Our Book Group maven weighs in

Lately, it seems every other person who approaches me is looking for a good book to suggest to a book club. I do my best, of course, and introduce them to books that I think are good and that, in my estimation, have the potential to generate deep discussions. I don’t, however, belong to a book club and do not, therefore, have any first hand knowledge about whether or not I’m right. This is why other people work at this bookstore, as well. I’ve asked Donna, our famous book group facilitator, to come to our rescue with this one and not only has she gone through our shelves and marked the books that you want for your book group, but she’s kindly compiled a list of just a few books which gave rise to the best discussions in recent years.

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Obviously the first requirement for a good discussion book is that it be well- written, with interesting characters and plot enough to keep one going.  Aside from that, what else a book must have is one or more of the following: controversy, unanswered questions, ambiguous motivations, philosophical ideas, moral dilemmas and/or ethical dilemmas.

The books listed below generated the best animated, lively and deep discussions in our bookstore book group the last few years.

History of Love, by Nicole Krauss:  The main characters, Alma Singer, 14, and Leo Gursky, a very old man, are both searching for love.  Alma wants a love for her lonely Mom, Leo wants to be noticed so he won’t die unnoticed. These characters, though quirky, are extremely engaging and heartbreaking.  Add to that a story that is many-layered and complex and you have a book that is perfect for discussion.

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo:  Yes, this is a stunningly grim book about the aftermath of 9/11 in the streets of N.Y. and some of the lives changed forever by decisions made that day.  In spite of the topic, or perhaps because of it, there are countless views to be explored, questions to be asked and answers to be imagined.

March, by Geradine Brooks:  The story of the cleric father of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” offers excellent points for discussion.  As March, away serving as chaplin during the Civil War, must wrestle with issues of cruelty, racism, morality and his own temptations. Is he a really good man in trying circumstances, is he a weak man hiding his moral weakness as well, or is he just caught in a time of history that challenges all he thought he believed in?

Lolita,by Vladimir Nabokov:  Most groups are reluctant to read this book having the impression that it is a book about a pedophile.In reality, it is a multi-dimensional novel of obsession, mystery, longing and human failing.  It is layered with humor, controversy, and exquisite prose.  There are so many points to discuss that our group continued the discussion an hour after the meeting was supposed to end.

The Story of a Marriage, by Andrew Sean Greer: A seemingly simple story set in San Francisco after World War II suddenly delivers a surprise and a twist which makes this a good novel for discussion.  The couple in the marriage are visited by an old friend and their lives are dramatically changed, raising the question, “Do we really ever know someone?”

Paradise of the Blind, by Duong Thu Huong:  A novel of family relationships, clashes of old traditions and new life styles in Communist Vietman in the 1970s and 80s.  Evoking discussion not only of the differences in cultures and family structures but also the significance of the military suppression and the influences of the Soviet Union.

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