July Book Club: The Queen’s Gambit

Cover art for The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

As I sit here writing this blog post, I feel that it’s worth noting that I have still only watched one episode of the Netflix’s series The Queen’s Gambit. The main reason for admitting this is to, naturally, point out that my observations are for the book and the book alone. I know for previous book clubs I have taken the time to also watch the movie/tv show, but the weather is beautiful and I find myself itching to sit on the deck instead of curled up on the couch. This is not a reflection of the quality of the TV series, but a nod to the fact that I am more likely to watch TV when it’s dark and cold outside.

This book left me feeling very neutral and wondering if I was expecting more from Beth Harmon. For example, I think we can agree that her ability to visualize chess boards as a child is phenomenal. When you combine that with her narrow focus on the game and how her whole life revolves around it, you’re left wondering is this because she finds comfort in the game now that her parents are dead or does she have a touch of Asperger’s? When you combine this information with her ability to interact with others as a young adult, it’s hard to judge.

With Beth as our narrator, we’re not given complete pictures of the other people that encompass her tail. Whether she she falls on the spectrum or was severally emotionally handicapped as a child, it’s clear that her emotional and social intelligence were stunted and we’re not getting a full picture of what’s happening around her. With this in mind, it made sense that Beth reached for childhood friends when her world felt turned upside down.

I’m not sure we can really call this a book about addiction. Beth’s addiction to the green pills existed to allow her to play a more focused game of chess in her mind and her brief run with drinking seemed like more of a conscious decision to self sabotage. Which leaves me wondering, is this a story about addiction or has addiction been thrown in there as a temporary plot device?

At it’s very core, The Queen’s Gambit is a story about an underdog and we all, myself included, want to root for the underdog. We get to watch Beth struggle to be allowed to learn chess and her development into an eventual champion. You can’t help but root for her as she works towards mastering her next challenge.

In honor of the sourdough trend that I didn’t participate in, we will be reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan. This one comes highly recommended by my town’s public library and I’m excited to read it.

Cover art for Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

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