Always Coming Home discussion

Group Reads > Discussion: Always Coming Home

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 26, 2011 09:27PM) (new)

Towards the discussion of Always Coming Home. I'm thinking this is going to be a hard books to spoil, because it's so non-linear and all, but please note spoilers. Thanks.

message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Hard to spoil. Hard to read from what I gather. I've started with "The Back of the Book" thinking that I'd need some of that info before I can delve into the world from any character's point of view. Anybody else do that (or not do it and wish they had)?

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

A few links about the music that is part of this book.

UKL's website:

Todd Barton's website. (He is the musician.)

Four audio tracts available (legally) for download:

message 4: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Wow, thanks for the links! The tracks are actually really good. I hope my edition comes with the music, I totally didn't notice that when I bought it.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

UKL has said that she doesn't think of her work as very driven by plot.

message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments I've finished "The Back of the Book" (roughly the last 100 pages of the trade paperback) and I feel ready to begin reading the storytelling at the front.

I do much of my reading while exercising (walking up and down the hills in my neighborhood) but somehow Always Coming Home doesn't seem to lend itself to that. The people are too peaceful, too much not-in-a-hurry for me to read while huffing and puffing around the 'hood. It seems meant to be read while sitting on the couch drinking wine or lying in bed before falling asleep. I'll read something else while exercising: a classic, epic sci-fi.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Maybe I'll start that way too. I've been just leafing around so far - I'm trying to finish off my other book before wading into this. Maybe backwards is the way to go.

I can't walk and read - I'd die. I do read on the exerbike, but it has to be pretty splashy & plot-driven to make me stop checking the clock every 2 minutes.

message 8: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I get motion sick if I try to read while walking or even on the treadmill or elliptical. My e-reader will read stuff to me in a robot voice, which is much cheaper than buying books on cd, but also isn't as satisfying in other ways as a print copy. So for now I read while sitting down, and use podcasts and music while I'm doing other things.

I do think skipping around from the end to the middle and all over is a good way to read some books. Maybe this one will work best that way. That's a good idea. I'm still waiting for my copy from Amazon, so the days hang heavily on my hands until then. =)

message 9: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Reading while walking is a huge part of my life. Walking is one of the few exercises I can do consistently without causing my nervous-system disorder to flare up. Obviously I love to read, so reading when I walk keeps me motivated to exercise. Reading while walking helped me lose 30 pounds over the last year! Not to mention get through a lot of great books that influenced my thinking in positive ways. So really I can't imagine not doing it.

Maybe you guys just need to try it more! Unless you're prone to motion sickness ... that must suck. I can't really identify since I pretty much never get motion sickness.

Anywayz, as far as Always Coming Home goes, it's not really suited to read while exercising. My current exercise book is Greg Bear's Eon, which I enjoyed as a teenager but am appreciating more now as an adult. Always Coming Home is for quite evenings at home, like right now. The wife made homemade chicken soup, the kids are done with homework and settling down, and I have a glass of brandy in my hand. Yep, it feels like an Always Coming Home night.

message 10: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Hah, I'd just forget to take steps and end up standing somewhere until a car hit me. That sounds like something I'd do!

message 11: by Mir (new)

Mir | 31 comments Sherri, you should train your puppy as a guide dog so he can lead you around while you read.

message 12: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments You people are hilarious. What about reading on a treadmill or stairmaster?

message 13: by Mir (new)

Mir | 31 comments What would I be doing on a stairmaster?

message 14: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Ian: You people are hilarious. Definitely an awesome group! Y'all keep cracking me up.

Even with my motion sickness, it's definitely a whole lot easier for me to read when the book is stationary and I'm the one moving, so I can read some when on the treadmill or trainer, but I tend to listen to my mp3 player instead, maybe just because it revs me up to play peppy music while I exercise.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I have trouble reading on horseback, certainly.


message 16: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Oh, oh, I saw a video about the traveling donkeyback library in Guatemala or Costa Rica or somewhere, a guy who carries a lot of books around to remote villages where the kids would otherwise have no access to books at all. I wanted to be that donkey-back librarian, even though it's wildly impractical for me to think of doing such a thing. Lemme see if I can find a link.

message 17: by Tatiana (last edited Mar 02, 2011 10:27PM) (new)

message 18: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Wonderful statue, Ceridwen! Who is it?

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Tatiana wrote: "Wonderful statue, Ceridwen! Who is it?"

Heh, I had to look it up, because I just did a search for "reading on horseback", and that's what turned up. It's Abraham Lincoln! I find national statuary hilarious most of the time.

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I read (and grade papers) on the treadmill. I listen to books when I walk.

message 21: by Mir (last edited Mar 03, 2011 09:00AM) (new)

Mir | 31 comments This one always looked to me like the kids want to steal his book and he is beating them off with the racket:

message 22: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Oh. My. God! Those pics are hilarious! (Even though I know they're not meant to be, which really just makes them more funny, yes?)

I will also listen to audiobooks when walking, though usually I like to save those for driving.

message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments So like I said I read The Back of the Book first, got a feel for the society and surroundings, even studied the maps, then went back and started at the beginning. I had a really hard time getting into it; I was kind of slogging through until, about ten pages in I think, North Owl went on her little solo trek around a mountain. The description of an eight-year-old girl, walking around on a mountain for four days by herself and eating and drinking what she could find, that drew me in.

message 24: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
My book came in today, the morning after I finished rereading The Left Hand of Darkness, sans music, but I'm starting to read it tonight, on a night of ceaseless heavy rain, in which the raccoons keep fighting back in the woods, their high-pitched squealing trills sounding nearer and farther in the storm. Perhaps a perfect night for starting a new book.

message 25: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Barely begun, but so far it seems as though it might be similar to the interludes in LHoD that more fully develop the societies and cultures of Gethen. They are tales from and historical information about the different places and religions that Genly Ai has contact with in the story. Maybe there's no central narrative that joins them in this case. Is that what it's like? If so, I'll find it interesting but perhaps not as compelling as her other novels. Is this book considered a novel or not?

message 26: by Cass (last edited Mar 10, 2011 03:42AM) (new)

Cass Ian wrote: "Hard to spoil. Hard to read from what I gather. I've started with "The Back of the Book" thinking that I'd need some of that info before I can delve into the world from any character's point of v..."

Me too!

I am so far feeling glad I did (though it is lengthy). I am getting the impression that this book is not a novel. It seems more like the type of book that a historian or anthropologist might write (though slightly more disjointed).

I am even wondering whether the rather ugly binding and small text are all an attempt by the author to make us feel like we are reading a university textbook.

I just flicked through the front of the book and it really seems just like lots of short stories, anecdotes and footnotes. Perhaps exactly like an anthropologist's notebook might look?

message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Tat & Cass -- There is a novel (or at least a novella) weaved in the book, in the form of Stone Telling's story, which is told in three parts. After reading The Back of the Book, I decided to read all three parts of Stone Telling's story before moving on to the short stories/anecdotes.

message 28: by Tatiana (last edited Mar 13, 2011 09:59AM) (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I decided after all to start at the beginning and go straight through. I'm now in the middle of North Owl's story and she just met her father. I like North Owl and I wonder how she'll end up. She reminds me of that guy from Four Ways to Forgiveness who left his local tribe or kinship group and became an envoy for the Ekumen. I sort of have the feeling she might go away with her dad and he seems to be more educated in a wider way than her clan.

I thought the freedom she has at such a young age (like, she spent a week away from her people wandering in the hills when she was 8) reminded me somewhat of my upbringing. Not that we could go away for a week, but we spent all day long playing in nature, in woods and creeks in the summertime, and only came home when called for meals. That's not something kids today could ever be allowed to do. But we had a somewhat insular society, stayed within certain boundaries within calling distance, and all the stay-at-home-moms of the neighborhood formed a network that looked out for us kids collectively. It strikes me that small insular groups like that can afford to give their children much freer-rein to invent their own play and follow it wherever it goes. I think perhaps we deprive today's children of a lot by keeping them so supervised.

I'm sure they're much safer. We had dart guns with real darts in them and all kinds of unsafe toys, not to mention all the dangers of homemade swings over precipitous drops into streams, swimming in abandoned rock quarries, etc. Now just thinking of diseases from insect bites keeps me inside. But we were in the woods constantly as kids, even in suburbia. Kids on farms were freer still, I'm sure.

So is this a valid observation? Do small kinship groups allow kids much more freedom than those in large urban spaces?

message 29: by Cass (last edited Mar 13, 2011 02:13PM) (new)

Cass Tatiana wrote: "Do small kinship groups allow kids much more freedom than those in large urban spaces? "

Interesting theory. Off the cuff I would say yes, but I would also say that there are many other things involved. (Have you read Lenore Skenazy's blog?)

ETA: or her book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

message 30: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I haven't read the book but I've heard of it. I do think we were lucky to have the freedom we did, and I feel sorry for today's kids who don't have that freedom. Of course, I'm glad my son and my nieces didn't get injured or killed, too.

My son lived in Eastern Europe and Philadelphia when he was growing up (I adopted him as a teenager) and he got bitten by ticks and ended up with a nasty case of Lyme Disease, which was not detected right away, and got into his central nervous system. It has caused him a lot of difficulties, and we only hope it's finally gone from his system. He has residual brain damage, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, sleep disorders, constant nightmares, sleep paralysis, and lots of other difficulties resulting from that. He had to be on IV antibiotics for a long time, and that in itself causes some bad side effects. It's impacted his life greatly for the worse. If I had little kids today, I'm not sure I'd want them playing in the grass, in the creeks, and the mud like we did. I'd be afraid they'd get tick bites and get Lyme or other diseases like Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Bartonella, and so on. There are also a whole host of diseases carried by mosquito bites, including malaria (which is set to make a comeback in the South), West Nile virus, various types of brain fevers, meningitis, etc. Then there are bee stings that can cause anaphylactic shock.

I think our parents were less aware of such things, and perhaps in that golden age of vaccines and of antibiotics before they began to be less effective, we were actually safer. We got our small pox, tetanus, and typhoid shots and they thought we were good.

The generation 2 before that saw 1/3 to 1/2 of their kids die before reaching adulthood, so they just had enough to make up for it. We and our parents were in a sort of safe interlude. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want my kids ranging free like we did. I care more about their safety, I think.

message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments My brother and I grew up in an urban environment with no family nearby (except my grandmother in the same city), yet we had a tremendous amount of freedom. We rode our bikes and took the city bus system all over town. We also lived sort of on the edge of the urban area, near some foothills, and often went exploring/hiking around the hills, and even along creeks that wound their way through the city.

message 32: by Cass (new)

Cass Tatiana wrote: The generation 2 before that saw 1/3 to 1/2 of their kids die before reaching adulthood, so they just had enough to make up for it. We and our parents were in a sort of safe interlude. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want my kids ranging free like we did. I care more about their safety, I think"

I will try to bring this back on track. This is the first time I have ever heard someone honestly say they fear for their childs safety. Mosty people (myself included) bemoan how overprotective we are today (while often still being overprotective). Thanks for being so open.

I am interested about how this conflicts with reading fantasy novels, in which children are very often represented as young adults and given huge freedoms and responsibilities. Personally when I read these novels I feel inspired and encouraged to allow my child greater freedoms and greater responsibilities (including playing down in the grass, in the creeks and so forth).

message 33: by Cass (last edited Mar 15, 2011 06:51PM) (new)

Cass That is it. I am giving up. I can see why you would try to read this. I mean if this was a book by David Gemmell or Anne McCaffrey (authors that I love) I might see myself pushing through it too, almost as if I owed them that much.

However my thoughts on the book so far are that it reminds me of Meryl Streep in Julia and Julia, an actress at the top of her game who was just having a good time. I feel like the author is having a fleet of fancy, writing a book that noone can read in a bizarre 'not really a book' kind of way.

I get the idea, it is a textbook written about the future, it is a compilation of anthropological notes and stories.

However it is just hard to get into. I have heard others say that the author is very compact with words (in a way similiar to Hemingway), but I don't see it. I find the writing tedious, the tone fake.

Why are people from non-technologically advanced societies always portrayed as having a greater amount of wisdom than 'us' (the readers)?

This book is officially being abandoned and probably added to the bookcrossing pile. I may choose to reopen it if some of her other books take my fancy. I am feeling rather disheartened by it all (because I was hoping to find another amazing author that I could read). I suppose I will have to go reread* the Pern series (this is my tragic solution when I feel like this).

*Reread the entire series can now be achieved in a single weekend as I have reached the point where I just skip through the books looking for the good bits!

message 34: by Ian (last edited Mar 15, 2011 11:59AM) (new)

Ian | 42 comments Cass wrote: "That is it. I am giving up..."

Yikes; I didn't realize this was the first UKL book for some of you. Unfortunately this may be the worst book to start with if you haven't previously read some of her work and become familiar with her as an author. Even dedicated UKL fans have had trouble with this one. This is my sixth UKL book and I'm finding it a difficult read, one that feels too much like "work" and which, regretably, I don't look forward to picking up in the evenings. I havn't read it in three or four days ... I'm just not quite ready to admit to myself that I'm giving up on it.

message 35: by Cass (new)

Cass Ian wrote: "I'm finding it a difficult read, one that feels too much like "work" and which, regretably, I don't look forward to picking up in the evenings. "
Yes this is exactly how I feel. I feel like it is my university textbook and I am being forced to read it.

message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Eeek! I am still slogging, but not often. I think I will set up the poll for the next week, my friends, and we will read something more accessible!

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

So, um, get in nominations while you can.

message 38: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Don't feel bad, C. "Always Coming Home" is such a great name for the UKL discussion group and it seemed to make sense that we read that book first. It's just not working out for all of us.

I put my nominations in the proper thread :)

message 39: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
It's certainly not the best book to start reading UKL with! Please don't give up on her based on this! She's so good!

I've got it by my bedside, and am reading a few chapters a night. I find myself caught up in Stone Telling's story (known for the moment as North Owl). That is sustaining me through the interludes of explication of the society and culture. I care because it helps me understand the narrative parts better. So far I'm liking it. But I'm willing to give anything she writes the benefit of every doubt, just because she has fed me so well on such a nutritious spiritual diet of her stories for practically my whole lifetime. =)

message 40: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
In an interlude now, I really enjoyed the story of the thin man who came into a family and ate everything, and whenever the family tried to say they wanted food, or to speak against him, their throats closed up and they couldn't speak. Finally the villagers came when the family was about to die of hunger and the man was bloated and fat, and they suffocated him in oil until he was tiny again and the family revived. Then he escaped into the woods to find another family. That was so real! It reminds me of antisocial people, how they can attach to people and suck them dry.

message 41: by Cass (new)

Cass Which chapter was that story? I would like to read it.

message 42: by Tatiana (last edited Mar 18, 2011 12:01PM) (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Cass, it's headed "Dira" in the chapter called "Some Stories Told Aloud" on page 64 of my edition.

message 43: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I guess the book is something like LHoD, with just much bigger interludes on mythology and culture interspersed inside the novel part. I'm almost through the first big interlude before Stone Telling 2. I just have a few more narratives to read. If I get bored, I'll just skip ahead to the novel itself, and go back and read the other stuff later. Like I didn't read the rather large appendices at the end of LotR until I just wanted to know more and couldn't stand that it was over so quickly. Probably the same thing will work with this book. Later I'll read every bit of it.

I do think it's fine to skip around in books and read them in whatever order makes the reader happiest. I know that one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time, Godel, Escher, Bach, I originally read by skipping all round. I think it lends itself well to that treatment. Another thing I do if the suspense gets too much for me in suspenseful books is read them chapter by chapter from the end, lol. I'm not a fan of suspense, and one reason I like to read my favorite books over and over is I know exactly what happens, so I can relax and enjoy them more. Do you agree?

message 44: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Is Tatiana the only one still reading it? I think it's great, Tatiana, that you've stuck with it. Really, I do, and I'm glad you're enjoying it. It just wasn't for me. Anyone other than Tatiana?

message 45: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Is Tatiana the only one still reading it? I think it's great, Tatiana, that you've stuck with it. Really, I do, and I'm glad you're enjoying it. It just wasn't for me. Anyone other than Tatiana?

message 46: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I keep it beside my bed or beside my place at the dining room table, and each time I eat or before I sleep I just pick it up and read a chapter or two.

I do love knowing all about the people and the customs, and when I get saturated on that I can just skip ahead to the story itself. But the background info is very cool. I like the wisdom that's incorporated into their society, but of course like all rural people who don't read widely, they're also quite insular. It's great how North Owl is somewhat embarrassed that her father is so abysmally ignorant of all the local customs, which she thinks of as natural law, of course. And it's clear he thinks of these people he lived among as quaint natives who don't know anything, due to their relative ignorance of the wider world. He doesn't seem to recognize that their knowledge of how to live in that place is very deep and thorough. They live in peace and some sort of timelessness, or deep time, because of that, while he moves here and there, always pursuing some kind of conflict, even if he's trying hard not to stir any up. He's a good man by his own lights. Most people are good people by their own lights, I think. We're mostly not terribly aware of the unintended bad consequences of our choices.

message 47: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
There's a great story in this section about two old ladies whose families shared one building who hated each other. Their hatred just kept getting more and more bitter, and everything that happened to either of them, the other interpreted in terms of her hatred. It was very real.

Next I liked the war with the pig people, which was prosecuted in an odd way. I liked the commentary on the war that came immediately afterward, too. Y'all are missing some good stuff! I hope I'm not really the only one reading this still.

message 48: by Ian (new)

Ian | 42 comments Tatiana, you're making some of those interlude stories sound really interesting. I may have to go back a take another look ;)

message 49: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
I hope so! I'm about to start the next part of the main story now. I don't want to be the only one reading it. I'm trying to lure some of you back in. =)

message 50: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana | 144 comments Mod
Actually, I'm very glad I didn't skip the last part of this interlude, as it contains what I consider a shocking revelation, and one that turns my whole picture of the people and the culture upside down (or back to front, actually). I don't want to say more, because I don't want to spoil it for anybody, but if you do decide to skip any of the interlude part, definitely read the very last of it called Time and the City, on page 149 of my edition.

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