How do you find the perfect medium for book club members who want to discuss books with some pith and messaging vs. those who would rather not be challenged, and view the book club as a social medium, with the book as an easy way to get to know other members? Of course, alternating genre can help, as well as skipping meetings when the book does not appeal. But doesn’t that defeat a book club’s purpose to open new authors and characters to an audience who would not necessarily seek them out?
I stay away from plot-driven books when offering titles for book club discussions, including mysteries and romance. Although I enjoy reading these books, what is there to talk about when the author has taken you through the story with little left to the imagination? You may like or dislike Sophie Kinsella, and even find the story “very interesting,”; her adventures are funny and comforting, but not very discussable. Sue Grafton has a following of fans for her mysteries, and she always solves them in the end. NPR’s Rachel Syme calls it “brain popcorn…the latest flashy espionage novel or an earthy romance slathered in buttery prose.” A book discussion should be about what the author did not say, and if it’s all spelled out, well…
A possible solution is inspired by this week’s New York Times Book Review, loudly applauding “Summer Reading” – a time to kick back and enjoy a few easy reads, and maybe find one or two you might want to think a little about. Deborah Harkness’s trilogy commands a full page ad as you open this section. Her books are fun to read, include mystery and romance, and a little historical information that might lend itself to some discussion. Alan Cumming’s memoir, Not My Father’s Son, is listed under “Where Will the Summer Take You?” The Scot who is almost as famous as Sean Connery has written a thoughtful remembrance of his difficult childhood, and it is on my list to read. His memoir might make an easy comparison to others – maybe Michael Hainey’s After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story.
Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, number twelve on the bestseller list and noted in Gregory Cowles “Inside the List,” offers possibilities for comparison to other popular female protagonists in Harriet Lane’s Her, Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train – and even, if you must, Flynn’s Gone Girl. Comparing characters across books can lead to a stimulating discussion. If the books are easy to read, why not read two or three for the next book club meeting, and see where it takes you.
Maybe light reading can be engaging and worth talking about. Do you have any suggestions?