Friday, May 11, 2007

Book Club

Back soon after Ali was born, back when I was practicing law and it felt like I didn't read anything that wasn't written by a judge or opposing counsel, my wife and I decided that we should form a book club. So we called up a few friends who had mentioned favorite books to us, and circulated the idea far and wide, and wound up with a group of friends and acquaintances who agreed to read (or at least try to read) a book every month or so, and gather to discuss it over drinks and snacks.

The group's membership has changed over the 18 or so years it has been gathering. One of us has died, several have moved away, others have stopped coming while others have joined. We've had births, adoptions and marriages, though, oddly, no divorces. As a group, we lean left, though we have had some rightwingers come and go. We have developed traditions, such as December being a food book/potluck and April being poetry month, where we each bring favorite poems to read aloud.

Occasionally we plumb the depths of a book's meaning, but, much more frequently, we spend a brief time talking about the book and move on to whatever other topics are on our minds. If it seems the book could be made into a movie, we may discuss how we would cast it. In other words, we are a shamefully light and nonintellectual book club compared to those I've heard of that distribute discussion questions and begin with a lecture. We begin with a glass of wine or beer, and go from there.

Somehow, gathering 10-15 people in our living room to chat about a book has become a constant in our lives. Here is a list of what we've read. Is there anything you would recommend?


Blogger Spyder said...

"Five Island Diaries" by Martha McCarty, who is a local author, I'm told is very good. Maybe you could even get her to come to your gathering (I know her).

5/11/2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

I highly recommend Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It would be a quick read, and thus not a big time consumer, but you would risk taking the discussion into some pretty deep water.

5/11/2007 10:27 AM  
Anonymous JasonK said...

Pretty impressive list, Dan. One of my favorite books of all time is Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer. It's a little lengthy, but well worth it.

Probably the best book about leadership, both good and bad, I've ever read. It's a novel about two rival Army officers, one a rich kid from Westpoint and the other a grunt from the midwest. Stretches from WWI to Vietnam.

Good stuff.

5/11/2007 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

Fantastic list - it's giving me ideas...

I second emawkc's recommendation of "The Road." I also recommend "The Known World" by Edward P. Jones, "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley (great discussion here, especially if others haven't read it before, since it isn't at all what our notions of Frankenstein's monster are like) and "Middlesex" by Jeffery Eugenides.

5/11/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger Waldo Oiseau said...

Sounds like you're getting many votes for McCarthy's "The Road." We just read this in my bookclub and most of us loved it. It's a particularly simple and moving story and makes for quite an interesting discussion.

I also like Lynn's recommendation of "The Known World." I wasn't sure I would enjoy it ... then ended up discovering it to be one of the more dynamic and interesting novels I've read in quite a long while.

5/11/2007 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Brooksider said...

“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro, a fascinating biography of perhaps the most powerful man in our country who never held an elected office. Moses went from being a protégé/reformer of NY Governor Alfred Smith to a despot of the highest order who no one could get rid of, not even FDR at the height of his presidency. The book is also an intriguing history of New York City and New York State. Probably my favorite book and was a Pulitzer Prize winner in the 1970’s.

A more recent fav is “Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul” by Edward Hume about the Dover PA school board, Darwin and Evolution. Humes also sheds light on the history behind the Intelligent Design movement and the people involved with special focus on the Discovery Institute, a quick review of fundamentalism, the curious disconnect between the vast amount of science in our daily lives and how little is really acknowledged, the Thomas More Law Center, the Kansas state school board ID push and why the Discovery Institute hoped to pursue that potential law suit to the Supreme Court rather than Dover. Also the “wedge” issue concept and teaching the controversy get a full airing. These are just a few high points.

And all of it is hung on the people involved so it stays very personal. Humes is fair to everyone without pulling any punches and one of the many good distinctions he makes is between people of faith who interpret the Bible literally and people of faith who are able to interpret the Bible in a way that is practical for our world in the 21st century. Outstanding research and the crisp writing style of a reporter (which Humes was) make this a fast and fascinating read. Cannot recommend it highly enough, especially with the local Kansas connection.

5/11/2007 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What fun. I see you've read one of my all time favs, "A Thousand Acres."

I recommend Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell. Story theme is that the world is run by an international group of bankers. They start and end wars for profit. Everything they do is for profit of themselves. I think Taylor Caldwell was right.

5/11/2007 11:23 AM  
Anonymous ColoradoGal said...

"Middlesex" by Eugenides sparked the most intriguing discussion our book club has ever had. I highly recommend it. Addionally, for some rather dark stuff, try Annie Proulx....her collection of short stories are unbelievably well-developed and descriptive.

5/11/2007 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - but skip the regrettable movie.

5/11/2007 1:57 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

Recently I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls about her life growing up. How she managed to survive is amazing to me.

Also enjoyed Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

5/11/2007 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Sister's Keeper and The Memory Keeper's Daughter are both great reads and lend themselves to a lot of discussion.

5/11/2007 3:50 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

"Etidorhpa (or The End Of The Earth)" by John Uri Lloyd.

And two books (usually published as one) by Olaf Stapledon. "Last And First Men" and "Star Maker".

Challenging books guaranteed to spur lively discussions.

5/11/2007 6:55 PM  
Blogger Spyder said...

Too weird! So today I go & buy "The Road" per the recommendations here. Later Hubby sees it & tells me he has already checked it out from the library a few days ago. I didn't know that he had done that.

5/11/2007 11:37 PM  
Blogger Gregg said...

Librarian to the rescue!

Does your group prefer fiction or non-fiction?

5/12/2007 10:49 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Gregg - we switch it up. I think we read more fiction, but we're always open to a good non-fiction work.

5/12/2007 12:09 PM  
Blogger Gregg said...

Man, your book club picks are excellent. (Kavalier & Klay!) If you ever have an opening....

Anyway. Some book-club friendly picks:

"The Devil and the White City", by Erik Larson. Yeah, it's cliche, but I didn't see it on your list and it's my life's goal to get everyone I know to read this book. It's an account of the building of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, while at the same time one of the first modern American serial killers stalks the city. One of those rare books that is worth every bit of its hype.

"Empress Orchid", by Anchee Min. A fictional account of a real-life figure who is born to a barely-noble family in China and is picked to be one of the emperor's concubines. She bears the ruler's only son and makes her way up the court's ladder all the way to the throne itself. A fascinating tale of a woman playing politics to survive in a bureaucratic culture fighting against modernity. The sequel's good, too, but not as much.

"Charlie Wilson's War", by George Crile. The true yet amazing story of how America got involved in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It involves a larger-than-life Texas congressman and a covert ops specialist. Enthralling, shocking, and amusing all at the same time. Written by a former "60 Minutes" producer. Soon to be ruined by a movie version starring Tom Hanks, so hop on board the train now before it derails.

5/12/2007 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list! Here's some of my book club favorites that are not on your list...

These is my Words by Nancy Turner

The Time Traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Loise Edrich

5/21/2007 7:55 PM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

Hi Dan, I hope you get notified of these late additions to your list but I have discovered a new author that I honestly believe you and your book club will love. His name is Khalid Hosseini, born in AFGHANISTAN, a medical doctor who has been in the US since the early 80's. His first book was a best seller, called Kite Runner. I first saw him on Book TV on C-Span and was so profoundly taken by his description of life in Afghanistan under so many different regimes. His brand new book is called a Thousand Splendid Suns and I'm almost finished with it. I'm telling you my heart has soared and broken time after time at how brave these people were and what they endured. It's a fiction novel, but set under the real circumstances of this torn country from the late 1940's to present. I also bought Kite Runner at the same time, heard it was just a phenomenal book, a best seller, and plan to read it next.

Well, I thought of you and your book really must take a look at it.

6/15/2007 5:48 PM  

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