You can add atmospheric fun to meetings with a little time and imagination. If members want to cook the books a little, so to speak, check out butterybooks.com, a site which provides regional or time-period recipes, and much other info compiled for and by book groups. It might seem a little far-fetched, but activities like this add to the experience, helping bring to life setting and activities in a book.
One butterybooks selection, for instance, is “Shantaram,” by Gregory David Roberts. It’s an affecting novel about the choices one makes in life, as well as the decisions that may save it. “Shantaram” is based on the author’s life, so it’s fact-based fiction—real life, thinly disguised. He calls himself “a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison.” His life is amazing, and butterybooks shares recipes based on the book’s atmospheric setting in India, one of three continents where life takes him.
Lest you think the site would choose fluffy books, read this excerpt from “Shantaram”:
“I don’t believe that there are Good men or Bad men. I believe that the deeds we do are Good and Bad, not the men and women who commit them. … I’ve known mafia men who took responsibility for feeding the poor in their district, and I’ve known cops who were ruthlessly cruel. We human beings are just that—human animals with the capacity to do Good or to do Bad—and we all do both, to a greater or lesser degree.”
So if you’d like to discuss freedom, choices and hope—while sipping mango lassi or eating alu palak—this is the opportunity.
For “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan—about the bleak Depression years and blinding dust blizzards of the High Plains—the site suggests German Stewed Apples, a dish commonly made by the settlers on the plains. This book tells the stories of a dozen families, through the rise and fall of the region.
There is a recipe for Strawberry Tarts, mentioned in Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” “The kitchen was sweet with tarts, and some of the berries had boiled over in the oven and burned, making the sharp bitter-sweet smell pleasant and astringent. … There was a quiet rising joy in Lee. It was the joy of change.”
Readers frequently contribute their groups’ ideas, recipes and photographs to the site. (One has to wonder what kind of pie they made for “The Help.”) Some groups are surprisingly dedicated to the idea of bringing a book discussion to life that way, incorporating visual props as well as food at their meeting.
Butterybooks.com references numerous books a club may enjoy, with plot summary, questions for discussion, specific references in the book, suggested recipes and book club ratings for the reading. Even musical background is considered. It’s all pretty cool.
Another book about bookclubs, definitely on my to-read list, is “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe. Sitting at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the author asked his mother, diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and six months to live, “What are you reading?” Thus began a deeply personal exchange of views between them, over two years. They discussed faith, courage and gratitude throughout the course of a wide-ranging selection of books, illustrating the ability of reading to gain comfort and guidance, as well as understanding, in life.
In Hartford, Conn., Mark Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen begins a series of early evening free lectures May 8 at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Based on wildly eclectic correspondence to the author, “Dear Mark Twain” starts at 5 p.m. (lecture at 5:30).
What the groups are doing:
Books, Brews and Banter, meeting at O’Connor’s restaurant on West Boylston Street in Worcester, is open to men and women, and its book selections are “gender neutral.” Members plan to discuss Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller” on Thursday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m. First-timers should look up the group on Meetup (www.meetup.com) to register, as room reservations are made based on number attending. Appetizers, drinks available.
Reading, Sharing and Laughing meets Thursday, May 30, 7 p.m. at Chaibo in Fitchburg. Author Phoebe Baker Hyde will attend to discuss “The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me.” Her book has stirred up some controversy and has been discussed on Katie Couric’s television show and major news outlets. The author will give a short talk and answer questions.
The Women’s Issues Book Group meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday monthly at Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester. Organizer Joan Killough-Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) says for May 13, participants should “read something from the ‘feminist canon.’ We can share what we’ve read, and talk about differences between generations.” Meetings are free, open to anyone interested in discussing the current topic. Worcester chapter of National Organization for Women supports this group. The book selection for June 3 is “Keepsake” by Kristina Riggle.
The Oakridge Bookers of Leicester, residents of a 55-plus community who meet at members’ homes, recommend author Ed Londergan (email@example.com) as a lively guest, having recently hosted him for a discussion of his book, “The Devil’s Elbow,” a coming-of-age story about an incident that occurred in West Brookfield during King Philip’s War. Londergan lived in W. Brookfield before moving to Leicester. He is at work on a sequel.
Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month, 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at www.audiojournal.net. Find the schedule for upcoming books at http://www.audiojournal.net/programming/speaking-volumes. The May 7 selection is “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak; June 4 will consider “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman.