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Friday, October 19, 2012

My Sister's New Book Club!

My sister sent me the below email earlier this week without even realizing that it's National Reading Group Month! You can see my response to her below, but I do not have good suggestions for the second part of her request, for books like Ira Levin's. Anyone have suggestions for that? (In this picture, I am on the right, she is on the left, with Mom, of course, in the middle, in the original book club.)

My sister's email:
So three of my friends and I want to start a book club with a purpose that I think you can help us with. We want to read "good" books, no 50 Shades of Grey. We are think of "classics" that are fun. Lindsay and I both love Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, something along those lines. I even suggested Ira Levin but I don't think he writes classics, I just really like novels from that period.
What suggestions do you have for me?


My response:
Man, do you have good timing! October is actually National Reading Group Month. First I’ll make some book suggestions, then give you some tips for starting the book club. I know you might have read some of these, but I’ve occasionally reread books for book club and it’s usually a good experience (although I was thrilled when a work trip conflicted with me rereading the D.H. Lawrence book that I had hated in college.)

Fun classics. Well those are the only ones to read, in my opinion. My book club read Doctor Zhivago in January and it was horrid!

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (or House of Mirth or Custom of the Country)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (or The Woman in White)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (I hated all other Steinbecks I was forced to read but for some reason this one book is hilarious.)
Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog! by Jerome K. Jerome
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

And here is a list one of my friends made of suggested classics for NRGM a couple of years ago.
1.  Middlemarch by George Eliot $10.00
2.  Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen $8.00
3.  The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins $6.95
4.  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith $13.95
5.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton $5.95
6.  Dracula by Bram Stoker $4.95
7.  Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse $18.95
8.  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf $13.00
9.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith $14.95
10. Villette by Charlotte Brontë $12.00
11. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon $10.95
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott $3.95
Funny that only a couple overlap my list!

And another suggestion you might do is alternate current books about a classic author, such as reading The Paris Wife or Hemingway’s Girl, and then the next month reading A Farewell to Arms or A Moveable Feast. There’s a new novel out about Edith Wharton that is supposed to be great and there are also books about Jane Eyre and Louisa May Alcott and of course gazillions about Jane Austen.

If you’re looking for a list of 1950-60s books that are classics, that’s tougher. I’d suggest Kramer vs. Kramer and Peyton Place and Exodus, but then I get tapped out pretty quickly.

Some tips for starting the book club:
·         -You don’t have to meet every month. My book club doesn’t meet in December, and we only meet once in the middle of the summer. Then when you have these breaks, that is a good time to pick the fatter books. -When you only have a month between meetings, go for the shorter books. The breaking point is around 350 pages.
·        - Don’t pick a year’s worth of books at the beginning. That way if someone realizes the movie of Les Miserables is coming out in December, you can slot that in for January instead of waiting a year. But you do want to have 2 months’ worth picked out at a time so people who want to read ahead can do so. Have the group vote on the books. If you have each member of the group get to pick one book, you could have someone who really doesn’t understand who picks a Christian fiction novel or a Nicholas Sparks or a book about flying dragons. (seriously, I’ve seen all of these things happen or nearly happen.) With voting, one rogue member can’t make everyone read something awful.
·         -Meeting at a restaurant can be both loud and expensive. I’d recommend meeting at people’s houses, but if that doesn’t work, try a coffee shop.
·        - Someone does need to be the organizer. This person needs to keep track of all the books read (if your book club goes on for more than 2 years, people will start to recommend books they forgot and weren’t in the book club when they were read.) And when/where you are meeting and to email reminders. This person does not need to also be responsible for leading the discussion. That probably ought to be whoever suggested the book, but my book club usually doesn’t need much prompting (especially if there’s a book club discussion guide, which there often is. It might not be printed in the book, but if you google it, you’ll find them. Especially for classics, as they’ll often be required reading in school.) An easy question always is, if there’s something in the book that someone didn’t like, asking why do you think the author did that?

So, I hope she'll find this helpful and will get this classics-with-a-twist book club off the ground soon. Any additional suggestions, of classics, but particularly any that are of the Ira Levin era, are much appreciated!

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