When I was coordinating a book club years ago, I tried unsuccessfully to incorporate the discussion into my online site – posting reviews of current club picks, encouraging comments from readers. Sadly, not many members used computers to communicate – about books, anyway. Undaunted, I have posted the year’s picks of the group annually, and it has become a popular click for the curious. Although it goes back to 2009, someone recently accessed the slate for 2012 – so that’s where I started – and ended with this year’s selections.
The Book Club Slate for 2012 included one of my favorite books – Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, and a reminder of how long Ann Patchett has been popular with State of Wonder on the list. Skipping over to the Book Club Picks for 2015, I was reminded of my introduction to Maria Semple in Where’s You Go Bernadette? and Hector Tobar with The Barbarian Nurseries. In The 2016 Club Picks, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train demonstrated the range of books discussed. Last year brought back Ann Patchett with Commonwealth. The slate for 2018 has one of my favorites – Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.
Are any of these on your book club list this year?
2018 Book Club Picks
Monthly Meetings (except November and December)
- Handling Sin by Michael Malone
- The Hynotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
- Small Great Things by Jody Picoult
- The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman
- Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
- Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
- American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee
Another Book Club Plans for Half Year at a Time:
- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
- My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian/Between the World and Me by Sherman Alexie/Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal
Greed, betrayal, lust, murder, sibling rivalry, and jealousy – St. Aubyn’s Dunbar shows how Shakespeare is still relevant. Edward St. Aubyn’s Hogarth Shakespeare update of King Lear channels today’s headlines, with the wealthy children salivating at their chance to control the money of their paternal media mogul. If you remember your Shakespeare, one good soul tries to rise above the fray, but Florence has no more luck reining in her two sisters than Cordelia had with Regan and Goneril in King Lear.
This is a tragedy with the expectation of dead bodies littering the stage at the end, but St. Aubyn manages to create hope that the billionaire mogul who had been imprisoned in an isolated sanitarium while his two daughters conspire in a company takeover, will prevail. The eighty year old’s escape into the snowy hills has traces of the St. Aubyn witty banter, sustaining the delusion, and when Florence comes to the rescue in a helicopter and later in her Gulfstream jet, it seems all will be well. If you don’t remember your reading of Lear, I won’t spoil your anticipation, but St. Aubyn manages to make the ending realistic in today’s terms.
Of all the Hogarth translations into contemporary settings, this is my favorite. St. Aubyn has chronicled the life of privilege in his Patrick Melrose novels across five novels, one a Man Booker finalist, and I can think of no one better to expose the painful flaws of the wealthy, including frustrated power and familial resentment. Rupert Murdoch – beware.
It would be fun to dissect St. Aubyn’s version of an old, powerful man losing everything and match it to Shakespeare’s play, but, if you only read the novel as is, St. Aubyn makes a sad tale enjoyable.
In the spirit of great unfinished work – Schubert’s unfinished symphony, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia – an unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain, now titled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, was discovered among Twain’s papers in 2011. Like other unfinished art, contemporary masters often take up the task to finish; in this case, the Newbery Medal winners Philip and Erin Stead provided the art and supplemental text to Twain’s scribbled notes and skeletal outline of a bedtime story he had created for his young daughters over several days.
The story has a little boy on a quest with a chicken and a skunk named Sally. A magic flower when eaten has him able to communicate with animals. The King with a short man complex has banned anyone taller than he is, the willowy Queen sits knitting below his high throne, and someone had kidnapped the Prince. Conversations between Philip Stead and Mark Twain interrupt the action periodically, and Twain’s story ends with the Prince in a cave guarded by dragons.
Erin Stead draws a beautiful assortment of animals in muted watercolors with the chicken and skunk taking on special roles. Her moving portraits of the queen and the boy will remind you of someone you care about.
Recently watching the Mark Twain Prize presented to David Letterman, I thought about Twain’s role in American humor. Twain was well known for mixing his humor with truth; reading Twain can be fun for children and philosophical for adults. Although the action seems a little slow, the Steads completion of this unfinished story adds another piece to Twain’s impressive canon.
The satisfying ending the Steads provide is timely and poignant.
“…the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence, if only mankind could say them once in a while and make them truly meant…
I am glad to know you.”
I went a little crazy yesterday. With all those discounts, free shipping, remarkable book titles, gift wrapping – I could not resist. Books are one size fits all and no worries about gluten or sugar-free horrors. The only other item I could think of as a good gift would be coffee, but not everyone likes coffee – so I sent that to myself.
Some say the Cyber Monday discounts will continue through December, and sometimes get better, but I don’t want to think about that. I’m done.
Tempting books to buy for Christmas gifts:
This is a real book: ” illustrated guide to more than 75 of the world’s most celebrated, rare, and seminal books and handwritten manuscripts ever produced, with discussions of their purpose, features, and creators.”
For arm chair travelers and those who have been everywhere: “an illustrated account of human movement, travel, exploration, and scientific discovery…” from the Smithsonian.
Recipes – sounds like fun for someone else’s kids.
Best to read it before someone makes a musical out of it.
For all your friends reminiscing about another time: “If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her “charming” (Kirkus), behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this!”
Short comments on a few books:
- Love and Other Consolations by Jamie Ford
Another immigrant story – this one centers on a Chinese boy sold at the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair, as he looks back on his life fifty years later at Seattle’s second World’s Fair.
- The Breakdown by B. A. Paris
Finally finished listening to this thriller! I had it on Audible, and found myself increasing the speed when the diary- like texts revealed the collusion. Think “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman being systemstically driven mad by a greedy husband. The surprise is whodunit – not Charles Boyer this time.
- The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg connects three sad souls who find redemption in each other. Arthur has lunch everyday at his wife’s grave, and while imagining the lives under the other headstones, he meets pregnant teenage Maddie whose mother died soon after she was born. After Maddie moves
into Arthur’s big house, his 83 year old next door neighbor Lucille loses an old love (after finding him again after 60 years), and moves in with Arthur too. Full of life lessons and philosophical bon mots, the book is in good company with others having unique names in the title – Penumbra, Fikry, Pettigrew…
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Although I pre-ordered this highly touted coming of age tale of a recent college grad (lit major) who tries to make it in the big city by working as a backwaiter at a high-end restaurant, I could never get into it. Since it was still on my iPhone, I tried again. The book is divided into the four seasons, beginning with Summer. I made it through Autumn and most of Winter before skipping to the end of Spring, following 22-year-old Tess’ initiation into the world of fine dining and hedonism. As she learns the ropes of restaurant work, she falls for bad-boy bartender Jake, and makes her first forays into wine, drugs, lust, betrayal and adulthood. I still think the book is overrated, but I might appreciate it more when Brad Pitt produces the Starz series drama for television.