Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Read With Us: Fever Summary

Six months ago, Kym, Carole and I launched our Read With Us experiment.  Kym came up with this great idea, we thought it sounded like fun, but we had no idea if anyone else might agree and, more importantly, participate. 
Would you think it was a good idea?
Would you like the books we chose?
Would you join in?
Would you Read With Us?
And, now . . . here we are at the end of February. We have completed our second read-along, Fever by Mary Beth Keane. That means it's time for a wrap-up. Since Kym did the summary for Just Mercy and we've agreed to take turns, that means I get to write the summary post for our second book. Let's go!
You Thought It Was A Good Idea (for the second time).
I'm inferring things here, but based on your participation in the book discussions, it looks like you did think this "bloggy book club" was a good idea. Good enough that many of you chose to give this a try for a second time (and it looks like we also gained some new readers), read the bookand actively comment on multiple discussion posts. 
First Carole, then me, and finally Kym hosted a week of discussion about Fever on our blogs. We chose to approach the discussion slightly differently this time around, focusing on topics (setting, writing style, social issues, and the historical fiction aspects) rather than talking about it chapter-by-chapter. It would be lovely if we could all gather together in person, but given the constraints of this format, you all had a lot to say and contributed many thoughtful and interesting opinions. If you click on the links above you can check out all the discussions on our blog posts. 
You Maybe, Kind of Liked The Book We Chose? (or gave it a try despite not liking it)
After careful consideration, Kym, Carole, and I chose Fever as our second book. And we really did consider carefully. We thought fiction might be a good choice after Just Mercy, and Kym's goals were to find a high-quality book that was a little more obscure — but not TOO obscure, under 350 pages, not newly published, and that might appeal to a broad range of readers. We hoped it would be readily available from libraries and be very discussable.
The book synopsis sounded good, Fever was available from multiple libraries and inexpensively from Amazon and seemed to fulfill all of our criteria. The actual book though? I think most of you would agree that it was only a one-three star read and "meh" at best. 
You Joined In (I'd say enthusiastically)!

Despite many of us finding the book less than stellar, it looks like it was quite discussable. Carole began our discussions by talking about setting, writing style, and the novel's strengths and weaknesses. Many of you thought that the author did a good job of describing New York City in the early 1900s — the crowded tenements, filth in the streets, sanitation practices or the lack thereof. Keane's writing style wasn't especially popular, with some ideas belabored and others lacking more substance. 

During Week 2, we discussed social issues, such as personal freedom vs. public health, nationality, gender, and socioeconomic status. The consensus was that public safety always comes first, but that Mary Mallon's case could have been handled better. The fact that she was a poor Irish, unmarried woman may have played a part in Mary's life-long quarantine, but she also proved herself unwilling to cooperate with restrictions when she was freed. 

Kym discussed the historical fiction aspects, and of course, this included Alfred! All of you thought the book would have been much better without him (especially because he wasn't even based on a real historical figure)! The interesting possibility that the author kept Mary at a distance from the reader to show how Mary kept life and feelings at a distance was also raised.

It's tough to summarize three weeks of discussion, but it seems that many of you felt that the book would have been stronger with more attention paid to George Soper, and with perhaps more focus on the factors that led to the link between Mary Mallon and her identification as an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever. Most of us agreed that it's critical to protect public health, but we also felt that Mary Mallon was treated unfairly because she was a poor immigrant and a woman.
I personally think that Keane chose a very difficult subject to write about. Very few of Mary's original words and writings exist today, so almost everything we learn about her has to come through other people. The book would have been much better if it had focused more on George Soper and Mary and left the invented Alfred out of it entirely. There are publications written by George Soper and newspaper articles, but it is very hard to paint a balanced portrait of Mary Mallon. I think we did all learn about New York City in the early 20th century, typhoid fever, and the possible pitfalls of historical fiction.

Rest In Peace, Mary


I haven't forgotten the promised “book lovers' surprise package” thoughtfully and generously provided by Kym, to be awarded to one lucky Fever reader! Your names were placed in a hat EACH time you made a comment on each of our book discussion posts ...

Your names were placed in an actual hat

and the winner is ... Vera! I have your email and will be contacting you shortly for your address. Congratulations, Vera, and thanks to each and every one of you for participating! 

And that's a wrap on our second Read With Us read-along . . . Fever by Mary Beth Keane.  
Next week, we'll be announcing the NEXT book that you can . . . Read With Us!  
In the meantime, we'd love your input!  Please click here to take a very short online survey.  It's only 8 questions and your feedback will help us make future Read With Us choices, directions, and discussions better. We want to hear from you whether you read along with us this time or not. Thank you!


  1. I think you all did an excellent job once again of hosting the discussion, especially considering that this book was more problematic and less popular.

    One thing the survey didn't ask or give space to comment on is the format for the discussion. Blog posts work well for the prompts, but they felt a bit clunky to me for the discussion (I had to remember to go back to the posts to read comments after the fact). I wonder if we could find an online platform where we could have a discussion using a Ravelry-like forum?

  2. I agree with Sarah, while the book was not stellar - it proved to be an excellent book to discuss! And, the discussions made me think about things I had not considered when I read!

    And, for discussion... I agree with Sarah. The blog discussion is very clunky and awkward and I need to remember to go back the the post to see new discussion. I don't know if you all have considered the Slack platform - it works both on a PC and on mobile devices. It allows for threaded comments and you can select the amount of notifications you'd like to receive. Just an idea that might be a better option :)

    and CONGRATS to Vera!!

  3. Oh wow! What a wonderful surprise (and one of my favorite teas!!). I really enjoyed participating and am looking forward to hearing (reading) what the next book selection is. I'm off to take the survey now. Thank you ladies!!!

  4. Great summary, Bonny! It's a learning process for sure but we're doing better each time, I think.

  5. Nice job Bonny! It's always fun to read-along!

  6. I think you did a pretty good job, considering that it is so difficult to find a book that everyone wants to or is willing to read. I was not sorry I read Fever, but it was a bit of a slog from time to time. I learned some things, and it was not a book that I would get excited about. I have gotten to the age that I am willing to put a book down if I don't want to read it, so I make no promises on the next read. I truly read for pleasure these days. However, I enjoyed the back and forth discussion, and I will have to come up with a way to realize that Kym's blog post is available. I missed her post until I read the above! DUH All three of you did a stellar job leading discussions!

  7. I am not likely to read for a book club. Im sorry. It feels like an assignment. Im also a huge book snob. Someday I'll get back to reading often. I'll be eager for my friends great suggestions. Right now, nope. I get too involved in them and I don't get anything else done!

  8. What a great summary, Bonny! :-)
    (And congratulations to Vera.)

  9. Congrats Vera!! Loved the summary because I didn't join in on this round.

  10. Congratulations to Vera! Thanks to the three facilitators.

  11. Wow, Bonny, thank you for the awesome recap (and of course kudos to your partners, too!!)!! I'm so glad y'all are going to continue. I love this community for so many things, and now that there's a bookclub, well. I'm in. for life. One of my rules about bookclub is that I always read the book. I might complain about it, but I read it. and usually, I learn something. and always, I strengthen relationships. Can't wait to see what's up next!!

  12. Yay Vera!
    I'm looking forward to the next round!! I didn't/won't finish FEVER, and I didn't participate a lot (mostly because I was a bit behind), but I really enjoyed the discussion.


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