Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What to know in choosing a good selection



"Choosing good books is, I think, the preeminent work of a discussion group. If you choose well, even when you don't have a brilliant discussion, at least you have the satisfaction of reading something you might otherwise have missed."
This comes from Ellen Slezak, author of "The Book Club Group," published in 1994, in which she lets book club members talk about what keeps them interested.
And they're not just about the food and conversation—although munchies help. (Food at meetings is partly a recognition of the fact that we're busy with work, family and community commitments; members sometimes show up without having eaten dinner. Such dedication deserves to be fed.)
Slezak's book presents essays from group members across the country. Its subtitle is "A Thoughtful Guide to Forming and Enjoying a Stimulating Book Discussion Group." The book is fun to read. Slezak visited groups and solicited essays about membership and book choices, as well as the personal benefits of belonging to a group. She sought to learn what tempts people to set time aside from responsibilities and other forms of entertainment for a book club meeting? Responses were quite different, and very enjoyable.
What were their main concerns and enjoyments?
—Discovering authors and books they otherwise might not have tried;
—Getting to know a group of (mostly) women, and learning to consider their viewpoints;
—Indulging their love for reading with others;
—Learning what makes a book good, to become a more thoughtful reader;
—Remembering that there is life after four-year-olds;
—Getting more people into the library;
—Exploring ideas one doesn't necessarily espouse but is willing to discuss;
—Deferring loneliness or isolation;
—Talking about books as a cure for writer's block;
—Finding a support group for biblioholics.

People come out of their shells as the discussion moves from Point A to Point Z, in no particular order. Something usually interests the non-talkers enough to bring them into the talk. I've also witnessed the reverse, in which a conversation hoarder learns to listen—also welcome.
A writer from Charlottesville, Va., spoke of her group's decision not to solicit male members. "As professional women, we were all painfully aware that even forceful, aggressive, highly paid professional women talked less in the presence of men," she wrote. "A book club discussion was the last discussion we wanted to give men the chance to dominate." This was written two decades ago, but things have changed little. Some men have evolved, but others expect to—shall we say—rule the roost. The writer also pointed out that it was nice to be able to discuss a book from the female perspective without having to explain or defend it.
The adult services librarian at Deerfield Public Library in Chicago discovered that books exploring family relationships brought more people into the conversation. "Books are a way for us to touch each other and explore ourselves in surprising ways," said Martha Sloan. "People feel free to share family secrets and personal longings. In a strange way, books provide the safety of distance, but also are an avenue to our more real lives." Well put.
At a feminist book club in San Jose, Calif., members choose a theme—spiritual, erotica, history, etc.—and members bring in a book in that theme area and talk about it. Members are introduced to several good reads that way, and the topic frees them from "having" to read a specific book that month. That's a godsend in busy lives.
They're dated, but extensive book lists are included. Readers will find a number of commonly selected authors, like Anne Tyler, John Irving, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, E.L. Doctorow, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich. The list is long and an invaluable source of reading choices.
There are also some "rules":
—Don't pick a book about God for your first group meeting. Get to know each other first;
—Don't select books just because you "should;"
—Don't let the conversation stray too far off topic;
—Wait until a book is available in paperback, or the library can order bulk copies;
—Don't give up on a book someone else has suggested—you may wind up loving it;
—It should be obvious, but don't belittle (humorously dismiss, ignore or scorn) someone else's viewpoint.
There you have it. The book is, as it says, a "thoughtful guide" and an excellent reading choice for book groups.
Popular library requests:
Joe Mulé, director of Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, shared a list of most-requested books within the regional inter-library loan system (cw mars) for a week in April. These are favorites not necessarily from book clubs, but clearly popular among readers. They may spark a suggestion for your upcoming meetings: "Fool Me Once" by Harlan Coben; "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi; "15th Affair" by James Patterson; "Private Paris" by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan; "The Last Mile" by David Baldacci; "The Obsession" by Nora Roberts; "My Name is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout; "The Summer Before the War" by Helen Simonson, and "The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.
It's easy to see that borrowers prefer suspense, but there are some good reads on the list, if those don't interest you.
A sequel worth checking:
"After You" by Jojo Moyes, follows "Me Before You," a beautifully written novel about loving someone who is bent on assisted suicide. Moyes remains powerful with the story of what happens to Louisa Clark after the death of a man she loved. It is strong, unpredictable and memorable—and hard to put down.
To emerge from grief, Louisa Clark faces up to Will's last message: "You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
She does, but it isn't an automatic adjustment.
“Think Elizabeth Bennet after Darcy's eventual death; Alice after Gertrude; Wilbur after Charlotte," says Maureen Corrigan of National Public Radio. "The 'aftermath' is a subject most writers understandably avoid, but Moyes has tackled it and given readers an affecting, even entertaining female adventure tale about a broken heroine who ultimately rouses herself and falls in love again, this time with the possibilities in her own future."

Newly published:
"All the Single Ladies," by Rebecca Traister, is subtitled "Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation." Traister writes about "historical triumphs and difficulties experienced by women who rejected heterosexual marriage as a first or easy answer." This is a book sure to give rise to some very interesting conversations in many groups, including women's rights and current political issues.
Club suggestion:
"We just finished 'A Tale for the Time Being' by Ruth Ozeki," said Brenda Yates of Full Court Press Book Club in Sutton. "This had very mixed reviews by the group. The story is very dark and can be rather disturbing. The Japanese culture that the author weaves into the story is very interesting, however the author takes some fairly bizarre twists with the story, which many of us found disconcerting. All in all, it was interesting but strange. If a group wants to read something different that will generate discussion then this might be a good choice."
Classic book recommendation:
Brookfield Library's Classics Book Group recommends two books members "truly enjoyed" this year: Daniel Dafoe's "Robinson Crusoe," their favorite true adventure-style writing, and Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

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