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Read With Us: The Shipping News Discussion Time

The time has come to discuss our winter selection, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. And I am so looking forward to talking with all of you about this award winning book.

If you know anything about my reading doorways (a term coined by Nancy Pearl and you can read more about what that means here) then you know that I am all about the setting of a book. I want to feel like I’m living inside the book. If the author is writing about food, I want to eat what they are eating. If the book is about The Battle of Gettysburg, I want to see the landscape in my head and feel like I’m right there. Here’s a fun fact you may not know: I started drinking dirty martinis because a character in a book I was reading drank them and I thought it sounded terrific.

I think Annie Proulx creates incredible setting in The Shipping News. The cold of Newfoundland, the roar and roughness of the ocean, the crappy motel room, the blue leather on the luxury yacht the aunt is going to reupholster, and Quoyle’s newsroom and even his station wagon are all examples of times when I felt like I was right there.

I’d like to know what you thought of the setting. What things stood out for you? Do you think the setting provides insights into the characters and their lives? Would you consider Newfoundland and the town of Killick-Claw another character? Do you think the story would be as effective if it were set somewhere else?

I look forward to reading (and hopefully responding) to your thoughts in the comments and I hope you will join us tonight for our zoom discussion, too. Be sure to check out Bonny and Kym‘s posts today as they will also be asking questions about The Shipping News.

We really do love having your Read With Us.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Thank you for the link to that discussion about book types. It was great for focusing how I most enjoy reading. If only books came with those pie charts.

    1. I’ve been trying out in lieu of Goodreads. It actually gathers data from readers about each book in regards to mood, character development, diversity, pacing, etc, which can make it easier to match to you doorways or mood. It also generates suggestions for you (though I’ve yet to find my next read that way). It also makes lots of neat pie charts to show your year in reading.

  2. I, too, thank you for the link to the Nancy Pearl article – very interesting. I think my reading doorway changes – all the time! But, for The Shipping News, the setting is definitely important. I actually felt cold at times while reading it (I had the same feeling when I read “My Antonia”). And at times I felt like I could smell the cod cheeks (what a term!). Looking forward to our discussion tonight.

    1. I love when I feel like I’m right inside the book, even when it makes me cold or uncomfortable. Great take and I look forward to “seeing” you tonight, Vera.

  3. I am nodding in agreement to “feeling the distinct atmosphere” of this book’s setting. At times it seems “otherworldly” in a very right sort of way… and perhaps the only place that a wounded family could retreat to…a place more painful than their pain (perhaps).

    I think the setting of this story makes it real for the reader… and yes, I think the place is absolutely another character in the story!

  4. The setting is almost the main character. Nothing happens to the characters without the setting. They grow and change because of their ability to deal with the terrible weather. Qyole becomes Qyole because he figures out life in such circumstances. What a story!

    1. This is such a great take on the setting, Margene. I think you are right that the setting is what prompts all of the character development.

  5. I think the Newfoundland setting is definitely another character and I can’t imagine this book happening in any other place. (This is not a Florida story!) Even upstate NY when Quoyle was “with” Petal was a cold if somewhat more forgiving setting. But Newfoundland is a place where Quoyle has to face his fears of car crashes, water, and death. He even comes to like fried bologna and seal flipper pie!

  6. I feel like the setting is an extremely important character in this book! I felt cold and damp the whole time I was reading it, and I could imagine there was always wind blowing everyone’s hair in their faces. I think the harshness of the environment is in stark opposition to Quoyle’s softness, and his learning to live in such a place mirrors his development as a character and person.

  7. I agree with everyone else that the setting is a key to the story and does serve as the cause of much, if not all, of the action. Yes, the cold and the ice and the wind and the snow are the norm but there are isolated moments of fleeting summer beauty, like when they go berry-picking, that also move the plot forward.

    Surviving in that environment really does make the characters who they are. The harsh environment even runs some of the characters off the island, chasing their dreams of going to Florida or Brazil. I remember when I lived in South Florida and the Canadian snowbirds would show up every winter. They were so happy to be in Florida. We would be really cold and they would be walking around in shorts and flopflops and even swimming during January and February. As a former New Englander (raised in Marblehead) my blood thinned out pretty quickly and I would be cold even in Palm Beach County.

  8. I love the starkness of the setting. It’s just so perfect for this particular story. I’ve read several of Annie Proulx’s books, and she always nails it that way. (Having spent a lot of time in Wyoming, I can say that all of her Wyoming-based stories hit the mark in equal ways.) I love a book where the setting IS one of the “characters.”

  9. I’ve always wanted to visit Newfoundland so I enjoyed reading about the landscape and small towns.

    In January I read the book: The Day the World Comes to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland. It caught my attention as it took place there but also the story as I never realized all that happened that day to anyone flying.

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