Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer rejuvenation for readers

It's the season of summer reading, and many book clubs take a hiatus, with the intention of reading for pure fun, or future discussion, during the warm months. Gone is the imperative to finish a book before the next monthly meeting. Instead, folks will relax with a book they’ve been meaning to read for months—but couldn’t manage to squeeze between club reads. Or they’ll grab up a potboiler paperback they don’t mind getting a little wet while reading at the pool.
When your group has chosen its readings for late summer or fall, share with us by sending an e-mail to my address, at the end of this column. Let us know the reason for your selections as well, and feel free to send in club updates to be shared. New groups in the central Massachusetts region are also asked to check in!
Writer Hollis Shore of Lancaster facilitates a reading group specifically for writers. The Thayer Memorial Library sponsors this group, which meets every month, beginning in September, from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday. Members read and discuss a book chosen by Shore, looking at it from a writer’s perspective, with an eye toward writing style, effectiveness, imagery, and other writing methods. There are male and female members, who write everything from poetry to memoir, to fiction and nonfiction. Fall selection will be announced soon. For more information contact Nancy Clune, assistant director of Thayer Memorial Library at 978-368-8928, e-mail Shore at Hollisplus@yahoo.com.
Summer also affords time for exploring new sources of information—and books. Here are a few sources that may prove helpful to readers.
Library Thing, http://www.librarything.com/, is an online community rating, reviewing and passing out books. A clear list of blogs is in use on this 1.5 million-member book group site. And, since there’s power in numbers, the site includes information on where to get free books from publishers, and features giveaway contests as well. Subgroups at librarything break up into dozens of discussion groups, ranging from scifi to children’s books, history, crime, even a group for librarians.
Another innovative way to share and obtain books, for free, is available through bookcrossing.com, a site quite unlike any I’ve seen. It’s a great place to spend a little of that free time this summer. At bookcrossing, members can label a book with its own club i.d., which enables whoever gets it to log in and say where it is now. There are agreed-upon book drop sites, mail exchanges from titles listed on the site, and even something dubbed “wild release.” (We’ve all done it: leaving a book at a Starbucks or coffee house with collection space.) It’s fun to watch your book travel, and obtain some free ones yourself.
Don’t ignore publishers, either.
There are lots of free e-books out there, serving as marketing tools, but publishers’ web sites also offer innovative services to book club readers.
ENC Press (www.encpress.com) offers downloadable pdfs of books in the public domain (copyrited before 1923). There are some gems. Currently, ENC is offering F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Life of Benjamin Bean,” (not at all like the movie starring Brad Pitt), and “The Lost World,” a classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Knopfdoubleday.com offers reading groups its own section on their site, with book excerpts, author interviews and now and then a free book. Better yet, the site offers clubs a connection to set up a phone meeting with a Vintage or Anchor Press author, including writers such as Sue Miller, Julia Glass, Ann Packer, Jane Smiley, John Vaillant.
They’re hardly alone. Random House, Penguin Books all offer author interviews, tickets to book events, freebies and chat rooms. HarperCollins.com offers many guides for book groups to use in discussion, or reading, ranging from ethnic topics to biographies, history, the classic writers, contemporary fiction, mother-daughter relationships, nonfiction, spirituality, etc.
These sites also offer free books occasionally to market an author’s latest book. At Bantam Dell, for instance, home to John Grisham, Dean Koontz and Lisa Gardner, offers a chance to win Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce (“Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”) mystery, and clues New York City area readers to a special Nov. 17 evening with noted mystery writers.
You just never know what you’ll find. Check out your favorite author’s site as well, for possibilities like free books, fun give-aways and opportunities to have that author talk with your club by Skype or phone, or even in person, next season. For example, Alexander McCall Smith, author of an intriguing (and humorous) collection of mysteries set in Botswana (“The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency” series) will appear at the Boston Book Festival Oct. 27. His site lists that and other appearances, background, interviews, and more about his popular books (http://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/).
Ann Connery Frantz writes from Lancaster. Contact her at ann.frantz@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A flub leads to book suggestions

The inspiration for this column came from clubs—and a flub.
The first is obvious: there are some interesting area groups that haven’t been mentioned, and should be. Because they may interest readers, I present them here.
The “flub” relates to a March 25 column which briefly mentioned a nonfiction book, “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much,” about a rare books thief. Unfortunately, the “thief” I named was Ken Sanders, instead a rare books dealer and former security chairman for the Antiquarian Booksellers Assn. of America—who actually helped apprehend the thief. Ah, dear. I put the mea in culpa, and couldn’t say “sorry” fast enough. I also asked Sanders, who says he’s had more than one chuckle about the mistake, to share some selections T&G area clubs might want to consider. His tips follow the club info.
The Spiritual Book Club meets in Westborough at Tatnuck Book Store, 18 Lyman St. Members are invited to meet beforehand for dinner, at 5 p.m. in the Tatnuck Café. They discuss their book from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in the events room. Members consider life-changing books that help readers gain insight on themselves, their relationships, and their spirituality. Members read one or more chapters during the meeting, then share insights and perspectives, eliminating the need to read at home. New members, both male and female, are invited, member Jacki Rose says. There are already some male members.
The group has begun Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now,” with remaining discussions slated for Tuesdays, May 29, June 5 and 12, and again on Mondays, June 18 and 25. Next, the group will begin Lynne Robinson’s book on intuition, “Listen.”
Leominster’s Reading, Sharing and Laughing meets at Chaibo, a Fitchburg coffee house. Toni Morrison’s writings will be the topic for the group’s 7 p.m., June 27 meeting. For specifics (or to join), contact Heather Munkacsy at: http://www.meetup.com/Reading-Sharing-and-Laughing.
Members meet the last Wednesday of the month, “except when we do field trips or movie night,” Munkacsy said. “We once read “Dark Tide,” about the molasses flood in Boston's North End. We took a tour of the North End, discussing the book while eating yummy Italian food at a North End restaurant.” They plan to read “Little Women” and tour the Alcott House in Concord, followed by discussion at a Concord café.
“We watched Eat, Pray Love at a member's house a few months after reading the book,” she said. “Attendees brought Italian, Indonesian or Indian food. We've also gone to see Water for Elephants and The Help, which we read prior to watching the movies.”

Summer reading is often light or funny in nature. An earlier read: ‘My Fair Lazy’ by Jen Lancaster (a funny account of escaping reality TV addiction).

Northborough Metaphysical Book Club, formed last month, focuses on personal growth, spiritual beliefs and teachings. The group is reading Deepak Chopra’s “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” with a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 5, in the Northborough Free Library, 34 Main St. For details, call the library, 508-393-5025, or contact organizer Harry Kroner at www.meetup.com.
 And now, Ken Sanders’ list: “Here are just a few observations on books I've read the past few years that have stuck with me,” he writes. “No particular theme, or order; fiction and non-fiction intertwined. As I'm in the rare and used book business, I often don't stumble across an author or actually read a particular book until long after its pub (publication) date. In some instances, decades!”
Wendell Berry. “Kentucky poet farmer, essayist and novelist, Wendell Berry writes extremely well in any genre and is one of our most important authors.” He suggests: “Nathan Coulter,” “Hannah Coulter” (novels), “The Unsettling of America,” “The Gift of Good Land” (essays) and “The Mad Farmer Poems” and “Leavings” (poetry).

Charles Bowden. “Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America.” Blood Orchid is first in a trilogy as “original and hard-hitting examinations of America and Americans. Not for the faint of  heart.” Other titles include “Blues for Cannibals” and “Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing.” Sanders describes Bowden, a former Tucson-based journalist, as “the most fearless literary voice in America today.” He also suggests: “Killing the Hidden Waters,” “Red Line,” “Desierto,” and “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez.”
Peter Bowman. “Blood Red, the first anti-war novel published after the war in November of 1945. A prose poem really, this novel is written in two-page pairings, ending with an aphorism, and with each stanza intending to represent one minute in real time in a Pacific beach invasion during the war.” This book, he says, “makes Norman Mailer's ‘The Naked and the Dead’ read like a children's fairy tale. Despite being a Book of the Month Club main selection, the book has not been reprinted to date, and never appeared in paperback.” He calls it “a book ahead of its time.”

Scott Carrier. “Running After Antelope” and “A Prisoner of Zion.” Sanders says: “Quirky sometime-NPR  journalist (This American Life, The Friendly Man), has only published two slender volumes of stories, but they're worth seeking out. (He) has a voice and a viewpoint unlike any other in radio.”

Michael Chabon. “The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.” “Although a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Chabon's fictional account of the birth of the comic book industry in America, and the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s may well be the best history yet written on that subject.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón. “The Shadow of the Wind.” A Barcelona-set biblio-mystery involving a ‘forgotten’ library and an even more obscure author and his forgotten novels. Old world, romantic, mysterious, brooding and intriguing.”

What’ is your group going to read next season? Share your choices by contacting me at ann.frantz@gmail.com.

This column, about  Central Massachusetts book clubs and books, is published the last Sunday of each month in the Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Clubs are welcome to comment or ask questions here or to ann.frantz@gmail.com.