian). I'm catching up on the summer books, and I'll jump in to the chat later this week.


message 9: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments last week was a busy commentary! (despite the holiday) but today is a little quiet again. I sure enjoyed the 2nd half of Circe more than the 1st! Hit all my mythology yens while challenging their 'morals' in a wonderful way!


Bretnie | 505 comments I am pulling for Circe to win :) I am wrapping up Kudos and thought it and The Friend were interesting, only Circe really hooked me.


message 11: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Between Circe and Census, I’m definitely pulling for Circe...and I usually give extra points to my audiobooks (which Census was). Census seems like the more literary one but I honestly thought all the pretensions made it kinda crappy. I liked the straightforward parts about a father and his son... and somewhat enjoyed the conversations around seeing different people and meeting them wherever they were at - and also not worrying over whether the ‘job’ was accomplished or not. Everything else - the bizarre Muta/cormorant pieces, the “shape school” nonsense that took away from the discussions of how the mother was as a mother and wife - were weird and off-putting and didn’t further the story for me.
Circe may be the boring format in an imitation of classical style but the narrative arc worked for me AND no nonsense took away from the risks and invention she DID insert.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Amy wrote: "Between Circe and Census, I’m definitely pulling for Circe..."

Absolutely agree about Census. The set up promised an emotional father/son story, but the annoying and pointless distractions spoiled it for me.


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments I'm not enjoying Census. It should be right in my wheelhouse, being somewhat off-beat and directionless (even as it concerns a road trip of sorts), but I think the intro set me up for a different book than the one I'm reading and the short segments feel undeveloped to me.

People seem to love this author, but while I'm not hating the book and it's written well enough, it feels lacking in connectedness or heart or something.

Hoping the second half is more developed.


message 14: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1122 comments Yeah, I loved Circe and was a bit meh on Census, so I feel pretty out of sync with this month's judges.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 616 comments Alison wrote: "I'm not enjoying Census. It should be right in my wheelhouse, being somewhat off-beat and directionless (even as it concerns a road trip of sorts), but I think the intro set me up for a different b..."

That's exactly how I felt about How to Set a Fire and Why. I started it with all my bells ringing, but they wound down and stopped completely half way through.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm not the right reader for Jesse Ball, which puts me out of sync with the judges, Andrew, and most members of the commentariat. I gave up on How to Set and Fire..., and I was meh on both Silence Once Begun and Census. His writing reminds me of bad art house films—a good story ruined by too many weird non sequiturs and eccentric characters. I'm not keen on Circe either, but I much prefer it to Census. Unfortunately, it's already clear that the judges are going to go the other way.


message 17: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments shoot. yeah it's weird and not in a satisfying way for me. Like the quote I pulled in the commentary
I have not developed the pictures. But I believe it to be an excellent picture.
The light was falling just over my shoulder and the texture of his sleeve was lit, as if with a brush.
as the end of an anecdote. It was weird and felt intentionally so. I can't fathom the reason, is it building the sadness for the fact that no one will ever develop those pictures now that the father is going to die? is it that the moment was what mattered and the making of art despite no one ever seeing it or reliving it again? is it something else? STOP MAKING ME FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO PULL IT FROM YOU!
I really really liked the small 'aha' moments of humanism based in observing the son's behavior (lack of self-consciousness mostly) and that of small kindnesses or realized motivations of others interacting with the son. But those were so few and far between. What did EVERYTHING ELSE mean!?


Bretnie | 505 comments I wasn’t sure how I felt about Census until the end, which I thought made it a lot better. If it was longer I wouldn’t have had the patience. I wouldn’t say things came together exactly, but the resolution was interesting and satisfying (ok not satisfying in a happy ending way, just a thought-provoking way).

I am not surprised the judges like the book, but I’m surprised they liked it this early in the book. I almost suspected they already read it and were writing looking back. Will be interesting to see the discussion next week. I liked Census quite a bit but I’ll be devastated if it loses to Circe.


message 19: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Bretnie wrote: "I wasn’t sure how I felt about Census until the end, which I thought made it a lot better. If it was longer I wouldn’t have had the patience. I wouldn’t say things came together exactly, but the re..."

I'm biting my tongue for a week because I've finished it as well and anything I would say would likely be spoilery.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

The last few chapters of Census were the best part, but not good enough to increase my esteem for the whole.


message 21: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Today’s decision posted : https://themorningnews.org/article/th...


message 22: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments And seriously, WTF happens at the end!? Did he die/is he in death throes? Did someone else die? (It sure seems like he’s picturing his son not returning home but rather going to an afterlife of sorts). The travelogue has been whimsical but not especially metaphysical until the final pages... it’s such a jarring and unsettling turn. The tone is so suddenly different as well.


Matthew | 86 comments Amy wrote: "And seriously, WTF happens at the end!? Did he die/is he in death throes? Did someone else die? (It sure seems like he’s picturing his son not returning home but rather going to an afterlife of sor..."

I need to go back and reread in light of today's discussion, but at the time my take on the ending was that the father dies, and then the train ride for the son was a sort of metaphor for the rest of the son's life and eventual death years later, when he will finally join the rest of the family. Part of me likes the idea of ambiguity on what exactly happens, at least in a book like this that's already sort of mysterious and unexplained. I missed it upon first reading.


message 24: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 25, 2018 03:06PM) (new)

My take on the ending is the same as Matthew's, and I like it better if I don't try to find deeper meaning. I missed most of the metaphors that other readers found, which might be why I didn't like Census very much. Where others found profundity, I saw only nonsensical distractions. I thought the ending was the best part, though I can't imagine a loving father being so careless with his son's safety.


Matthew | 86 comments Tina wrote: "My take on the ending is the same as Matthew's, and I like it better if I don't try to find deeper meaning. I missed most of the metaphors that other readers found, which might be why I didn't like Census very much. Where others found profundity, I saw only nonsensical distractions. I thought the ending was the best part, though I can't imagine a loving father being so irresponsible and careless with his son's safety."

I had the same reaction about the father's choice. On its face it doesn't make sense for this father to take a leap of faith that his son will find his way safely to the next phase of his life. But from a thematic / emotional standpoint it really worked for me. Kind of reminded me of the series end of Six Feet Under in a way....


Bretnie | 505 comments *pouts about Circe being out*


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 470 comments I did not like Census at all. I know that there are people who adored it, but to me it felt carelessly constructed and a little pretentious. I'm pleased to have read something by Ball, and can now leave him be, I guess?

And I was mad at the ending. I read it as the son dying. No trip to live with the nice lady who didn't like the clown wife, but a lonely death somewhere along the trip instead. So the whole trip was terrible and pointless. But sure they met lots of people.


message 28: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1739 comments Alison wrote: "I did not like Census at all. I know that there are people who adored it, but to me it felt carelessly constructed and a little pretentious. I'm pleased to have read something by Ball, and can now ..."

yeah, the ending really depressed me, especially because I felt overall optimistic in the rest of the book (despite the weird landscape and sometimes not-nice people). I might resolve to prefer it once I noodle a while as I cannot think of a more 'proper' ending... something truly happy would have felt disingenuous.


Matthew | 86 comments Amy wrote: "Alison wrote: "I did not like Census at all. I know that there are people who adored it, but to me it felt carelessly constructed and a little pretentious. I'm pleased to have read something by Bal..."

I think that while the story overall is definitely gloomy, the ending can be read as somewhat hopeful. I wish I had the text in front of me so I could quote directly, but there's a long paragraph in the last couple of pages that's talking about the train conductor and the boy's train ride. I think at some point in that paragraph, the "conductor" ceases to be in reference to the actual train employee and instead becomes a metaphor for the boy's next guardian who takes him through the rest of his natural life. There was a line that said the boy and conductor grew fond of one another or something similar. Just my interpretation.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I am feeling like such a dummy in regard to the metaphors everyone else finds in Census. Not that I mind, because I'm fine with my literal understanding. I thought the dad was easing his own fears about sending his son off into the unknown by imagining that the train conductor would grow fond of him and take care of him during the journey.


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