Does this article bring anything to mind?


At a Christmas party this year, I sat down next to a friend and shoved a bruschetta crostini in my mouth at the exact moment she asked me what I was reading those days. I excused myself from the question so that I could stuff my face, and she obliged by telling me what she was reading:  Outlander, for a book club she belongs to, and The Invention of Wings, which had made her think about race and America and history in new ways.

This is why I love reading. As my friend told me about her feelings after reading The Invention of Wings, I took in her enthusiasm. The book had clearly stayed with her. And while she said she was enjoying the book she was reading for book club, she had much more to say about the book she chose for herself.

She and I used to belong to another book club, a gathering of squadron wives. I attended a few meetings, but then I dropped out. I admitted to her that I have a hard time with book clubs. I work for a book magazine; I need to be able to read what I want. That’s the justification I gave. It felt lazy and a little petulant, even as I said it. Wah! I want to read what I want to read!

But as we chatted, I told her that what I really wanted from a book club was what I believe the true aim of a book club is:  I wanted to be in a book club where everyone just got together and talked about the book they were reading at the time, or the most recent one they had read, or the one that had made the biggest impact on them. My friend nodded. And this was the conception of the Any Book Book Club.

Book clubs are predicated on the formula that someone chooses a book, the whole club reads it together, and then everyone discusses it. In this way, the whole group is exposed to a new book, and everyone engages with it, and then the cycle repeats. But the Any Book Book Club takes away the “reading together” aspect. Instead, we replace it with independent reading, followed by sharing our books together.

Have you noticed the particular gusto with which someone will tell you about the last book that got them really excited? Or made them cry? Or made them stay up past their bedtime to finish it? No offense to the traditional book club structure, but that’s the book I want to know about.

We’ve had two meetings now. The first was polite – we were each getting to know new people in the group, each gaining our footing, feeling each other out. We took turns, went around the circle twice, and each shared two books that we had recently or were currently reading.

Our second meeting, however, is when the gloves came off. We had developed a level of comfort with one another, and we all had become sure of our common bond:  books. It might seem like it would be hard to have a discussion about books that not everyone had read, but since our group is full of active, eclectic readers, we’ve all read something that can add to the discussion. As we moved our discussion over the terrain of pop psychology – covering everything from NurtureShock, to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, to Daring Greatly, we all had something to add, whether we had read the books or not. We trekked on to fiction, to histories of women. We talked in unison, we added new books to the discussion, we munched on cake while we recounted related TED talks, articles, or personal anecdotes.

I think the thing that I love so much about the Any Book Book Club structure is that it feels a bit like how Book Riot feels. Writers and readers come together and share their reading lives – their new discoveries and old favorites – and we share them and discuss them, and our to-be-read lists grow. The process repeats. The pages turn. And our particular passions and preferences fuel the conversation as new books get tossed into the pile of our discussion. It feels like cracking a book club code, and it feels like winning.

National Book Critics Circle awards

Yet another group of books I haven’t read – impossible to keep up.  If you have read any of these, tell me what you thought.  I need some personal advice on what to read since clearly I can’t read everything  – no matter how much housecleaning I put off.

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle’s Awards were announced last night during a ceremony at the New School in New York City. The NBCC is a comittee of over 700 literary critics and editors, and the awards are given out annually. Here’s the list of 2015’s winners:

Paul Beatty, The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Margo Jefferson, Negroland (Pantheon)

Ross Gay, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Graywolf)

Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (Random House)

Sam Quinones, Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic(Bloomsbury)

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
The novelist, poet, critic and farmer Wendell Berry

Pondering our next sessions

daisySo here are the suggestions I have heard so far

  1.  continue with our couch travels – perhaps including some areas in the US
  2.  revert to genre’s – classics, romance, sci-fi, historical fiction, non-fiction……..
  3. Back to topics with a focus on a specific topic – like a war (lots of those to choose from) or something like the period when Europe was colonizing the world – lots of choices there too

And here’s one I haven’t heard mentioned – choose an author who has a lot of titles – perhaps in various categories – and read one or more of their books – Joyce Carol Oates comes to mind although there are lots of prolific authors in lots of genres.

AND perhaps we don’t have to chose one – maybe we could choose to do them all in sequence.

What do YOU think?




Fun – but it’s over for now

eyeBut the blog will still be available for you to share your reading while we wait for the next sessions.

Our final Bagels and Books for this season was a really interesting afternoon with lots of good suggestions for future reading.  The group is interested in having this book club continue in the fall and we suggested that perhaps a summer session where we just got together to catch up on what we are reading would be fun.  We are pondering how best to choose locations, subjects, genre’s – etc – to provide the most interest and flexibility so please send along your suggestions.  Current thought now is that we’ll resume in October.

So what did we read?    Lots and many of us read the same books which isn’t surprising.

Out of Africa (Isak Dinesan) tops lots of peoples lists and we had also read many of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series titles (Alexander McCall Smith).  Cutting for Stone(Abraham Verges) and West with the Night( Beryl Markham) and the new fiction book about Beryl Markham Circling the Sun (Paula McLain) also had duplicate readers as did the biography of Nelson Mandela Long Walk to Freedom.  

We did, however, have many titles that were new to most of us.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder – Burundi

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) – good read but editing would have helped

Disgrace by J. M Coetzee – difficult not to be upset with the main character

The Elephant Whisperer – Lawrence Anthony – who doesn’t love elephants?

Through African Doors – Janheinz Jahn – experiences in West Africa

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonasson Jonas – described as whimsical

Sunday morning, Shamwana – Linda Robinson (many of us remembered hearing her talk about her experiences when she visited the library)

The Calling of Katie Makanya: A Memoir of South Africa – remarkable black woman from South Africa

African Stories by Doris Lessing (also her biographies were mentioned – Under My Skin and Walking in the Shade along with African laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe and Going Home)

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai – a woman who was a strong passionate advocate for  democracy, human rights and the environment  winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Someone knows my name – Lawrence Hill  – story of slaves brought to the US who try to get to Canada

The Constant Gardener – John Le Carre – about drug testing in Africa by western pharmaceutical firms

White Dog Fell From the Sky – Eleanor Morse -set in Botswana but is about an immigrant from South Africa while it was under apartheid.

An excellent introduction to Africa South of the Sahara is found in the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook.

Not about Africa but new books that Lynette thought were worth reading – Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin and The Lightless Sky – Gunwale Passarlay – about a twelve-year-old refugee’s harrowing escape from Afghanistan (she loved this one)

CONFESSION: – after collecting e-mail addresses, I apparently wasn’t able to get the sheet of paper home.   I’ll try again next time.