Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Group Ideas

I have been in my current book group for more than six years now. In that time we have read dozens and dozens of books. Every May we gather and choose our books for the coming year. Unfortunately, my reading is WAY down this year. I haven't updated by sidebar list for weeks and weeks and never did my 2013 reading wrap up.

Nothing like full time work to really send your priorities out of whack, I know.

Anyway, as our annual "book sell" comes up (you bring 2-3 books you think the group would like, give your pitch and then the group chooses which to read), I find myself a bit stuck. Whether by design or accident I have emerged as a leader in the group, and they usually pick what I sell. This puts enormous pressure on me to make good choices. My three picked this year were: Great Expectations (great, as expected); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a wonderful conversation) and The Screwtape Letters (epic fail).

Here are some of my thoughts for this year . . . though I'm looking for other recommendations too.

1.  A Wrinkle in Time. One young adult book is usually chosen and I think this would be fantastic. I have tried to sell it before and it fell flat. On the other hand, several people have told me that if I did try to sell it this year they would vote for it after a very mixed reception to Tuck Everlasting. Don't you love the background intrigue?

2.  The Rent Collector. I don't know anything about this except that my sister recommended it; I doubt I have time to finish it before the end of the month. I was less than enamored by the Shadow Mountain Publication (an arm of Deseret Book) because I'm skittish about LDS novels like that. Also, our group tends to like stuff they can get at the library. This would not be one of those.

3.  The Poisonwood Bible. Read in my Texas book club about 10 years ago. I remember really enjoying this book but wonder if it might be too . . . edgy . . . for this current group. I know--the book isn't really edgy--but this group definitely isn't.

4.  A Separate Peace. Such a weird, dark novel of unhealthy and yet necessary friendships. I loved this book once upon a time. Another young adult novel though certainly not feel-good.

5.  The Chosen. Too cerebral, maybe? I don't know; it is such a lovely book with cool insights into modern Judaism.

I want to read Steinbeck but it is definitely too edgy and nobody wants to do Austen. In the past I've sold (and we read) The Help, The Potato Pie Society book with the absurdly long title, Rebecca, The Good Earth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Goose Girl, Tess of the Dubervilles, Ethan Frome, Mrs. Mike . . . there are more, but I'm trying to get YOU to do the thinking here!


Sherry said...

This is tough because of the lack of edginess in your book group. I've been in a book group for almost a year now, and I've hardly made it to any discussions. (This is due to the meetings being held the night Eric had classes. I could take the kids, but since they normally go to bed around the time book group starts, it's been challenging. Next semester Eric's schedule is more conducive to me attending book group (and less conducive to me doing anything else ever). Anyway, a few that we've read that people have liked:
Nurtureshock - It's one that you can just read parts of and still have something interesting to discuss. It's non-fiction but is an easy read.

The Apothecary's Daughter was popular in the group.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was one I liked (but it was not for book group).

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix was well-liked in the book group.

And I haven't met a single person who has read The Wednesday Wars and hasn't loved it. Its quasi-sequel Okay for Now was also awesome.

Melanie said...

I loved The Poisonwood Bible (it inspired the idea that became my Master's thesis), but it's looooong. Would your group actually read it?

My group is reading I am Malala this month. Half the Sky would also be a fabulous book club read.

What about Crossing to Safety? It's been years since I've read it, so I don't remember if there's anything that would upset a super conservative group, but I think the book's themes would inspire tons of conversation.

I love The Chosen; I don't remember many of the specifics, but I remember being fascinated with the book as a teenager. It's definitely time for a re-read.

Shauna Niequist's Bread and Wine is excellent and has ideas that would make for good discussion.

Others that I've read and think would make for a good discussion: The Snow Child, Code Name Verity, Life After Life, Cry the Beloved Country, These Is My Words, Cold Mountain (one of my absolute favorites but violent), Wonder, Nothing to Envy, First They Killed My Father, HHhH: A Novel, Quiet, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Night, Peace Like a River.

FoxyJ said...

I feel like I have a similar situation with my book group--I've been attending for about five years now. It was started by a friend of mine a year or two before that, so the main thing that holds us all together is the fact that we're friends with the founder. Lately we've been having a problem of people not reading the books or not talking about them at book club, and people are too polite not to complain about it. We also have a weird mix of people, some of whom are uncomfortable with things that are too dark or sad, and some who don't mind that at all. Anyways, some books that have worked for us:

Nurtureshock--great discussion

Seabiscuit--surprisingly good and we all really enjoyed it

The Wednesday Wars--great book and a great discussion

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett--has a wee bit of 'edgy stuff' but everyone liked it

Maphead by Ken Jennings--pretty funny and has fun trivia in it

Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman--a YA-level biography of Charles Darwin and his marriage--really fascinating reading

These is My Words by Nancy Turner (a little bit of dark stuff at the beginning, but otherwise good)

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

At Home by Bill Bryson

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Matched by Ally Condie

The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis

That's a lot of suggestions--sorry, I work in a library and can't help myself :)

Desmama said...

Dude, what happened with The Screwtape Letters?

Science Teacher Mommy said...

This is very helpful. We've only actually read a few of these--Peace Like a River (mine, fell a little flat, sorry Desmama you introduced me to that book and I love it), and These is My Words (which everyone loved and I felt a little indifferent). The thing is that we have quite a large, eclectic group and it can really vary from month to month. One of the best discussions we ever had was over The Light Between Oceans last fall (fueled by my food from Oz), but two years ago our Cry, The Beloved Country discussion devolved into some horrific conversation about lazy black people in the south. Really.

Mostly it is good. With the Screwtape Letters . . . not everyone finished. Some found the subject matter distasteful. The discussion of evil was very black and white. Many complained that they had a hard time understand the verbiage in the book. It was maybe just too subtle. Probably no Heart of Darkness this year. :)

Your suggestions are wonderful. I hope I spend plenty of the summer reading.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Like Desmama, I’m stunned that Screwtape fell flat. I think it’s such a brilliant, enjoyable, thought-provoking little book.

The book group I’m in does a semi-annual “book sell” like you’ve described. I happened into one of those meetings by accident (I coincidentally stopped by to talk to the hostess, unaware they were even having a meeting), and they asked if I had any books to recommend. I suggested my perennial favorite “Garlic and Sapphires,” then to my surprise they picked it and I found myself slated to host a group I didn’t even belong to the day before. I’ve been attending ever since.

My group really enjoyed discussing Stephanie Nielson’s memoir “Heaven Is Here,” which I think might work well for your group. We’re discussing Fascinating Womanhood next month, which could be veeeery interesting.

Desmama said...

We just finished A Year of Biblical Womanhood for our book group and I have to say, I just loved it. It turned out to be so enjoyable and funny and thought-provoking and it helped me, oddly, understand the Bible better, I think. She doesn't quote just from the KJV but draws from various translations and once I got used to it, I found that I enjoyed it. She tackles some of the tougher passages with grace and wit, and I felt like I came away appreciating a lot of what the Bible does (and doesn't) say about being a woman. Such a great read. Even if you can't sell it, read it yourself. I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Feisty Harriet said...

I read The Rent Collector was okay. Honestly, the documentary move the book was based on is FAR superior to the book, and the major theme of the book (literacy is better than any other alternative) is better illustrated in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. (Also, one of my BFFs is the older brother of the documentary maker, and the oldest son of the author of Rent Collector, and even that bias didn't rectify the book for me.)

What about My Name is Asher Lev instead of The Chosen? Steinbeck is too edgy? What about The Winter of our Discontent? It's not as dark as some of his other stuff and was one of our best book discussions.

I also think Crossing to Safety has some wonderful themes in it, we had a good discussion on that as well.


Shiree said...

I'm the one that recommended Cry, The Beloved Country. Such a beautiful book that the group didn't get!!! I also can't imagine people not liking The Screwtape Letters....but I guess I know your audience, so it makes a little sense. I think most of the books I loved, they didn't. Do you still have your secret, underground book group going?