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?
Shared this with my book club. We have several members who choose plot-driven books, and we’re just setting up our new schedule, so this is timely. Thanks for the post.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
One of my book clubs is thinking about next year too.
We had a good discussion about Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng because our discussion leader was well prepared and led us into some areas where there was disagreement, making for a lively conversation. Good post, Rosemary!
Always great when the discussion goes well. I still have to read that book!
Our book group occasionally read/reread childhood classics like Alice in Wonderland and Little Women. Those who remembered reading them before usually found more in the books now — and sometimes were surprised by their reactions. Those who had not read them as children were happy to repair an omission. Plus you have plenty to talk about regarding what books are right for children.
What a great idea! Thanks for the tip.
SilverSeason, love this idea!
I enjoyed this post, Rosemary. It helps me better understand how best to pick a book for a book group to discuss. Controversial endings or endings that keep you guessing and upset (like Gone Girl) make for a good discussion.
You were my inspiration (from our discussion yesterday).
I agree, ambiguous endings are great for discussion.
Thank you for, “Nightbird”, by Alice Hoffman. This was a refreshing relief from adult literature often filled with sordid violence. I felt innocent again!
So glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s fun to suspend belief.
Rosemary, thanks for coming to our AAUW lunch as our speaker on Saturday. I have enjoyed your reviews for some time because Suzanne had mentioned you a few months ago. I am also a former English teacher who mainly taught juniors and seniors in high school. I have always loved reading and the NYTimes book review and other magazines are good sources to find interesting new reads. I also belong to Nancy Drew Sleuths and went to their convention in 2012. I have a small collection of girls series books, mainly from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. I am still reading the second Jane a Smiley book, up to the Vietnam War now. I still think A a Thousand Acres was one of her best books, though. Thanks again for your talk and all your reviews. Dee Radcliffe
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Dee, Great to meet you too, and thanks for your support and good wishes. I did not know about the Nancy Drew Sleuths or its convention. Sounds like a good idea for future travel to me. Now that you and my old East Coast pal have both endorsed the Smiley trilogy, I guess I will give it a try.