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Playing book club catch up.

I can’t remember if I told you, but I joined a book club back in March. It was actually an item on my life to-do list, though luckily the invite just came my way without much effort.

My grandmother was in a book club for years in her small, southern town, and I always idolized it. Once a month, they dressed, hosted a ladies luncheon and discussed what they’d been reading. Their book club was organized a bit differently than I’ve ever heard:  the 12 members each selected a book at the beginning of the year, one per month, and then passed them around through the year so that everyone read all 12 books, but not at the same time. I think they discussed more than books too – like current events and, inevitably, the goings-on about town. We are more traditional. We choose a new title every month, one member at a time, and then we all read the same thing. It’s not as cost-efficient, but our discussions are centered on just one book. And we meet at a wine bar.

I’ve been enjoying the people and the vast variety of book selections. But the jury’s still out on whether I like the discussion part as much. It’s what I hated about high school English class: dissecting a book to death, trying to analyze foreshadowing and imagery and denouement. I just like to enjoy the story. To me, that’s joy of reading. For example, I really liked one of our selections, The Expats, because it was modern, entertaining, fast-paced and suspenseful. But at our meeting, some of the members just tore it apart, coming up with things I hadn’t even considered, like unbelievable events, annoying character traits or holes in the plot. I just didn’t think that deeply about it. But that’s what makes the world go ’round.

The best part is being around fellow readers, who always have a suggestion for a great book I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

If you’d like to follow along, for inspiration or to compare notes, these are the books we’ve read:

March: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I saw this book everywhere, so I was glad someone chose it for book club. It’s one of those creative stories that I’m a little envious of — I can’t believe someone has the imagination to create such a vivid world and story. I certainly don’t. The Night Circus is a literally a circus that only appears at night and is governed by a bit of magic. The central characters, Celia and Marco, are both players in the circus, and once they meet, their connection and dangerous love threatens to take the whole thing down. That’s vague, but read it. You’ll see what I mean.

April: The Expats by Chris Pavone

A spy thriller! Kate is a former CIA agent, who left that life to raise her family. When her husband is transferred to Luxembourg with his IT job, those secrets follow her and she finds herself suddenly wrapped up in a new web of deceit and intrigue. I loved this book. Like I said above, it was fast-paced and suspenseful. The narrative jumps all over the place — each chapter is a new time of day, so you’re told some of the story in reverse. You do have to pay attention, but I thought it made for a quick read. I always appreciate tight plotting and a complex, winding story, and this one didn’t disappoint. Highly recommended.

May: Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

When Michelle, who had book club pick for May, brought her proposed selections, she had chosen a top book for every decade, from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Of those, none of us had ever read “Sophie’s Choice.” I haven’t even seen the movie, though I know Meryl Streep was heralded for her performance. The term “to make a Sophie’s choice” is even part of our pop culture lexicon, but I had no clue what it really means. Well, I still don’t. This was the book club selection during my trip to London, so I dutifully carted it along, but I couldn’t finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully written … but wordy … and long. It takes time to plow through, and I just didn’t have that to give. I even renewed it three times from the library before giving up. Because of my trip, I was out of town for that book club meeting, but I learned it got mixed reviews, so I don’t think I missed anything. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later and do it justice. Someday.

June: The Red House by Mark Haddon

We chose this book because Haddon’s earlier The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time got raves from reviewers and readers alike. This book is his latest, and was just released on June 12. It is, in a word, terrible. Now, I can hang with a dark story about messed-up people, but this one just had no point, no resolution. Every character is miserable, and they stay miserable. The plot is centered around two families: Angela, her husband and children go to Wales to spend a week in a red house with Richard, her estranged brother, his new wife and teenage step-daughter. Our book club overwhelmingly despised it, and some people stopped reading 50 pages in. But, others did concede that they identified with the characters, who reminded them of their own dysfunctional family. I say pass.

July: These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen

I wanted to love this book. It’s about three girls in their late 20s living, dating and working in New York City. I can totally relate. But, the truth is, it’s just one step above chick-lit. It is well-written, was a fast read and kept me interested, but it’s full of cliches and just didn’t have the depth I expected. And the ending wasn’t very believable or satisfying. There is, however, a suspenseful sub-plot told in flashback about one of the girls who has mysteriously run away from her life as a nanny in Maryland to take refuge with her brother in New York. You do wonder what made her run, but I saw the big reveal coming from a least 1/2 mile away. The author also leaves a whole bunch of storylines hanging, which may be oversight or may be setting up for a sequel. Even so, it’s worth your time — just know that it’s not going to be great literature, but it’ll make a great, quick beach read.

Our latest book club meeting was yesterday, and it was my choice. I brought some selections:

  • The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

We chose The Chaperone, so we’ll see how it goes.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

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4 comments

  1. I admit that I was envious of The Night Circus too. Morgenstern manages to create such an amazing and fascinating tale that you can’t help but wish were real.

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