Tuesday, October 18, 2011

National Reading Group Month! Part II

As I promised yesterday, today we continue with the lists of recommended book club books that the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association compiled this year for National Reading Group Month. To be sure these were good for book clubs we made sure that the books are readily available (some might have to be ordered if they're a few years old but all are available from the wholesalers and none are out of print), mostly paperback (which keeps the prices down), and discussable.

This is a tricky thing of course - what makes a book discussable? Obvious themes and symbolism, philosophical questions, tricky situations -moral or otherwise, and often (oddly), things you dislike. Here's a trick I sometimes use when trying to come up with discussion questions. I'll go to GoodReads or Amazon, and sort by the number of stars and read the 1 and 2 star reviews. Someone will have said something like "I hated the way the book ended." I turn that into a question: "Why do you think the author ended the book the way she did?" If a critique is that a particular character was unbelievable, the simple question is "how so?" If readers complain that two parts of a story don't seem to fit well and are jarring, you can ask how the book would be different if the author had simply stuck to one of the story lines? Does the secondary story line bring anything to the narrative? What do you think the author was trying to achieve with that plot? If someone complains that a character is unlikable, a more general discussion could be, why do we feel compelled to like characters we read about in books? Is that a dealbreaker? Can you think of other books with unlikeable main characters that you did like in the end (the book, not the character)?

Therefore, books that everyone universally likes are rarely good for discussion, unless they're chock full of themes, symbolism, and philosophy. But in my book club, some of the best discussions we've had have been when fully half the participants have hated the book that month. Just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean there's anything to discuss - quite the opposite! I am often intrigued in these discussions to find out what on earth the people who liked it liked, how they overlooked what I considered to be egregious flaws, and what in the world appealed to them. We don't attack each other personally by any means - but we are honest about what we don't like, and we do expect people to defend their opinions. So don't worry when selecting books if everyone will like them all - it's often best if they don't.

Short Stories
Do some members of your book club have trouble finishing the book? Or do you need a break from too many chunksters? Short stories, essays, and novellas may be the answer!

It Looked Different On the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy by Laurie Notaro $15.00
Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories by Lauren Groff $23.95
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell $15.00
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories by Haruki Murakami $15.00
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout $14.00
How to Breathe Underwater: Stories by Julie Orringer $14.00
In the Garden of North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff $13.95
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley $15.00
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro $15.00
Poachers: Stories by Tom Franklin $12.99
Eating Mammals: Three Novellas by John Barlow $12.99

List by Stephanie Ripperton, chapter Vice-President

1 comment:

Christina T said...

Very useful information! I am relatively new to leading book discussions and I've definitely found some helpful tips from this post. I was nervous that my November pick would end up being horrible after reading a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads and Amazon but now I feel much better about it. If the members hate the book, we can still have a good discussion about why. Thanks for your advice!