Discovering National Reading Group Month was October hasn’t kept me from ordering some off their list of favorite books for book clubs in November. With their mission to encourage groups to read and discuss books, the Women’s National Book Association has conveniently listed books for “Great Group Reads.” You can find the complete list with links to book reviews and summaries – here:
I’ve ordered Pachinko
“When Sunja, the unmarried, pregnant daughter of a fisherman and an innkeeper agrees to marry a kind but sickly minister heading from Korea to Japan instead of becoming the mistress of the wealthy married man whose child she carries, she chooses a life in exile that will affect her family on through the generations.”
– a finalist for the National Book Award to be announced later in November.
Other National Award Finalists for this year include:
- Dark at the Crossing by Elliott Ackerman
- The Leavers by Lisa Ko
- Her Body and Other Parts by Carmen Maria Machado
- Sing, Unburied Sing by Jasmyn Ward
The Broke and Brookish suggestion to list books for a book club discussion had me reviewing my reading and thinking about what I would like to discuss. One of my book clubs is about to reveal the list of books for 2017 at their annual luncheon in November; books are chosen by the person hosting the discussion but must be readily available in the library. Another smaller group picks books bimonthly at the end of each meeting – sometimes newer books not yet in the library system and one none of us have read. Constantly looking for another book to read, book lists are like candy to me. I devour them instantly and want more.
Here is my short list (with links to my reviews) but there are so many more…
Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
The Many by Wyl Menmuir
The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Door by Magda Szabó
Waterstones bookstore on Princes Street in Edinburgh has the ambiance of those venues I fondly remember. Four stories of books, comfy big chairs in nooks in the stacks, and a coffee shop with plenty of tables and chairs. The free wifi is a bonus, and a display of Gabaldon’s “The Fiery Cross,” reassuring. Big carryall bags proudly proclaim their philosophy:
“Words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop. Ironically.”
A group of ladies at a nearby table were sipping tea and discussing a book, with a few forays into their personal lives. Although I tried, my eavesdropping could not reveal the name of the book. Later, when I browsed the store’s piles of books, I found Fiona McFarlane’s “The Night Guest” proudly displaying the sticker – W Book Club. Of course, I bought it and am now reading it to scare me to sleep at night.
“In an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, Ruth, a widow…lives alone. Until one day a stranger, Frida, shows up…announcing she has been sent to be Ruth’s caregiver….(After a while), Ruth senses a tiger prowling through the house at night. Is she losing her wits? Can she trust Frida? ….can she trust herself?”
I can’t wait to find out.
Discussing a book at the library – what a novel idea. Children’s story time has long been popular at local libraries, but adults – sometimes strangers – gathering to dissect a popular book is the anomaly rather than the rule. Yet, what better place to talk about books – among books – provided you can find a corner where the librarian will not shush the voices.
In my travels through California, I found an article in the local newspaper announcing two library venues for book discussions – both midweek and in the morning, so readers must not be among the working group. The local calendar in the newspaper included a discussion of “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson and another of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I haven’t read either book yet, but I have been to book club discussions where that doesn’t matter so much. Somehow, one in the library seems to require some preparation, but maybe I’ll just stop by to listen.
Have you been to a book club discussion at a library?
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.”
But 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.