In The First Circle Bookclub!



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar DRS says:

    Not to threadjack or anything, but are you going to post a thread for suggestions for the next read? I have a good one.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Hrm. Sure. So let’s open up the comments for that too as well as “how can we make the next bookclub better?” kinda suggestions. (I’m under the impression that this one may have sucked.)Report

      • Avatar DRS says:

        I propose Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. It is her first modernist novel, beautifully written and published in 1922. Although based on an incident from her family life, it tapped into a post-WWI feeling of loss and mourning for what many felt was a generation of young men.

        The text is available online: and here ( ) is one of the original reviews which accurately cites Woolf as an important writer who “Dostoievsky, Jane Austen, Meredith, the Bront?ës, and Henry James in his earlier manner.” Not bad for an author’s third book!Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          This is a great suggestion for the next book. It’s public domain (Dude! *I* should have thought of that!), it’s a classic that most people ought to have read but probably haven’t, and it looks like it’ll have a lot of grist for the mill.

          Now, I will say that, for me (Jaybird) personally, I’m kinda looking forward to taking a month off from reading difficult things. Additionally, I’m less than feeling rewarded enough to want to host a second bookclub just yet. (Though I understand it’s a pain that you forget.)

          With that said: if you’d like to run this Bookclub, I’ll be more than happy to set it up with the powers that be and I’d volunteer to be in charge of posting your Bookclub posts every week. (You can see my email up there.) My advice in the short term, however, would be to wait a month before announcing it. If we wait a month, I’m confident that I’ll be able to keep up with everything and thus you can count me in to reading the book as well as posting your posts for you.Report

          • Avatar DRS says:

            That sounds fine. How about starting the week of July 1, with two additional posts on July 8 and July 15? It’s not a long book and not a conventional book either where a plot moves in ways we’re used to plots moving.

            I can’t access my email from work but will email you later. You’ll have to let me know if there are any issues re formatting to work out if I send you an attachment in MSWord. Many thanks for the help!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        One problem was that the book is so long; 6 weeks of reading > 100 pages of heavy stuff is a grind. And reading that much at a clip makes it hard to have focused discussions. The Woolf book doesn’t have either of those problems. (Its being available for free in all the popular Ebook formats is a plus too.)Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          I’ve found it difficult to devote time to reading and despite my enjoyment (if that’s the right word for so grim a story) I too have found it something of a grind.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Hrm. I suppose you all might be amused to hear that I originally thought that I should do it in two sessions, then four… then I settled on six because I thought that going for fewer than 100 pages would drive everybody nuts.

            We’ll get this down eventually.Report

            • Avatar DRS says:

              The challenge to bookclubbing Solzhenitsyn is that it seems so….presumptuous…after what he went through. You just want to tiptoe away without knocking anything over that might make a loud noise.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I read it first a long time ago, and was overwhelmed by the portrait of Soviet tyranny. 1984 made real. This time through, I was looking to see where, if anywhere, Solzhenitsyn saw hope. It was in simple people, the land, religion, the Russia that Communism had destroyed. That is, the Russia of the tsar. Certainly better than Stalin, but neither attractive nor practical.Report

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    I feel a bit guilty about not participating, both because I initially said I would and because Russian literature is sort of my thing. As a good lapsed Catholic, I feel it necessary to provide excuses, so 1) I started reading the book pretty much the moment I got it (on Jaybird’s suggestion — Jaybird says it’s good? Click!), which was maybe a week or two before the book club started, so I finished it over a month ago, and 2.) I don’t spend much time online on the weekends (often none at all), so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to participate much in Sunday discussions (a couple times I didn’t even see the posts). I promise to try and participate in the Woolf one, though. I haven’t read any of her work since I was an undergrad.

    For those of you who made it through The First Circle and enjoyed it, allow me to recommend a much shorter (just over 200 pages), much narrower, but equally powerful critique of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Platanov’s The Foundation Pit (his real family name was Klimentov, given and patronymic Andrei Platonovich, possible diminutives Diusha, Andriusha, Andriushka, and Andriushechka, which I mention because I know the people who’ve just made it through Solzhenitsyn will appreciate how confusing this can make things). It was not published until 1987, 36 years after Klimentov’s death, because the Soviet authorities refused to let it see the light of day. So you know it’s good.

    And if you enjoy that, definitely read Platonov’s short story collection, Soul and Other Stories. This may come off as hyperbole, but his short stories, particularly Soul, are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Oh, wow. I’ve never even heard of this.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        For whatever reason — I don’t know much of the history but now that I think about it I’m tempted to read up on it — they were able to basically suppress his work completely, unlike Solzhenitsyn. Maybe because he died before Stalin was gone? Regardless of the reasons, his relatively late introduction to the western world meant significantly less exposure, I think. By the time The Foundation Pit was translated into English, the Soviet Union was almost gone.

        I discovered him by accident: looking for Russian authors in a bookstore, I found Soul and Other Stories, and started reading it on the way home. His writing is on that level at which, after you read a bit, you have to just put the book down and sit there for a while, to give yourself time to come back down to this planet. As soon as I was done with the short stories, I had to find other stuff he’d written, and that led me to The Foundation Pit

        The Foundation Pit is dark and funny, in a Russian way. Definitely worth the time (which isn’t very much time, because it’s friggin’ 200 pages, which is how long the backs of cereal boxes are in Russia).Report

  4. Avatar Fish says:

    I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and I’m going to go on to read Gulag when I get the chance–the three-volume set, not the abridged one. I was looking forward to the discussion and I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t more going on, and unfortunately I didn’t feel…I don’t know…smart enough?…to ask the good questions which might have stimulated more discussion.

    A book like this is something I prefer to knock around in my own head, and then maybe pepper the hell out of Jaybird with questions while we’re sitting in his porch (yay Summer).

    What did I get out of it? Well, it amazed me how self-referential (if that’s the right way to put it) the apparatus of the state can become (you must be guilty of something because we arrested you and the state is never wrong, therefore…). I loved the bits where we got to tiptoe through Stalin’s mental tulips as he rewrote the Revolution’s history to make it seem as if his tyrannical rule had been inevitable given the general weakness of character of the people. I was struck by the…ability?…resolve?…of the prisoners as they considered the length of their sentences and took it all with a shrug, as if to say, “What is to be done?” I wondered if I’d be able to face an endless prison sentence and the inevitability of a return to the hardships of the work camps as well as Nerzhin and the others did at the end.

    (And I came to liber[al]tarianism through mostly frustration with D’s and R’s. And discussion with Jaybird. And probably wine.)Report