Book Club Discussion Transcript: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett

We hope you had a good time discussing Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes with your book club—or had a good time reading it on your own and thinking about it!

Below the cut is the transcript for our own Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes discussion. Maybe you’ll agree with our opinions, or maybe you’ll think we got it all wrong. Either way, we’d love to hear from you in the comments if you found our discussion interesting!

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Book Club Questions: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett

Everett, then a Christian missionary, arrived among the Pirahã in 1977—with his wife and three young children—intending to convert them. What he found was a language that defies all existing linguistic theories and reflects a way of life that evades contemporary understanding. The Pirahã have no counting system and no fixed terms for color. They have no concept of war or of personal property. They live entirely in the present. Everett became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistic implications, and with the remarkable contentment with which they live—so much so that he eventually lost his faith in the God he’d hoped to introduce to them. 

Over three decades, Everett spent a total of seven years among the Pirahã, and his account of this lasting sojourn is an engrossing exploration of language that questions modern linguistic theory. It is also an anthropological investigation, an adventure story, and a riveting memoir of a life profoundly affected by exposure to a different culture. Written with extraordinary acuity, sensitivity, and openness, it is fascinating from first to last, rich with unparalleled insight into the nature of language, thought, and life itself.

Colleen and I were both pretty pleased that we picked this title as a book club book, since there was a lot going on which we both wanted to try and unpack during our discussion. Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes raises a lot of questions for a Western reader, and in many different areas outside of just linguistics. Our experience of the memoir/linguistics-for-beginners story Everett is telling definitely benefitted from our ability to work together in navigating our own understanding of the concepts Everett introduced during our book club meeting.

I highly recommend this book, as it introduces many challenging concepts about language, culture, and perception for a Western audience, without being overly academic and terminology-laden. I would also recommend you read the book with the intention of discussing it with someone else, if possible, as your brain will benefit from being forced to grapple with the ideas Everett is introducing and to put your thoughts into words.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Book Club Prep: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett

Our next book club book will be Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett! This memoir covers the thirty years during which Everett spent time living with the Pirahã, a group of Amazonian native people, and the many lessons he learned as he struggled to become fluent in their very difficult and unique language. Although he initially began his work as a missionary with the goal of translating the Bible into Pirahã, Everett’s personal views and understanding of the world around him shifted significantly during his thirty years learning both a new language and a new way of thinking from the Pirahã.

Everett, then a Christian missionary, arrived among the Pirahã in 1977—with his wife and three young children—intending to convert them. What he found was a language that defies all existing linguistic theories and reflects a way of life that evades contemporary understanding. The Pirahã have no counting system and no fixed terms for color. They have no concept of war or of personal property. They live entirely in the present. Everett became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistic implications, and with the remarkable contentment with which they live—so much so that he eventually lost his faith in the God he’d hoped to introduce to them. 

Over three decades, Everett spent a total of seven years among the Pirahã, and his account of this lasting sojourn is an engrossing exploration of language that questions modern linguistic theory. It is also an anthropological investigation, an adventure story, and a riveting memoir of a life profoundly affected by exposure to a different culture. Written with extraordinary acuity, sensitivity, and openness, it is fascinating from first to last, rich with unparalleled insight into the nature of language, thought, and life itself.

Highlight white text for content warnings: alcohol addiction, animal cruelty or animal death, threats of assault, death or dying, racism, giant effing snakes

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into Everett’s memoir or expand upon its themes and content.

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Book Club Discussion Transcript: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

We hope you had a good time discussing Six Wakes with your book club—or had a good time reading it on your own and thinking about it!

Below the cut is the transcript for our own Six Wakes discussion. Maybe you’ll agree with our opinions, or maybe you’ll think we got it all wrong. Either way, we’d love to hear from you in the comments if you found our discussion interesting!

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Book Club Questions: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer—before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

As I mentioned in the Book Club Prep post for this novel, the synopsis above isn’t super accurate as to the actual plot, worldbuilding, and primary concerns of this novel, but at least it probably piqued your interest.

After reading and discussing Sadie and The Fact of a Body back to back, we were hoping to find something a little lighter to read, and Six Wakes definitely fit the bill. Although the novel asks a lot of questions of us as far as what makes a person this person and not some other person, it’s a light and fast-paced read that’s easy to fly through. Don’t expect a tightly plotted mystery, though—Lafferty’s book is best enjoyed if you focus your little grey cells on the philosophical questions she’s presenting, rather than looking out for clues the way you would with a Hercule Poirot novel.

Both Colleen and I enjoyed this read, although I was a little disappointed by the lack of a strong mystery storyline. We had a good time reading and had plenty to talk about during our discussion, but we also wished Lafferty had pushed some of her ideas even farther when it came to the societal repercussions of the world she’d created. Even so, I would still recommend Six Wakes, especially for people who want the sci-fi lit experience of contemplating interesting concepts and philosophical questions, but are also looking for a fun page-turner.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Book Club Prep: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Our next book club book will be Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty! The synopsis below is pretty inaccurate, both factually and as far as what the book is actually about—but gosh, it sure sounds exciting, which I guess is what really matters in the publishing house’s eyes. If you’re interested in ethical dilemmas and philosophical questions raised by the concept of cloning, delivered in a fun and fast-paced read with a murder mystery subplot hanging around in the background, Six Wakes would probably be a great book for you!

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer—before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Highlight white text for content warnings: death and dying, assault, suicide, torture

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing Six Wakes. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into Lafferty’s novel or expand upon its themes and content.

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Book Club Questions: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.

[Note: Although Marzano-Lesnevich now identifies as non-binary, I am using the official synopsis of the book as written on their website.]

Although neither of us went into this book expecting a jolly-good-times read, we were both a bit taken off-guard by the intensity of the subject matter. The book is beautifully and carefully written, and the parallels and connections between Marzano-Lesnevich’s own lived experience and the trajectory of Ricky Langley’s life are artfully drawn. Like many great true crime novels, The Fact of a Body raises more questions than it answers, with the added weight of the author’s personal connection hanging onto the facts they ask us to consider. But if you can stand to carry this novel’s heavy subject matter with you, it makes for a impactful and worthy read.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Book Club Prep: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Our next book club book will be The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich! This award-winning memoir and true crime combination is, at times, tough reading, but well-worth sticking through.

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.

[Note: Although Marzano-Lesnevich now identifies as non-binary, I am using the official synopsis of the book as written on their website.]

Highlight white text for content warnings: sexual assault, child abuse, murder, death and dying, sexual content, pregnancy and childbirth, mental illness, gaslighting

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing The Fact of a Body. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir or expand upon its themes and content.

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Book Club Questions: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Both of us were pretty blown away by this novel. The way in which the story is told – podcast transcripts alternating with first-person narration – could have been absolutely awkward and clunky in the hands of a lesser author, but Courtney Summers’ subtle hand and complex approach to character results in a novel that is a simple and quiet masterpiece.

Although the book is touted as a thriller in its marketing, I would disagree. It’s certainly a page-turner, as many YA novels are (readability being a thing that YA authors tend to strive for, for some reason), but to me “thriller” connotes a sense of cheapness, of base tricks employed to keep my interest going until the last page. Sadie is remarkable for its respect of its subject matter, and for the way in which it makes us confront our reliance on established narratives to explain away the people who get lost in the margins of our world.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Book Club Prep: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Our next book club book will be Sadie by Courtney Summers! Although Summers is already an established Canadian YA author, this latest bestseller has definitely gotten her noticed with a careful blend of podcast transcripts and first person narration depicting a story with no simple answers.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Highlight white text for content warnings: assault, sexual assault, child abuse, murder, kidnapping and abduction, drug and alcohol addiction, ableism, classism

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing Sadie. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some podcasts, articles, and books which either tie into Summers’ novel or expand upon its themes and content.

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