Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plan a Book Before you Leap

I need a book recommendation. But not just any book. I am very specific. I've been wanting to be a part of a book group for a long time. Now, here it is for my true time confession. I've never actually been to a book group/club in my life. But I've always dreamed of it. I've heard women talking about theirs, I've read blogs mentioning them, and I have a little dream in my heart of what it would mean to me to once a month gather with other women, food (I'm just not going to pretend to be healthy) and a nice discussion about my favorite hobby.

But. But. (I can't write a complete sentence. Moving on.) But.

I've never belonged to one, and I've just always hoped that one would start up around me, or that I would move into a ward with one (since they always seem organized through wards), and then I could join it, and my memories would become golden hued with mature conversations and dainty treats. Also in my fertile imagination, I see this book group, this rose-tinged paradise reading good books. Not just fluffy-de-fluffy. Nor always boring (ok, so I'm trying to like them) non fiction. Nor even, although they have a lot of worth, religious books. No, I see reading good books, well written books, dare I say, even literary books - but not the pretentious kind that Oprah hacks on her show, with the special book club editions where they come and are hailed as amazing fiction today, and then sent to the used book store to languish in their overblown writing tomorrow. (Don't worry, I know I have way too many expectations for a book club).

I want books that were overlooked in high school and college, that can be a little stark, yet life affirming, but still not leave you feeling deflated at the end, some books with happy endings, and others with "life" endings, but all books with sentences that roll around in your mind and are a pleasure to remember.

Books such as:

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
Oh, Pioneers, Willa Cather
The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse (see, I don't even have to love the book (unlike most of these on my list, which I do love.) I also accept books that make me think a lot. Sometimes books you don't like or agree with can be more moving than ones you do).

There can be some non fiction on the list:
Late Night Thoughts on Listening: Directions to Mahler's Ninth Symphony, Lewis Thomas
A Midwife's Tale, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Today during a Visiting Teaching lunch extravaganza, I mentioned my dream of someday finding a book group to join, and someone suggested, "Why don't you start one yourself?" Honestly the answer to this is fear. I'm afraid that somehow I'll find a group of women who only want to read the exact books I don't want to (lots of good but difficult for me to read Church non fiction, super fluffy modern books (cough, Twilight - not that I have a problem with this genre - I just don't feel a need to discuss these books as much. I want books that stretch you in some way.)), or that we'll meet once, and people will think that reading books for a meeting is lame, and that will also be our last meeting. Or worse, what if we all get together, and we don't know how to have a successful book group? What makes the difference between an unsuccessful conversation and a successful one? One on one I find it very easy to discuss a book, or any topic, but how do you do so in a group? And unless it's a very controversial book, or some people loved it, and others hated it, what do we talk about?

However, everyone else asked, "Yeah, how come you don't just start one?" And I have already decided that this year I'm not going to avoid things just because they're hard, and I'm lazy, so I decided that why don't I. So I am. And we're going to meet in March, as soon as I figure out how to make an events page in Facebook, and (this is where you come in) what book we're going to read. We (the women at the group today, some of whom were pretty interested in a group) thought that taking turns hosting it, and the host picking the book for the month would work well (yes? No?). That way everyone wouldn't be stuck in my version of "good" books for forever, and I also wouldn't have to host it every month. So, since I'm going to host the first month, which I want to have in March, I need to think of a book post haste pronto.

I've identified the sort of book I want to start this book group (do we need a name? Do book groups have names? We thought we could call it the Super Secret Pompous Book Group. It sounds really nice and inviting, huh?), but the only problem with the foregoing list is I've read every book on it - that's how I know I love them/thought a lot after reading them/they're well written. Note that none of these books are fantasy. I love fantasy, but for some reason, I don't want to pick a fantasy book to read. Anyway, so, I was wondering, what good books, that are like the proceeding books, could I do? If any of you belong to book groups, what books have you liked/made you think? Of course, I know with taking turns picking books, other women might have a completely different idea of what sorts of books they want to read. That's fine with me - I also like broadening my horizons. But for the very first, auspicious meeting, I wanted to pick a book that would resonate with my visions of book groups.

I started my search at the 100 top voted books by BBC (that I recently blogged about), since I figured it could move us out of the default American Book club choices. These books looked interesting:

Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulk
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute (now that is a British name)
The Shell Seekers, by Rosamund Pilcher.

Can any of you recommend any of these books?Do you have any other book in mind that would be great? I also, because I'm picky, want a book that is about PG-13 or higher (That's why I didn't put Posession on the list - I really enjoyed the writing in the book, and the themes, but it dealt a little to much with sexuality to want to sit around and discuss it.) Also, if you've belonged to a good book group, what made it so? Did your meeting have a specific format, with addressed questions (I always see questions at the back of certain types of books, for book groups to consider), or was it more of a free for all conversation?

Please, save a drowning hopeful bibliophile!


  1. You could try one of the less-read Jane Austen novels, such as Persuasion. If I thought there was half of hope of it actually happening, I'd suggest Michelle West's Hunter duology, but it's a duology, it's long, it's high fantasy, and not everyone can deal with frequently changing viewpoints. Not to mention that they can be hard to find.

    Once the book group is more established, maybe something by Terry Pratchett? (I know that doesn't help you right now.)

    Rebecca might be a good choice, although I haven't read it in a very long time. Most of the books I can think of are young adult fantasy--Beauty, Lirael from the Abhorsen trilogy, or even A Wrinkle in Time. Maybe some Shakespeare? Something like King Lear or Julius Caesar?

  2. Our last ward had a book club that I went to occasionally and loved. We met once a month and rotated who hosted. Whoever hosted chose the book, which I liked since I read several books that I might not have otherwise. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was the last one we read and I loved it. We also read The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein, A Train to Potevka, The Hiding Place, Island of the Blue Dolphins. My mind is blanking right now and you've probably read all of those.
    My friend has compiled a HUGE list of several book clubs reading lists. I can send it to you if you want...assuming I can find it. Let me know if you want it and I will ask her for it.

  3. I've never been in a book club. I'm not sure. I agree with a lot of what you said, though. Lately I find myself choosing juvenile literature because I know I won't find any garbage in it. Isn't that lame? But I would so love to find a good adult book without any junk in it. I love books that stretch me.
    I do have 2 ideas for you, though. In college I read 2 different books that made me think a lot and made good discussion pieces. First was Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the other was Pygmalion. Not sure if this is what you're thinking of, but they are both really good books (even if they're pretty old). Whatever you decide on, I'd like to know what you'll be reading and follow along! :)

  4. Two that I've read for book club and enjoyed were The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. The Alchemist is maybe "purposefully deep" if that makes sense, but I enjoyed it, and enjoyed discussing it. The Glass Castle is a memoir that reads like a novel, and was my pick. It's maybe a strong PG-13 (Language, which, to my justification, was completely authentic to the particular character. And, it's a memoir, so the quotes have to be correct, right?) The Glass Castle ended up being one of our best discussions.

    We do the rotating hosting, and the host picks the book, and it works well. People just choose the month they want, there's no set order. I am only a sometimes-member, just because of the time thing, I'm already gone every Wed. for YW activities, and can't have too many extra curricular activities where Todd has to have Oliver all evening.

    Good luck with your book club! It's hard to believe you've never been in one!

  5. The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett.
    The Host, by Stephanie Meyer (nothing like Twilight - love this book).
    Pretty much anything by C.S. Lewis.
    Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson (it's fantasy of course, but some fairly deep themes, in my opinion).
    Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card.

    I'm doing a super informal book club with a friend or two where we get together and discuss what we're reading, trade books, and thereby read books outside our usual comfort zone.

  6. A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Still one of my favorites.

    Peter Pan by JM Barrie. A classic.

    The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham.

    Lastly, but definitely not least, but probably one of the top three books for me, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

    Another one of the top three, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Probably the top. No joke. It also fits the at least pg-13 list.

  7. I think you've read The Glass Castle, but if you haven't then I am more than up for that read again. Excellent book.

  8. I love the book Gilead but many people would find it boring I'm afraid. The main character is reminiscing and it doesn't have a fast-paced plot.

    So never mind. lol

    A lot of people seem to like that potato peel book. I've heard good things.

    I think O Pioneers! or My Antonia would be good. Maybe the plots are a little slow, but the details about life back then would interest most people. And those books have lots of parts to open up discussions.

  9. Okay, here are books that I would want to do as a bool club, because I would love to hear other's opinions:

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian
    Sherman Alexie
    I Am the Messenger
    Markus Zusak

    Those two are similar to Catcher in the Rye language wise. But I really liked the message of the second.

    I'd second The Host, Stephenie Meyer.

    Dracula, Bram Stoker. Tess D'ubervilles, Thomas Hardy.
    Most any Dickens.

    Ohmigoodness, I almost completely forgot!

    Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins! What I wouldn't give to talk about that book!

    And I'll also say, anything by Shannon Hale, because I adore her, and her books.
    I began with Princess Academy.

    And, I will leave you with that.

  10. What Kim said. Also, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and Siddartha (can't remember who wrote that). I have read very little contemporary fiction so not sure what to recommend in that category. I am more into genre fiction. However, some really interesting books that I ate up were the ones by Edward Rutherford, The Forest, Princes of Ireland and London: The Novel. They weren't purely PG b/c things happened in them that were not so nice but they are history books, although written in a highly palatable way. In other words, there is nothing gratuitious about them. Is there murder and harlots? Yes, but they are referred to, not "watched" as they happened for the most part. Lots of politics, religion, history and social history to discuss in these books.

  11. I've heard good things about Hunger Games, but I haven't read it. My first book club experience was Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. It was an amazing journey. By the time it's over, you've loved, you've hated, you've reassesed everything you thought you knew, and have thrown the book across the room at least once. It made for good conversation. It's on Oprah's list, but I think you may like it.

    My book club also really raved about the Big Stone Gap series (I think it's called) but that was right when Sydney died so I missed those.

    I think there were to things that made our book club successful.

    1 - We found books that appealed to a wide range of people (weren't too deep or too fluffly).

    2 - The hostess needs to be able to guide the conversation well.

    I'm sure you'll do a great job.

  12. Pompous, eh? Well...when *I* was on Mount Sinai....

    But seriously, when I was in a book group in my first married ward, we read Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns and These is my words by Nancy Turner. I LOVED. THEM. I think you will, too. I won't say too much because I don't want to spoil them for you.

    I have to disagree about Host being a good book. I don't really like Stephanie Meyer's work because I think she has warped views on what healthy relationships are like. 17-year-old girls who lie about their age so they can "lie" with older men? And this is healthy? The theme of possession in love is too strong to be comfortable.

  13. Didn't like The Host much myself. But then I skimmed more than half of it. Perhaps it was riveting when I wasn't looking.

  14. You could probably get a good number of people to come with something like The Host, which was an enjoyable, easy read, but can also, I think, encourage good discussion, especially if you find some really good questions to get the conversation going.

    Books that have been read in our ward's book group (I haven't had a chance to read most of these, myself, though--I don't have time for book group):

    --The Help, Kathryn Stockett
    --These Is My Words and its sequels, Nancy Turner (I did enjoy these books, though because they're based on the author's self-educated pioneer grandmother's journals, I was cringing at the grammar a lot in the beginning--perfectly accurate for the character, but I'm an editor)
    --The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
    --Austenland, Shannon Hale (didn't enjoy this as much as her YA stuff, but it was still good and could get good discussion, I think)
    --CS Lewis is a great choice, to second a previous comment.

  15. I didn't read all the comments, but I LOVE Poisonwood Bible. Very thought provoking.

    I like your philosophy. I feel the same, but it has been harder to put into practice, because many of the women in my group like LDS non-fiction. We do every other month where we pick one on odd months, and on even months we all tell about good books we've read recently that we enjoyed. Then we pick from the books we recommend.

    Next month we are doing The Catcher in the Rye in honor of JD Salinger's death.

    I also think to join a group you have to get out of your comfort zone as far as what you always want to read. If you like to talk about it with a wide variety of people, you have to read a variety, even if that means reading stuff that is normally "beneath" you.

  16. Well, you've got lots of response. Two books I've read that left me thinking a lot are Once Upon A Day (fiction) and Miracle in the Andes (non-fiction), both powerful books with lots to talk about.

  17. I won't even post a suggestion, because I can't come up with even one book that I think would fit your guidelines.

    I've read Rebecca. Not my cup of tea.

    I would LOVE to be part of a book club too.

    I actually had an idea when Kayla was younger, that never got off the ground, to start a "moms and daughters" book club for moms and teen daughter. I wanted us to read "little women" for the first book, because I thought it would interesting to discuss with the various viewpoints of mom and daughter.

  18. I've read three of the four you specifically mentioned: Rebecca,
    A Town Like Alice, and
    The Shell Seekers. My favorite of those is "A Town Like Alice." "The Shell Seekers" is good, but I liked "Coming Home" by the same author better. Rebecca, of course, is classic.

    Good luck with the book club! I

  19. Hi, Thora. I am wife of Married Mormon Man and sister-in-law to Frau Magister. I couldn't help but read and comment on your post. I, like you, always wanted to be in a book club. In a college ward, I was disheartened when only the presenter who did her Master's Thesis on the Forster novel, and the RS Pres, and I showed up for a book club meeting after half of the RS has raised their hand to vote for the book. I am now in a book club that survives (we just went from being an enrichment group to a Neighborhood Book Club), but if you are starting one I give you one piece of survival advice: don't try to gather many members from women of your own age. When I first began attending my current book club, the woman closest in age to me had just become a grandmother. While I have read several books I didn't care for, I have been challenged to attend well prepared to support with specific examples why I didn't appreciate a book while being considerate of those who did. At the same time, I have read books with book club that are on my current favorites list. So, while I did not care for Bamboo and Lace by Lori Wick, Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate, or Fire in the Bones by Michael S. Wilcox, I am so glad to have found The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, all of which I highly recommend as book club reads. Right now, our neighborhood book club also serves as a means of fellowshipping an investigator. In addition, we have recently changed to doing author nights where someone hosts at her home with treats, someone presents on the author, and there is one work on which to focus discussion while allowing club members to read whatever they'd like to prepare. That way, everyone can come with recommendations for future reading based upon what they've read. I hope that helps.

  20. Hey Thora! I love this idea! Don't forget to include me in this! I'm with the girl who said Poisonwood Bible. I read it a LONG time ago, but I remember liking it.
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  21. So I'm in 2 book clubs, one of witch I started and you've never been in one? How is that? I'll call you.