Want to bring more to the meeting than crackers and cheese? How about a little more prep for the actual discussion? One can easily obtain all sorts of information about books, authors, criticism and analysis by reading books or researching online. This collection of sources is mainly, but not exclusively, printed material—available through the interlibrary loan system (https://cmars.cwmars.org).
“Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those who Want to Write Them,” by Francine Prose, stands up well six years after its publication. Prose, a writing instructor and author of two dozen books (fiction, non-fiction and children’s), includes a list of challenging titles for reading groups, and reviews themes and aspects of writing we can look for while reading books. Citing examples from published work, she discusses such elements as storytelling, character, dialogue and style. This book is simply well written—not didactic or academic in style.
“Reading Group Choices” is an annual publication with selections for lively book group choices among titles published the year before. Written with book clubs in mind, this book offers questions to stimulate discussion and help in making selections. Editor is Charlie Mead. Writers run the gamut from Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Antonya Nelson and Barbara Kingsolver to Mary Kay Andrews, Rebecca Wells and Anchee Min, Ken Follet, Dave Eggers and Lorrie Moore. (Just for fun: One book recommended in the 2011 edition is “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession.” I know, sounds like all of us. It’s a non-fiction look at John Charles Gilkey, who stole rare books—not to resell, but for his own collection. Author is Allison Hoover Bartlett.)
“The Reading Group Handbook,” by Rachel Jacobsohn, reviews what a book club can be from start to present. It covers choosing members, organizing the group, “Rachel’s Rules of Order,” the art of discussion, member-led vs. professionally led groups, locations and types of book groups, and more lists of “enduring books.” There are extensive reading lists. Jacobsohn, who says “Reading groups are not just all the rage, they are our hope for a better future,” includes many sources for review information and details on how to get books for the group at a discount.
“The Mother-Daughter Book Club,” by Shirleen Dodson, suggests ways to improve the mother-daughter bond through books that both will enjoy and share through discussion.
“The Book Lover’s Guide to the Internet,” by Evan Morris, reveals a proliferation of online connections for readers groups, including the American Library Association, bookwire.com, individual publisher and author pages, online library services, and links to criticism and magazine articles related to books. Many review publications are published online, some by subscription only. They include booklistonline.com (free), The Women’s Review of Books, Reader’s Advisor, the Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews (free).
“The New York Public Library Guide to Reading Groups,” by Rollene Saal, is also updated regularly, and features aspects of getting a group under way, finding good selections, and library resources. There’s also advice on how to read a book, how to have a lively discussion and how other reading groups are conducting their meetings. There are 38 lists to help select reading, by topic, including short stories, the Holocaust, classics, ethnic writers, “hip” writers, women’s interest, magic realism, science fiction, travel, ghost stories and much more.
This helps choose selections, by better informing readers about types of writing.
Women’s fiction, for example, tries to tell readers about a woman’s journey, offering a way to learn and grow, and to relate to others what it is to be a woman. Examples: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, Sandra Dallas’, “Prayers for Sale,” and “Not My Daughter” by Barbara Delinsky.
Literary fiction (the kind that wins all the awards) focuses more on how the story is told, through techniques like style and narrative voice. Examples: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” and “The Weight of Water” by Anita Shreve.
Magic realism involves a subject that, while based in situations and actions that are not quite believable, still manages to convince the reader of a greater truth—fantasy set in the real world, one might say. Example: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”Read It and Reap is published monthly in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette. Ann Connery Frantz writes fiction and would love to hear from book group members at firstname.lastname@example.org.