Book Club Meeting No. 2: ‘Grand Central Winter’

Welcome to our second Literary Minds Online Book Club meeting.

Last week we discussed “Divided Minds, Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia.” Some commenters read the book and weighed in their impressions. Others just participated in the conversation about mental health in general. Either way works for our book club, where the point is awareness and enlightenment about mental health.

In case you missed the first meeting, or you wanted a refresher on the back story of this book club, you can catch up here. Once again I thank the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, and its Community Education Committee, which came up with this idea just for aNewsCafe.com readers.

Now, let’s move onto this week’s book, ‘Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street,” by Lee Stringer.

Of the three books I’ve read thus far in the book club (don’t worry, I just got one book ahead — you’re not behind), “Grand Central” started as my favorite. I liked Stringer’s writing style, his no b.s. way of telling a story, and the way he set out details.

Basically, Stringer’s a crack addict who once had a job and an apartment. But eventually he loses everything and ends up living on the streets of New York for more than 12 years.

He begins writing by accident, when he uses a small pencil to help tamp down his pipe. He writes about everything, even in the middle of his drug years. By the book’s end, he’s kicked drugs, but this is not your typical gutter-to-God story.

I was so struck by his intelligence, and I had to fight my tendency to extrapolate and think that smart people don’t end up like “that,” and to remind myself that there but for the grace of God …

Reading this book caused me to look a bit more closely at the homeless people I see in our town, to imagine what their lives were like before they took to the streets.

Readers, what were your impressions of this book?

What are your thoughts about homelessness in the North State? 

While you ponder those questions, remember that next week we’ll discuss “Breaking the Silence,” by Mariette Hartley.

 Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Marc says:

    I was especially struck by the passage in which Lee was arrested for bumming a subway ride without paying, spent a few days in jail and then upon his release was given by the police. . . wait for it. . . a free subway token!

    I thought that was kind of emblematic of the plight of many homeless – there is a big disconnect between what they need and how society treats them.

    The scene where he contemplates mugging someone to score was one that I'll always remember: To get such a close glimpse of the mental torment inside an addict's mind was searing.

    It also shed some light on the complicated relationship between mental health issues and addiction.

    • I found the subway part ironic, too. And I was also dismayed by the situation at the shelter where the good food that came in the front door – pork chops, turkeys, chicken – never made it to the plates of the homeless, but was sold out the back door.

      Thanks, Marc, for the comment, and for being part of this book club.

  2. Avatar JeffG says:

    I don't normally read 250+ pages in one sitting, but I just could not put Grand Central Winter down. Usually when I finish such a riveting story, I bask briefly in the afterglow before succumbing to long overdue sleep. Stories from the Street offered no such closure.

    Upon completion I lay awake stewing in the profound disappointment of having read something that often exceeded excellent yet whose overall impression was merely “good.” It was as if I'd just observed Pollock painting by numbers…

    “The prose was turgid at times,” I pondered, trying to pin down the source of my displeasure. Then again, I'd probably have difficulty exercising restraint after bearing the brunt of 12 years' casual dismissal from thousands of daily onlookers. “No, that's not it,” I thought. “Had Bartleby access to Prozac, I'd forgive some exuberant writing too.”

    But really my discontent was limited to the last ~50 or so pages where Stringer tried to tell readers what he wanted them to take from his life on the street (done with all the subtlety of a Samoan drag queen). I would have preferred to apply my life's experiences to Stringer's story and come to my own conclusions.

    Still, that wasn't quite it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there was no good way to end Grand Central Winter – no happily ever after. There will always be situations that cause some intelligent, capable young men to spurn society for the drug-laden periphery. And, for the most part, they won't return to the fold until they're good and ready. How do you wrap a big happy bow on that?

    • Jeff, I understand your take-away feeling, which is why I said this book started as my favorite, because I wasn't wild about the ending. Even so, I agree that this book was difficult to put down, but my favorite parts had to do with his life on the street, and I found myself speed-reading through the other scenes.

  3. Avatar Kerri says:

    This story got me thinking about the compelling stories you've done, Doni, about one of our more well-known homeless men in Redding. Putting names and stories and rich histories to people who live differently than we do has certainly helped me realize that we need to be less judgmental about other people's choices. Some have chosen to live on the streets, while others have been involuntarily displaced by life's circumstances, or are couch-surfing with friends or family but are still technically "homeless." We can always offer kindness and provide donations to organizations that help people in need (I like the Shasta Family Justice Center, as many clients have found themselves homeless when fleeing a dangerous situation).

  4. Avatar sharon chesnut says:

    Is there a list of the club's upcoming books? perhaps a month or so out? great idea…this club. thanks. Sharon

  5. Hi, Sharon. The Literary Minds Online Book Club lasts through the month of May to recognize Mental Health Month.

    Each Monday we discuss that week's book. So far we've done two: "Divided Minds" and "Grand Central Winter." Next week is "Breaking the Silence," by Mariettte Hartley, and finally, "The Caveman's Valentine," by George Dawes Green.

    This is a partnership with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, but if readers like the idea of an ongoing book club, we might resume it.

    See you online! 🙂