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.
When 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?
In Lynn Neary’s article for NPR – Now You’re Talking! The Year’s Best Book Club Reads – 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:
Rules of Civility
What will you be talking about next year?
“Making suggestions for your book club can be gratifying — or terrifying. If everyone loves the book, you’re a hero. On the other hand, if your pick is a turkey, it takes a while to live it down…people who join book clubs usually do like to read, and they are always looking for that perfect book that will please everyone…” from Lynn Neary for NPR
Lynn Neary covers All Things Books for National Public Radio and suggests five “conversation starters” for this year:
One of my book clubs has Secret Daughter scheduled for a January discussion.
Another group is reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Whenever I think of book clubs, I remember a New Yorker cartoon that has a bereft reader complaining that she was asked to leave the discussion because she had read the book. Most book club participants come for a discussion (whether or not it’s about the book), but many also come for the food. In The Book Club Cook Book, Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp offer both – lists of books nominated by book clubs across the country with appropriate recipes to inspire discussion.
Although no questions are included, the authors do include a short summary of each book and a book club profile that offers insights into how the club facilitated discussion. The recipes sometimes seemed forced but with good intentions – Swedish Pancakes for Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water; others obvious – Honey Cake for The Secret Life of Bees. Most seem too complicated for the tea and cookies club crowds.
The best part of this book is the 100 titles in the table of contents. I had a great time checking off the books I’d already read, and found a few I could add to my wish list. The book was published in 2004, but you might still find a few to read. Here’s a sample…
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and CLay
- Angle of Repose
- Bee Season
- Daughter of Fortune
- Devil in the White City
- The Emperor of Ocean Park
- The Hours
- The Kite Runner
- Motherless Brooklyn
- Pope Joan
The authors offer more in a recent update called Table of Contents that takes a different approach. The focus is on fifty authors – James Patterson, Lisa See, and Eleanor Lipman, and more. The recipes are from the authors – some draw from their favorite restaurants – with a short introduction on their motivation for writing. Gelman and Krupp also conveniently list the all the authors’ book titles with each entry.
Both books are primarily cookbooks, with some recipes worth a try, and the added ingredient of some good book referrals.
Related Post: The Book Club with Just One Member