Two years and 23 books down as we begin 2017! Lauren, Alisha and I are still going strong with our book club, sticking to our once-a-week meeting times on a mostly regular basis. One good thing (of many good things) about a small group with close friends is that we’re very flexible when conflicts come up. A new baby for me changed our evening meeting times to the daylight hours. Two of us moved this year, so we’re a bit more spread out.
Our criteria for choosing a book is the same: it has to be a book that none of us has read before, but as you’ll see with our first pick of the year, I was the first one to break the rule. It was an accident – I’d forgotten that I’d read it. That’s probably the first time that refusing to read the back of a book has backfired on me. Well, it’s a good thing we’re flexible. Here’s a continuation of the books we read in 2015 and 2016.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R Tolkien
Our 32nd novel, chosen in brazen disregard of the rules we’ve upheld until now. Both Alisha and I have read The Lord of the Rings trilogy before, and all three of us have seen the films. We all enjoyed diving into Middle Earth again. It had been 15 years since I read the books, but the movies were viewed more recently. I have a confession: this is one of the very few instances where I like the movies better than the books. It was fun comparing the two. Merry and Pippin are much more competent, a lot of ‘wandering for days’ gets left out, and some characters completely cut. We were surprised that the hobbit-eating tree didn’t make the cut. Our plan is to finish reading the trilogy in 2018.
The Shipping News, by E. Annie Ploulx
Our 31st novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. I don’t read the backs of books, so I advocate books for our selections based on the first paragraph. I read only a few lines of this book before I announced that it looked like a good choice. Even though the unusual cadence of the writing gave it a oh-so-slightly rocky start, it was unanimously declared a wonderful story and is our favorite of the year so far. It was lush and poetic. I kept telling my husband about the unfortunate Quoyle, and how I wanted to just give the poor man a hug and tell him that everything was going to be fine. He told me he would substitute himself for any hugs I needed to administer.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Our 30th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. We had discussed picking up this book several times, as we loved the title, but each time we passed it up because the store had so many copies in stock. We always try to find a book that has exactly three copies. If they have an abundance of copies, we figure that not many people liked the book and so returned it after they were finished. There were a lot of philosophical musings in this book, and I’ve never been much interested in philosophical musings. As the characters developed, the musings did get more and more applicable and realistic. All of us agreed that the plot line started flagging until the appearance of Monsieur Ozu. The ending took us completely by surprise. It wasn’t a bad book, but it won’t be one that stands out for me among all of the other books we’ve read.
The Road Home, by Jim Harrison
Our 29th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. I got this book on my kindle because I knew by the time we finished it I’d have a newborn in my arms, and that it would be a lot easier to read in kindle form. Our habit is to meet once a week to discuss our novels, but this summer we only met twice. A new baby for me and travel plans for Alisha and Lauren interfered with us meeting on a more regular basis. We kept up the reading, and met once the book was finished. All of us enjoyed Mr. Harrison’s writing style. He has a wonderfully expressive, clear way of writing. The book was beautiful in its simplicity of plot. Of the three of us, I enjoyed the book the most. I appreciated the simplicity, but the other two would have liked more of a broad story line.
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Our 28th novel, both recommended by my mom and a book that had been on a list of Books I’ve Wanted to Read for a While. We picked it up with great eagerness and interest after the disaster of Me Talk Pretty One Day. “Ooh, a serial killer at the world’s fair in Chicago!” I enjoyed it the most of the three of us. Alisha and Lauren found that the architectural descriptions got long and boring. The book led to a lot of great discussions about inventions, mental illness, anti-social disorder, the modern world fairs and the Olympic games.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
Our 27th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange as part 2 of our comedy series. Well, that was a bust. In unanimous opinion, this book replaced One Hundred Years of Solitude as our ‘Least Favorite Book That We’ve Read Together’ by a wide, emphatic margin. In fairness to Mr. Sedaris, this book probably wasn’t the best choice for us to begin with, as it was a collection of semi-autobiographical essays and not an on-going plot. In critique of Mr. Sedaris, it’s the first book that made us want to throw in the towel early because we thought it was so stupid. We did all finish it, and I will admit that the more we dislike something the livelier our discussions are. We couldn’t believe the rave reviews on the back advertising side-splitting humor and tears of laughter. Our reactions were more along the line of pained grimace, wrinkled nose, frequent yawning, and the thought, “I would never want to hang out with this human being.” As Lauren pointed out, we were bound to hit a bad book, eventually.
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
Our 26th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. This book was recommended as a funny read, and we realized that we’ve yet to read a comedy together. While we all loved the book, I would certainly not label it as a hilarious comedy. ‘Poignant’ and ‘bittersweet’ would be my descriptors. Originally published in Swedish, we’re introduced to the grumpiest old man in the neighborhood, and the more we learn about his past, the more we love him. We especially enjoyed Ove’s colorful descriptions of his neighbors.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Our 25th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. All of us enjoyed this dystopia. I drew a lot of similarities to Stephen King’s The Stand, but it was not nearly as dark. This book went back and forth from the pre-Georgia Flu event that wiped out most of the world’s population to the ‘present’ time of 20 years after the contagion. We thought the plot and characters were woven together especially well. I don’t keep all of the books that we read together, but this one will remain on my shelf, after lending it out to a few other friends.
Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger
Our 24th novel, chosen from The Book Exchange. I’d forgotten that I’d already read this book, so I was breaking our first and only rule in our method for choosing new novels. I had borrowed Her Fearful Symmetry from a friend while we were driving through the deserts of Inner Mongolia in 2011. (I was a fool and only brought one book to last the week. Still Life With Rice only lasted me two days.) I didn’t remember the author or title, but as I was reading the first 20 pages it dawned on me that there couldn’t be too many books taking place in England with a crossword puzzle writer and a set of twins as some of the main characters. All of us agreed that it was an entertaining read, and we accepted the ghost story as ‘believable’ in the way it was presented, but by the last third of the book it turned abruptly from ‘I could believe that for the sake of the story, ‘ to ‘No…I don’t think that’s how it would work.’