While I’m compiling the lists of discussion titles for the three book groups I work with, I’m recalling those titles that gave us the best discussions of the past year. Before I post our forthcoming reading, I’m going to take one look back at 2010 and the conversations that brought some new faces into my groups and in a couple of cases, new friends into my life.
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne—I led a special discussion of this classic for a group of theatre goers right after the performance had concluded. Audience members discussed the pacing, tone, and topics of racism and colonialism. Then we all pondered how/why this book became a classic for children when much of the content is very adult.
The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck—This is a very short novel by a local author and easily one of the best books about soldiers fighting in the Middle East. It is suspenseful, darkly humorous, full of sympathetic characters, raw dialogue, and will provoke much conversation about war and it’s impact on individual troops.
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton—Another novel from a Missouri author and one that is considered a “lost classic” that was dusted off by Jane Smiley. This book is deceptively gentle in tone and leisurely in pacing. In the early 20th century a tight-knit family lives on a farm in rural Missouri. But the family is concealing emotions that have lasting, if unknown, effects on each other. Readers will be enthralled with Carleton’s creation of a sense of place and the compelling inner lives of this family.
City of Thieves by David Benioff—A great choice for all book groups, even teen book groups. A serious adventure story about two young soldiers on a quest for an impossible object during the siege of Leningrad during World War II. Lots of references to traditional fairy tale/hero’s journey stories and Russian myths and legends. Great pacing and pockets of bawdy humor. The Kansas City Star readers discussed this novel on one of the coldest days of last winter.
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan—A first novel that won the Bellwether Prize and went on to become a book group favorite. This book also turned up on the 2009 Alex Awards list, making it another good choice for teen readers. A young educated woman from a genteel background is forced to move her family to her husband’s boyhood home in the South to live with his hateful racist father, ne’er do well brother, and family of black share croppers. Compare this novel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Another favorite of the Kansas City Star readers and Downtowners book groups.
The Appointment by Herte Muller—The 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature provided one of the most interesting conversations about a book this year in my lunchtime book group. A nameless young woman travels by train to an interview with an odious and menacing government official and races through her past, present, and probably future during the ride. Readers found the stream of conscious writing a little challenging, but overall found much to discuss and were glad to have read it.
If you haven’t crafted your lists of book group reading maybe one of these will find its way on it.