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Chapter 6 - The World of the Salons



In literary circles the Salon age of the 1900's, be it at Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris or the gatherings at the Algonquin in New York, holds much reverence and fascination. I’m often in awe of the names associated with these get togethers, the wide range of participants and the memorable output of their talent. As important as their work were the discussions which took place. Oh to be a fly on the wall at some of these meetings and listen to the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Benchley!


While fewer in numbers, Dave and I often find ourselves discussing a wide range of topics. Our time on the beach, or on road trips, or just at the table gives us ample opportunity to engage in thoughtful and meaningful discussions. We don’t always agree, but we can discuss anything. One of our many joys is being able to share thoughts and ideas, explore themes, and vent without judgement. Many a blog has been born of these talks.


In a world enthralled by an impersonal 144 characters tossed off on a whim, it is good to remember when personal discourse took place in heartfelt letters or one on one discussions where the goal wasn’t to have the loudest voice but to actually discuss issues of the day. But then again, I’m a fan of historical fiction, so maybe the memory is more romantic than the reality. Perhaps some of the discussions ended in fisticuffs - with Hemingway part of the mix, it would not be surprising!


Here are some of the topics that we’ve discussed and a few books that have come up in conversation. The very nature of these books would also position them well for serious book club discussions.


A History of God by Karen Armstrong - This is a book we have both read. Armstrong, a renowned theologian, writes this about the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic beliefs in God. She details what the Abrahamic religions share and how they are different including the way each religious foundation views Jesus. Our discussions included man-made rules, Jesus as prophet or Messiah, and how violence has occurred in the name of religion.


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson - This was a hot topic of discussion this year and the publication of it in 2020 was perfectly timed. In the book Wilkerson offers that if we talk about issues of racial difference not in terms of race but rather of caste, perhaps discussions would be less inflammatory. While her point is well taken (and could actually be used not only in terms of race but also culture), I don't agree with her classifications of caste. Dave and I discussed marginalized people, how to talk about race in a nonthreatening way, and whether violence is a necessary part of reformation.


The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - O'Brien's novel about a soldier's life in Vietnam was quite the discussion topic for us. While O'Brien was in Vietnam, the stories he shared were not necessarily his own and, not necessarily true. That is why the book is classified as fiction. Our discussions about this book included how Vietnam is still a sore spot in our history, how to separate historical fact from fiction, and is it possible to write stories not your own, authentically. Which led us to another book discussion...


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins - This very controversial novel told the illegal immigration story from a different perspective, that of an immigrant fleeing danger. The story is about a woman who flees Mexico with her young son after her husband and family are killed by a drug cartel. According to some the story was accurate, according to others Cummins should not have written it because it is not her story. We discussed immigration - illegal and otherwise, dangers in Mexico, whether a non-immigrant can tell an authentic immigrant story, and the concept of the cancel culture that is so prevalent in society today.


What do you think? Would it be beneficial to have salons where people could discuss topics of importance or not? Would it help our society's overall civility? Let me know what you think!