Our women’s book group at Portrait has been meeting once a month since 1999. In that time we have read approximately 132 books, some of which were wonderful to read and terrible to discuss, others were both wonderful to read and wonderful to discuss, others missed the mark on both counts, while still others were difficult to read yet made great discussions.
I have compiled a list of the books, mostly novels, with a couple of non-fiction works, which engendered the most energetic and enthusiastic discussions. Naturally these are not the books that were “liked” by every member. A good book for discussion is one that introduces controversial ideas, characters or situations. A book that compels you to highlight, or use post-its to mark the points you want to discuss at the meeting, often it is not even a book that you necessarily enjoy reading. One such book for me was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I had so looked forward to this book because I had enjoyed her previous novel Amy and Isabelle (which had provided for a great discussion, by the way). In spite of its winning the Pulitzer, I had real problems with Olive Kitteridge. I felt in the beginning that the author had taken disjointed short stories and injected a character named Olive to tie them together in service of turning them into a novel. It wasn’t until midway into the book that I began to realize that it was going to make for a great discussion precisely for that reason. It is also, as most Pulitzer winners are, a composite of small town America and the characters whose lives overlap and intertwine to various dramatic degrees.
So the following books, in my experience, fit all the criteria mentioned above in making for lively discussions. And another thing: who says you need to be in an official book club to have discussions about books? No one. That’s who.
On to our list:
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (non-fiction)
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
History of Love by Nicole Kraus
March by Geraldine Brooks
Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (non-fiction)
Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Which books made for good disussions for you?