I Liked the Book, But Do We Have to Talk About It?

Reading is personal, but anyone who has read that one fabulous book has a yearning to proselytize the story and convince everyone else that it is by far the best book ever written.  It helps if the reader is preaching to an audience who has not yet read the book.

Book clubs can be the place to confirm the wonder of the book,  if everyone agrees,  but most times, no one does. After listening to a dissection of the book’s plot, character, setting – the dedicated reader may even lose the original fervor for the book.   Author Francine Prose offered her thoughts on reading a book for a book club in an an interview with Jessica Murphy for The Atlantic…

“ … book clubs have had both a positive and negative effect. On the one hand, they do get people reading and talking about reading. But on the other hand, when you’re reading for a book club, the whole time you’re thinking, I have to have an opinion and I’m going to have to defend it to these people. The whole notion of being swept away by a book pretty much goes out the window.”

imagesBut what happens if no one likes the book under discussion?  and you happen to be the author?  In this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, author Kevin Baker recalls his experience when he inadvertently spied on a book club discussion of his book in I Read You Loud and Clear.  Listening to readers critique his book “Dreamland,” he reluctantly kept his identity as the author of the book secret, when he realized that no one really liked his story. He became “Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.”

When friends ask me about my own writing, I usually defer, change the subject, get a coughing fit…

It’s hard to hear what readers think of your writing, especially when they misunderstand or really don’t like what you wrote.  Most writers are too thin-skinned to want or invite criticism of their work in person; those scathing written reviews can always be dismissed by spilling a cup of coffee on them.  I laughed at the last line of Baker’s essay when the author said the book club still tore him apart when they realized he had written the book.  Everyone’s a critic – yet another reason many writers try to stay incognito – it’s easier on our fragile egos.


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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

9780812982855_p0_v3_s260x420When the local book club decided to start the year with a discussion of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, I dutifully got on the library wait list. Holding steady at number 44 on the list for weeks, I found the book’s summary and thought the sad story of a favorite artist uncle dying of AIDS in New York City of the 1980s might be one I’d skip.

Then I read a short review by Liberty Hardy:

” I thought (this book) would be so sad that I would end up needing to take breaks. This wasn’t so. It was sad, but it was also beautiful …Brunt did a good job of not holding the reader’s head under water, which isn’t always the case with authors who are trying to pull your heartstrings. I had a nine hour travel day that flew by because of this book.”

Any book that can hold a reader’s attention on a long plane ride is worth finding. So I’ve downloaded the book to my Kindle, and am engrossed in the family drama and social stigma that young June, the narrator, seems to be navigating well. I am looking forward to reading the whole story.

Have you read the book?

Planning for Next Year’s Book Club Discussions

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In Lynn Neary’s article for NPR - Now You’re Talking! The Year’s Best Book Club 154184690Reads - five books made the cut.  Two I’ve read and reviewed:

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Two are on my library wait list: The Round House by Louise Erdich and NW by Zadie Smith; The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is the last on Neary’s list – one I might skip over.

The local book club has two of my favorites on line for next year:

Caleb’s Crossing
Rules of Civility

What will you be talking about next year?