Now in Session: The Literary Minds Online Book Club’s Discussion of ‘A Long Way Down’

Wow. Where did this month go? To recap, we began May by honoring Mental Health Month as part of our Literary Minds Online Book Club, a collaboration with Shasta County Health and Human Services.

First we reviewed “Nowhere Near Normal,” by Traci Foust. I really enjoyed Foust’s writing, and gained a ton of insight about OCD, a condition I’d never taken seriously, probably because I hadn’t known someone with OCD … or didn’t think I knew someone with OCD.

So today we turn to the Literary Minds’ second book, “A Long Way Down,” by Nick Hornby. But first,  I want to remind your of a special event that happens 7 p.m. tonight at YAKS on Bechelli Lane. This will be our first time to extend the online portion of the book club to an in-person gathering where we can see each other, talk about the two books we’ve read this month, and also touch on the general topic of mental illness.

As excited as I am about seeing everyone tonight at YAKS on Bechelli Lance in Redding (where, btw, there will be refreshments), I am also nervous that I won’t see anyone, that I will be at YAKS with a few gallons of coffee and trays of treats, which, of course, I will eat. I guess this is my way of asking you to PLEASE join me tonight at YAKS. OK? Thanks. I feel much better.

I must say, I was attracted to the book’s premise: It’s New Year’s in London where four people have made their way to the  top of a 15-story building so they can jump and end their lives. I was also impressed with the book-jacket reviews, with such raves as, “A mordan, brilliant novel … ought to be required reading for writing students who want to know how to evoke one set of circumstances with its opposite; how to capture unspeakable pain and humore; how to suggest commaderie with trenchant, piss-all irony; how to turn a novel based on suicide into a cello suite about how to go on living.” – by The Boston Sunday Globe.

Pretty heady praise, for sure.

I’ll go first, and say that despite the book having some lofty reviews, I was not wild about this book. In fact, I’ve still not finished it. I couldn’t warm up to the characters. It must be just me. Or is it?

Readers, who are your thoughts about “A Long Way Down”?

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain 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.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as 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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10 Responses

  1. Avatar James Herington says:

    I am in the middle of this novel and find it very poignant. The writer's sense of humor shines through. Being a person who used to have suicidal ideations, I can relate to the characters well. Great book, I highly recommend it

  2. Avatar Canda says:

    I had to force myself to finish this book. I remember "High Fidelity", a movie made from the book of this same author. It was also a bit too weird for me. I enjoyed the OCD much so much more.

  3. Avatar Kerri says:

    I didn't love it, but I didn't dislike it as much as you and Canda did. I didn't personally relate to any of the characters, but I thought it was interesting to look at the very different reasons that brought each of them to that ledge. Looking forward to talking more about it with all of you tonight.

  4. Well, I didn't hate the book, but I didn't exactly bond with it, either. I think one thing – and this is something that many reviewers praised Hornby for, is he takes on the subject of these suicidal people, but without high drama or sappy sentimental writing. And something I did like about the book is how these people are brought together, and, often, it's relationships – knowing that someone is counting on you, that sometimes tethers suicidal people here another day, or year, or decade.

    I remember interviewing a Helpline volunteer once, and he talked about the importance, when trying to reach someone who's suicidal, is to find ANYTHING – something – that might convince the depressed person to stick around. He said that for one caller, it was the reminder of his goldfish that was counting on him for food and care, and if the man killed himself, who would care for the fish?

    Sorry, I know I strayed from the book for a second. Carry on. Readers, those who read the book, I'm curious about your take on it. And if you didn't read it, feel free to weigh in on the book's topic, suicide. Yes, it's heavy, but it's OK to go there.

  5. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    I enjoyed the Book Club meeting tonight. The dialogue was thought provoking, and I came away feeling that I had learned something new. That's always a good feeling, especially when the discussion is on a subject that is so "taboo". Mental illness — eek! When we can open up to one another and share our thoughts, we become more compassionate people. Thanks for the opportunity to speak up and to listen to the others.

  6. Avatar Canda says:

    I agree, Grammalyn. That was a great discussion tonight. Removing the stigma of mental illness is so important, and tonight's meeting was a good step in the right direction. I look forward to more of these face-to-face book club discussions. Thank you to everyone involved in putting this book club together.

  7. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I learned so much at the Book Club meeting this evening. Every participant had insight to offer to this discussion about the books we read about mental health issues, but several participants shared information about the current program to eliminate the stigma of a health issure that effects 25% of the population in Shasta County. One participant shared data about suicide completion rates in Shasta County. I am so glad I participated in this Book Club.

    • Canda, Lyn and Joanne, you three beat me to it! I totally agree with you. (First, I had a little home alarm issue to deal with … everything's OK, but there's still a mystery about why my office motion sensor sounded the house alarm …which alerted neighbors, who called the RPD, who came into my house to check things out …)

      Back on topic, I loved our first "off-line" live book club meeting at YAKS tonight. It was such a good discussion, with so much sharing, insight and wisdom. Thank you everyone who attended, on a school night, no less. (All the participants tonight were women, I might add. Guys, make note of that for next time. 🙂

      Readers, I wish you all could have been there. Really, the conversations were terrific. In this second year of participating in this book club, I've learned so much, and have a greater awareness and sensitivity about mental illness. Quite honestly, I probably wouldn't have read these books because I would have viewed them as "downers", but I feel so much more educated about mental illness than I was before the Literary Online Book Club.

      I hope this Literary Online Book Club process has been mind-expanding for you, too, even if you've not read the books, but have read the articles and comments.

      I look forward to doing this again. 🙂

      I hope we will do this again.

      I give special thanks to Kerri Regan-Schuette for working so hard to take care of all the many details to make the Literary Online Book Club collaboration with a possibility. And I thank Roxanne Burke for heading the Shasta County Health and Human Services department that encourages the implementation of such out-of-the-box programs and projects.

    • Avatar Grammalyn says:

      Joanne, it was very nice to meet you. I love making new friends!

  8. Avatar Kerri says:

    Yikes, Doni… I'm glad everything is OK on the home front. What a surprise that must have been. :-/

    Thanks to everyone who came to the meeting and shared their experiences and ideas and thoughts. And double thanks to you, Doni, for being our virtual hostess. We love the thoughtfulness, open-mindedness and compassion of your readers. This is a place where people feel safe discussing heavy stuff. Every word we exchange on this topic brings us closer to destigmatizing mental illness. Thanks to all who participated!