What Makes a Good Book Club Book?

I refreshed my “What makes a good book club book?” blog post from 2012 for the library blog. See the “What makes a good book club book?” 2016 edition.

My own book club is still forging on with a small but devoted group of us that meets monthly, give or take. Some of our recent books include:

  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (a bit longer than our usual choices, but excellent historical fiction/mythology/magic)
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende (no one read this who hadn’t already)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a delightful take on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice)
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton (a Sliding Doors-style split narrative, easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year)
  • Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (a children’s book, a song by The Cure, and a good choice for those who like historical fiction and time travel)
  • Becoming Nicole: the transformation of an American family by Amy Ellis Nutt (this was on the my library’s community read shortlist – and indeed, is the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book! – so I was reading it anyway for that committee)
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (a re-read for a few of us, and most of us empathized more with protagonist Lee Fiora the first time around)
  • Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a tale of love & fallout by Lauren Redniss (our December book, and our group’s first graphic novel)

Has a book club helped you discover any books that you might not have read otherwise? Which books have lent themselves best to discussion? What’s your best advice for book clubs?

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Book Club Books

In the fall of 2008, when I was living in Brooklyn, I helped to start and run a book club. We met consistently (once a month, give or take) for about a year. According to my records (i.e. a post-it note), here’s what we read:

October 2008 – The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
November 2008 – On Beauty by Zadie Smith
January 2009 – Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
February 2009 – The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts; Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
March 2009 – Watchmen by Alan Moore
April 2009 – You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr
May 2009 – Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
July 2009 – Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
August 2009 – All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
September 2009 – Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

11 books total: 8 novels, 1 essay collection, 1 nonfiction, 1 graphic novel

In the spring of 2010 I moved from Brooklyn to Massachusetts. It took me a little while, but I found a book club again that fall, and have managed to keep it together, more on than off, since then. According to my records (i.e. a piece of yellow legal paper and, more recently, a google spreadsheet), here’s what we’ve read so far:

November 2010 – The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
December 2010 – Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
January 2011 – A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
February 2011 – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
March 2011 – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
May 2011 – Room by Emma Donoghue
June 2011 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
July 2011 – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
August 2011 – The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
September 2011 – Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
February/March 2012 – Bossypants by Tina Fey; Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling; Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
April/May 2012 – The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
August 2012 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
December 2012 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
January 2013 – Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
March 2013 – The Receptionist by Janet Groth
April/May 2013 – We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen
June 2013 – Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman
August 2013 – Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
September 2013 – Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
October 2013 – Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Nov 2013 – The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
January 2014 – Longbourn by Jo Baker
February 2014 – Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Andrew Scott Selby; The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser
March 2014 – Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings by Craig Brown
April 2014 – Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
May/June 2014 – Orlando by Virginia Woolf
July 2014 – The Haunting of Hill House and/or We Have Always Lived in the Castle and/or “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
August/September 2014 – Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
October 2014 – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
November 2014 – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
December 2014 – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
January 2015 – Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell
February/March 2015 – Breasts by Florence Williams
April 2015 – The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

37 books total: 28 novels, 10 nonfiction (including memoir), 1 short story, 2 repeat authors (Virginia Woolf and David Mitchell)

After this many years of book club experience – plus over a year of co-leading a book group in the library – I stand by my “What Makes a Good Book Club Book?” post from 2012. A book should have a little conflict or a central dilemma, be thought-provoking or eye-opening, prompt readers to consider the past, present, or future in a different light. Page count and availability are also important practical considerations.

Are you in a book club? What have been your favorite and least favorite books to discuss? Do you have tips for moderators or facilitators? Do you start with a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down? How do you choose what to read next? Leave a comment!

NELA 2013, Part 3: Robbins Library librarians represent

its-kind-of-a-funny-story-posterRobbins Library was well represented on Monday, with two of our librarians presenting on panels during the day. Though the panels themselves were on different topics, both librarians talked about book groups they had started at the library. Linda Dyndiuk started off the “Not Your Average Book Group” session at 10:45 by talking about the “Not So Young Adult” (NSYA) book group she started in February 2012. As the name suggests, this is a group for adults who like to read young adult literature. Though it has thus far attracted mostly women, the age range is dramatic (30s-70s).  The group has been successful, with 20+ people on the mailing list and a core group of attendees; a reporter from the Arlington Advocate interviewed Linda for a story (“Arlington adults share love of young adult literature“). Other presenters included Theresa Maturevitch from Bedford (MA) Free Public Library, who runs a cookbook book club complete with cooking demonstrations; Sophie Smith, from Nashua (NH) Public Library, who runs an adult summer reading program; and Sean Thibodeau from Pollard (MA) Memorial Library, who leads a nonfiction book group. You can read Theresa’s notes on the whole session from the first link above.

Check out all of the Arlington Book Groups

qbg-game-night_scrabbleLater in the day, Rebecca Meehan spoke about the Queer Book Group she started at Robbins on the “Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges” session at 4:30. Rebecca facilitates the QBG, but it is member-directed; every other month, they have a book discussion, and in the months in between they have a social night with games. Fourteen people of all ages showed up at the first meeting in February 2013, and a core group attends each monthly event. Even if attendance was lower, having flyers for the programs all over the library raises awareness – “now people are really paying attention.” Arlington is a pretty liberal community, but flyers are still torn down from time to time. However, Rebecca pointed out, “We have an unlimited* printing budget,” so she just makes extra flyers. (*Probably not unlimited, but it does stretch to extra flyers.)

Rebecca also talked about the difficulty of finding books by and about the LGBTQIQ community (and about the difficulty of the acronym, which is why she chose “QBG” for her group). She encouraged librarians involved in collection development to order these books and make sure they are on the shelves. Good resources for books include Lambda Literary, and for books, movies, and TV shows, Towleroad, Autostraddle, and AfterEllen.

During the same outreach panel, Lydia Willoughby from Vermont Technical College talked about her work with the Vermont Queer Archives, and Amber Billey from the University of Vermont talked about outreach through dance parties in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Chicago (see links below).

The Desk Set: “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,The New York Times, July 8, 2007.

The Desk Set’s Biblioball (to benefit literacy for incarcerated teens)

Inspired by the Desk Set: Que(e)ry Party, to bring attention and support to queer collections and to provide a fun social space for queer information professionals & friends