Monday, September 28, 2009

Great Group Reads

It's time for the annual October celebration of reading groups, National Reading Group Month sponsored by the Women's National Book Association. One of the books we've recently read is on WNBA's list of Great Groups Reads 2009:
  • Appassionata by Eva Hoffman
  • The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
  • The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë by Syrie James
  • The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
  • Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz
  • While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
  • Cost by Roxana Robinson
  • Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Our next book - Loving Frank

Loving Frank is one of those novels that takes over your life. It’s mesmerizing and fascinating–filled with complex characters, deep passions, tactile descriptions of astonishing architecture, and the colorful immediacy of daily life a hundred years ago–all gathered into a story that unfolds with riveting urgency.”
–Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light

“This graceful, assured first novel tells the remarkable story of the long-lived affair between Frank Lloyd Wright, a passionate and impossible figure, and Mamah Cheney, a married woman whom Wright beguiled and led beyond the restraint of convention. It is engrossing, provocative reading.”
—Scott Turow

“It takes great courage to write a novel about historical people, and in particular to give voice to someone as mythic as Frank Lloyd Wright. This beautifully written novel about Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair is vivid and intelligent, unsentimental and compassionate.”
—Jane Hamilton

“I admire this novel, adore this novel, for so many reasons: The intelligence and lyricism of the prose. The attention to period detail. The epic proportions of this most fascinating love story. Mamah Cheney has been in my head and heart and soul since reading this book; I doubt she’ll ever leave.”
–Elizabeth Berg

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall-Winter Reading Group Picks

Here's the long awaited Fall/Winter 2010 Top Ten Reading Group picks from IndieBound:

1. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford

"In 1986, Henry Lee happens upon the Panama Hotel in Seattle, where discoveries in the basement bring back haunting memories of the 1940s. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells of family pride, innocence, young love, jazz clubs, and internment. This novel will delight all ages -- it's good for reading aloud and great for discussions." --Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT

2. Mudbound: A Novel by Hillary Jordan

"Set in 1940s Mississippi, Mudbound tells the story of how World War II becomes a catalyst for change for those living on a Delta farm. Racism weighs heavily in the story, but Jordan's respect for the complexities of the character's lives, and her pragmatic honesty, build empathy and hope in the reader. This winner of the Bellwether Prize will become a book group favorite." --Dianne Patrick, Snowbound Books, Marquette, MI

3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

"The book discussion we had about Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in a little town in Maine, was one of the best we ever had. The reading group members were incredibly passionate about their love of the book and their love (and hatred) of Olive. We laughed and cried, and one member called us afterward and asked what we were going to read to get us that riled up again!" --Deb McDonald, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA

4. Still Alice: A Novel by Lisa Genova

"Still Alice tells the story of a 50-year-old Harvard psychology and linguistics professor in the year following diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease. Her struggles with the effect on her work life, and her family's attempts to cope, are compelling and entirely believable. Genova's doctorate in neuroscience lets information flow naturally as part of a tender story, perfect for book groups." --Carla Jimenez, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL

5. The Gift of Rain: A Novel by Tan Twan Eng

"This is a coming-of-age book set in one of the worst times and places to come of age -- Panang, an island off the Malay Peninsula, just before the start of WWII. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is torn between destiny and duty, but how do you choose when duty to country, family, friends, and mentor conflict? This is a lyrical, thought-provoking novel filled with many layers of loss and love." --Ann Carlson, Harborwalk Books, Georgetown, SC

6. The Help: A Novel by Kathryn Stockett

"We've been telling our customers who are members of book groups to read this story of race-ridden, 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Unforgettable characters live out a story that makes you rage against intolerance as you step into the lives of three Southern women who are committed to creating change." --Gail Wetta, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL

7. The Well and the Mine: A Novel by Gin Phillips

"Young Tess Moore watches as someone throws a baby into a well. This starts a remarkable adventure through 1930s Alabama, in which two girls try to find out whose baby died and the Moore family just tries to survive. This has been our favorite this year and elicited a great discussion on class, race, and family." --Mary McHale, Fox Tale Books, New Durham, NH

8. The Lace Reader: A Novel by Brunonia Barry

"The Lace Reader is a suspenseful intense read that thoughtfully mixes New England history and lore with the present. This is a one-sitting, must-discuss-afterward type of book!" --Angela Rodman, Third Street Books, McMinnville, OR

9. The Outlander: A Novel by Gil Adamson

"The Canadian Rockies, described with intensity, are the stage for an outlaw heroine's improbable ride from vengeance, both her own and that of her victim's kin. Thrilling in the way an imaginative page-turner should be, the story is nonetheless hooked upon the barbs of real events and real personalities." --Neil Strandberg, Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, CO

10. The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa

"A young, single mother is dispatched by her agency as the tenth housekeeper to try to meet the unusual demands of tending house for a mathematics professor who's suffered a serious brain injury. She not only manages to meet the challenge, but she discovers a beautiful new world for herself and her son through their unique relationship with this extraordinary man. A very tender and absolutely delightful story!" --Linda Findlay, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

For more reading group picks click here. (scroll down)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Author Chris Bohjalian on book clubs

I am asked all the time whether serious books — the sorts of books a reading group is likely to read — are in serious trouble. And that is almost always the way the question is phrased. Serious books . . . serious trouble.

Sometimes, the prophets will trot out the specifics of gloom and doom: The end of leisure, and the way the Internet and the VCR have commandeered what little time a person has left to read; the statistics that show the paltry numbers of adults who ever buy books; or the figures that suggest the vast majority of us haven't the slightest idea what the insides of our local libraries looks like.

Yet the current renaissance in reading groups seems to me to be a wondrous indication that serious books are not in serious trouble at all. Book groups have reminded us all of a fact we try and teach our preschool and elementary school children all the time, but as grownups we all too often tend to forget: Reading is meant to be fun. It is capable of evoking from us the same conversational enthusiasm as movies and music and stage plays, if we only give the notion a chance.

See also: "The Book Club Hustlers" at The Daily Beast.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top picks for reading groups

Here's the Spring/Summer 2009 top ten list of suggested titles for book clubs from IndieBound (formerly BookSense):

1. People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

"Geraldine Brooks uses the Sarajevo Haggadah as the centerpiece for another brilliant historical novel. The history of the beautifully illustrated book is the basis for a journey through multiple eras, portraying the trials and travails of European Jews through the centuries. A must for lovers of books and great fiction." --Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI

2. The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

"Balram Halwai, living in contemporary India, is a man with aspirations and dreams he fears will never be realized considering his current position as a chauffeur and servant of the wealthy in a society with an absurdly large gap between rich and poor. As he takes it upon himself to rise above the muck in a series of unethical and criminal actions, The White Tiger will challenge your concepts of right and wrong and make you feel guilty for laughing along the way." --Jon Stich, DIESEL, A Bookstore, Oakland, CA

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

"By the third page of this wonderful epistolary novel of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, I was captivated by its characters, especially the charming, self-effacing author, Juliet Ashton, and her emerging friendship, conducted by post, with the recently liberated islanders. The whole novel is an homage to books and bibliophiles, and a moving reflection on the horrors of war." --Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson (trans.)

"This novel of two remarkable characters, set in an elegant Paris apartment building, is wonderfully written and translated! I loved the philosophical discussions and artistic descriptions -- my reading group talked about this book for hours." --Mary K. Cowen, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

"Set in the Connecticut suburbs of 1955, Revolutionary Road portrays the essential, continuing, now exacerbated American dilemma: How a young person might well live in America without conforming to the tedium of upward mobility and suburban family life. Nothing I have ever been told could have prepared me for this book's brilliance." --Richard Howorth, Square Books, Oxford, MS

6. City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff

"During the siege of Leningrad in WWII, two young men are sent on an improbable errand. The horror of war is only heightened by the lightness with which Benioff handles their evolving friendship and the grim task that evolves from their mission. Great characters and authentic historical background make this a surprisingly winning novel." --Russ Lawrence, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton, MT

7. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

"Sarah's Key is the story of Sarah, a 12-year-old girl swept up by the police in the Vel D'Hiv roundup in occupied France, and of journalist Julia Jarmond, who is writing about the event 60 years later. This hauntingly powerful story will remain with you long after the last page is turned." --Linda Walonen, Bay Books, San Ramon, CA

8. The God of War: A Novel by Marisa Silver

"Twelve-year-old Ares Ramirez lives in a trailer on the desolate shores of California's Salton Sea, where he tries to take care of his handicapped brother. Silver is a gifted writer whose story of a young man struggling with the burden of responsibility takes us to places both in the landscape and in the heart that enrich us as readers and make us grateful for such storytellers." --Marian Nielsen, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

9. Couch by Benjamin Parzybok

"Couch follows the quirky journey of Thom, Erik, and Tree as they venture into the unknown at the behest of a magical, orange couch, which has its own plan for their previously boring lives. Parzybok's colorful characters, striking humor, and eccentric magical realism offer up an adventuresome read." --Christian Crider, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL

10. The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein

"Sometimes, if you are very lucky, fate gives you a special friend. Denny's friend Enzo will stand by him through some of the best and worst times of his life, his faith in Denny bone deep. Enzo is a dog, a dog with a very old soul. Denny is a race driver with natural talent, but sometimes life gets in the way of natural talent, and the road can have sharp bends. Suffused with humor, love, pain, and valor, this should be one of the year's best books!" --Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books, Sunriver, OR

Click here for the rest of the list.