Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Makes the Perfect Book Club Pick?

I've recently taken over as secretary of my book club and am in the process of gathering recommendations for our 2011 reading list.  We'll have a meeting soon to vote on our picks, but the list will be small this year, only five books.  We'll supplement with interesting articles from the New Yorker, Atlantic, etc. for another five meeetings.  Two meetings will be purely social, one of which includes our families. The other involves lots of cookies and wine. (Who am I kidding? They all involve wine!)

Our club was on the edge of disbanding due to lack of interest and time, but we're back leaner and meaner.  Our make-up isn't so different from many other book clubs.  We're in our 30s and 40s. We have young children. We work as professors, doctors, business owners, artists.  We love to read.

But, five books?  This is what we decided we could reasonably manage--a book every other month, a few chapters on the nights the kids go to bed easily, and we manage not to fall asleep with them. With such a short reading list, it's important that we pick books that the majority will enjoy.

So, I've been thinking a lot about what books we've loved in the past.  The hands-down winner from last year was "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.  What made it interesting? Well, certainly the relationship amongst the characters, but the larger issues of race and class gave us lots of fodder. I think that's really key. Books that have nothing else going on besides a dysfunctional family don't leave us much to discuss over a couple hours. The book has to give us something to chew on. It has to give us a mirror to hold up to our own lives. The best ones make us ask, if we were in such and such a situation, what would we do, and why?

I've seen some literary novels fall flat at our discussions because "nothing happens." With our reading time limited, it's not enough to just follow an interesting character along for 300 pages. We want to feel like we "got something out of it." What is that "something?" Perhaps just a few hours to think about an issue in a new way or an insight into another way of life, something.

As a debut novelist, it's hard for me not to internalize comments at my book club meetings. In a way, I'm equal parts participant and spy. I want to discuss literature with these smart, gracious women. I also want to know what draws them to a book. In the end, I will always write what I'm pulled, by gravitational forces unseen, to write, but I'd be naive to marginalize the influence of these women. 

I'm looking forward to a great year of book club and non-book club (I've got a stack a dozen high on my nightstand that I've happily started cracking) reading this year!

No comments:

Post a Comment