Friday, 27 January 2012

The Virgin Cure: Then and Now

Dear members,

As we reach the final pages of this month's book club pick, there are many things to reflect on with one important concept being the "Virgin Cure". Known as the virgin cleansing myth, it was seen that if a man was infected with some sort of sexually transmitted disease, he will be cured by having intercourse with a virgin girl.
As we have read in the novel, syphilis has become a commonly known disease  during the 19th century, becoming widespread since the 16th century in Europe. Today, the virgin cure continues to be prevalent in countries such as Africa, where the belief lives on.
In Ami McKay's website, she talks about the past and present of the virgin cure, particularly in New York during that time:

Syphilis was an overwhelming, widespread puzzle of a disease and it was this taboo topic that my great-great grandmother chose for the subject of her graduation thesis. In her day, there continued to be much argument over how the disease was spread and there were many unsuccessful (and sometimes destructive) forms of treatment. Worst of all, along with the human wreckage of a disease with no remedy, was an even greater tragedy, a horrible myth that preyed upon young girls.

The myth of “the virgin cure “ (the belief that a man with syphilis could “cleanse his blood” by deflowering a virgin) was without social borders and was acted out in every socio-economic class in some form or another. In fact, the more money a man had, the easier it would have been for him to procure a young girl for this unthinkable act...

Much like Dr. Sadie and other doctors of her time longed to find a cure for syphilis – scientists, doctors and researchers today are desperately trying to find a cure for AIDS. Sadly, “the virgin cure” of the 19th century is still being acted out in parts of the world today, (in sub-Saharan Africa, India andThailand, to name but a few places) with an alarming number of child rapes occurring in the last few years, because of a growing belief in the myth. I feel it is important for us in Western society to remember that the tragedy of the myth of the virgin cure is part of our history as well. In an era when those who are on the front lines of fighting the AIDS crisis are saying the pubic seems to be “burnt out on AIDS,” perhaps a page from our own history will bring us back to the conversation – fostering a sense of global community and the desire to take action.

The novel also contains many interesting characters to dwell on, including Moth, Dr. Sadie and Miss Everett. New York in 1871 definitely has many layers of stories to tell and the life twelve year old Moth is one such intricate story.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Our House of Anansi Feature

Dear members,

As promised, here is the full version of the feature for our book club from House of Anansi for our keepsake.

Introducing the Matchbook Book Club

Our Q&A with Joanne, administrator of the club

Q: Why did you decide to start the Matchbook Book Club?

A: I was inspired to bring together like-minded individuals who share the same love of reading and where discussions embrace the feel of a literary salon. I wanted Matchbook to be more than just a book club — it would be a gathering where we would go and try different restaurants or cafes for our meetings and hold fun trips and events like our recent fall craft party. The book club has a motto from English poet John Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." The name for our book club holds this significance: we match our books with the sentiments found within our own lives.

Q: How does your book club choose which book to read?

A: Every month we vote on a title out of five choices called "The Selections" during our meeting which revolves around a theme. For example, September's theme was "The Nostalgic Romantic" because of the atmospheric beauty which autumn brings, October was "Wonderstruck Noir" in light of Halloween, and for our recent theme, "A Winter’s Tale," Kathleen Winter's Annabel was the clear winner and has been a wonderful read thus far.

There are no limitations when it comes to the books that we select. I handpick titles that have caught my eye while in my favourite bookstores such as Nicholas Hoare, from publishers, literary sites and blogs, or from word of mouth. At the same time, every member has the opportunity to recommend a title that the book club would benefit from.

Q: Which book has generated the best discussion for your club so far?
A: While each discussion has been lively and appealing, one in particular stands out: Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The topics we covered, the deeper symbolism found within the book thanks to the insight from many of our members, and the comparison between the novel and the film that came out that same month, had generated such a discussion that the usual two hours that we would usually get together for went much longer than that!

Q: What do you think makes your book club special?

A: What makes the Matchbook Book Club special is first and foremost, the members. We also sometimes add bonus features into our meetings. For example, July was mystery-themed and we selected a classic: Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Members brought treats and we played a murder mystery game called "Poirot Investigates." It was very fun and the ending turned out to be a twist as the murderer was not who we expected!
Incorporating trips is also a must, where visits to places such as historic sites and botanical gardens around the city is a given in the months to come as the weather turns warmer.

Q: What are you looking forward to reading in 2012?

A: There are a few titles that I’m looking forward to reading this year, including Ai Mi's Under the Hawthorn Tree. I have heard much praise and recommendations for this book so it's all the more enticing. I am also eager for Shadow of Night, the second book from the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I was captivated by A Discovery of Witches, so I can’t wait to see what happens next for Diana and Matthew. Lastly, I’m also looking forward to the newest addition of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, Elegy for Eddie. Maisie Dobbs is one of my favourite literary characters and I love a good mystery.

Our thanks to Joanne and the Matchbook Book Club for joining us for this Q&A!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Our January Selection

Time is like the wind, it lifts the light and leaves the heavy. 
-Doménico Cieri Estrada 

Dear members,

Although the weather outside is indeed quite frightful, our eighth meeting was definitely delightful as we gathered for brunch at 7 West Cafe.
Right off the bat, Kathleen Winter's "Annabel" raised quite a lively discussion, as there were much to talk about. The complexity and the symbolism found within the novel are profound, not to mention the rich details of the characters. There were many scenes which had us on edge, and there was an overwhelming agreement that the ending was a satisfying one.

When it came to pick our January book club pick, it was hard to choose as the titles which appeared in this month's selections for our 'Member's Choice" theme were all great! ?And so it came down to the decision of picking the titles out of a hat (or toque I should say!)

And the title for January book club pick is:


"I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart." So begins The Virgin Cure, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in the year 1871. As a young child, Moth''s father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from his wife and daughter forever, and Moth has never stopped imagining that one day they may be reunited - despite knowing in her heart what he chose over them. Her hard mother is barely making a living with her fortune-telling, sometimes for well-heeled clients, yet Moth is all too aware of how she really pays the rent.
Life would be so much better, Moth knows, if fortune had gone the other way - if only she'd had the luxury of a good family and some station in life. The young Moth spends her days wandering the streets of her own and better neighbourhoods, imagining what days are like for the wealthy women whose grand yet forbidding gardens she slips through when no one''s looking. Yet every night Moth must return to the disease- and grief-ridden tenements she calls home.

 In a time and place where mysterious illnesses ravage those who haven''t been cautious, no matter their social station, diseased men yearn for a "virgin cure" - thinking that deflowering a "fresh maid" can heal the incurable and tainted. Through the friendship of Dr. Sadie, a female physician who works to help young women like her, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her. Moth''s new friends are falling prey to fates both expected and forced upon them, yet she knows the law will not protect her, and that polite society ignores her. Still she dreams of answering to no one but herself. There's a high price for such independence, though, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street.

About the author (from the author's website):

Ami McKay’s debut novel, The Birth House was a # 1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and a book club favourite around the world. Her new novel. The Virgin Cure, is inspired by the life of her great- great grandmother, Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh, a female physician in nineteenth century New York. Born and raised in Indiana, Ami now lives in Nova Scotia. 

For more tidbits on all things "The Virgin Cure" as well as a more detailed biography of the author, a great place to visit is the author's website.

Happy reading!


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

"From small beginnings come great things."- Proverb

Pinned Image

Wishing all the members a wonderful upcoming new year. I am so very excited to be sharing fun moments with all of you in the months to come! See you in our upcoming meeting!