I am in a lively book club called The Book Hunters. We’ve been meeting the third Monday of every month since 1989. Most of us were new mothers when we started. Now, many of us are grandmothers. We used to meet in the morning and drink coffee. Now we gather in the evening and drink things other than coffee.
One of my favorite book club meetings happens in January when spouses or SO’s are invited to join us. We try to pick a book we think will generate a thoughtful and energetic discussion. Memorable books for this expanded gathering have been titles such as Endurance, Undaunted Courage, and The Road. Last year, we read The Sympathizer, a story about the Vietnam War as told by a Vietnamese counterspy. It was so informative, my husband and I went back and watched the Ken Burns Series, The Vietnam War to get more context. This year, we are reading A Murder in Music City.
Once a year, the Book Hunters get together for a luncheon and instead of discussing one book we come prepared with suggestions for the next year’s list. Afterward, a group of us get together and attempt to whittle down the selection to eleven books. At that meeting, we assign books to each other to read so we can get more opinions about specific books. A month later, we get together again and hear each other’s thoughts on the assignments. We book-lovers long for superlatives like “I loved it” or “I couldn’t put it down” or ” I learned so much” or “It’s beautifully written.” If the readers have high praise for a book, it’s in.
Yesterday, we left that second meeting super excited about the reading list we had come up with. When my mother was alive, I would always send her a copy of the list after this meeting. These days I email it to my friend, Gayl, in Napier, NZ where she shares it with friends in her book club, Chooks & Books. Gayl also sends me book recs that the Chooks have enjoyed. One of them, On the Edge of the Orchard, was read by our book club last March. The discussion that ensued was one of the best. For me, that’s the beauty of reading, sharing, and discussing books together; you get a glimpse into the soul of others when you hear what moved them about a story.
Here’s our list.
September: Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)
“Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!” —Reese Witherspoon
October: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)
“Beginning in 1910 during the time of Japanese colonialization and ending many decades later in 1989, Pachinko is the epic saga of a Korean family told over four generations. The family’s story starts with Hoonie, a young Korean man born with physical deformities, but whose destiny comes from his inner strength and kindness. His daughter, rather than bring shame on her family, leaves their homeland for Japan, where her children and grandchildren will be born and raised; yet prejudice against their Korean heritage will prevent them from ever feeling at home. In Pachinko, Min Jin Lee says much about success and suffering, prejudice, and tradition, but the novel never bogs down and only becomes richer, like a sauce left simmering hour after hour. Lee’s exceptional story of one family is the story of many of the world’s people. They ask only for the chance to belong somewhere—and to be judged by their hearts and actions rather than by ideas of blood traits and bad seeds.” –Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review
November: Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)
“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.”―The New York Times
“An epic spanning thousands of years that’s also a keep-you-up-all-night page-turner.” — Ann Patchett
December: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (2015)
“I started this on Sunday and finished it on Monday. It was just one of those books that is filled with secrets of the past that you just have to know about and characters that you love as soon as you meet them and then you love them more as the author lets you see who they are.” Angela M for Goodreads.
“A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets.” —Goodreads
January Couples Dinner: A Murder in Music City by Michael Bishop (2017)
“Nashville 1964. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Paula Herring is murdered in her home. A few months later a judge’s son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, Michael Bishop, a private citizen, stumbles upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world’s top forensic experts–including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka “the living Sherlock Holmes”)–he uncovers the truth. What really happened is completely different from what the public was led to believe. In this true-crime page-turner, the author lays out compelling evidence that a circle of powerful citizens were key participants in the crime and the subsequent cover-up.” —Amazon
February: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent (2008)
“A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery. An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel. A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it. It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana . . . and an East Texas honky-tonk . . . and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda . . . an upscale New York gallery . . . a downtown dumpster . . . a Texas ranch. Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.” –Amazon
March: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (2018)
“A general’s daughter…Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.
A Founding Father’s wife…But the union they create–in their marriage and the new nation–is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all–including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.
The last surviving light of the Revolution…When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle–to understand the flawed man she married and the imperfect union he could never have created without her…” –Amazon
April: A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee (2000)
“A Gesture Life is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who has come to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Courteous, honest, hardworking, and impenetrable, Franklin Hata, a Japanese man of Korean birth, is careful never to overstep his boundaries. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by the small events surrounding him, we see his life begin to unravel. Gradually we learn the mystery that has shaped the core of his being: his terrible, forbidden love for a young Korean Comfort Woman when he served as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II.” —Penguin Random House
May: Known as our “Free Read” luncheon where everyone gives suggestions for the next year’s book list.
June: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)
“Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.” —Penguin Random House
July: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women by Balli Kaur Jaswal (2018)
“Nikki, a modern daughter of Indian immigrants, has spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community. The proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn English, not short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of erotica and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories that they’ve held in for far too long. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing the creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind. As the class grows, a group called the Brothers, who have appointed themselves Southall’s “moral police,” threaten to reveal the class’s scandalous stories and the mysterious secrets lurking beneath this seemingly sedate, tight-knit community.” —Harper Collins
August: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2018)
“With Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan—who dazzled readers with her Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Visit from the Goon Squad—spins a classic historical novel. Classic in the sense that it’s virtually impossible to put down. Classic in its sepia-toned portrait of New York: set on the Brooklyn docks during World War II, when mobsters ruled, the war loomed, and a young girl dove her way into becoming the first female diver on the squad. Classic in its quintessentially satisfying characters: crooked gangsters, disappearing fathers, gritty sailors, and an intrepid young woman equally at home in a 200-pound diving suit and a green silk dress who unites them all. Classic in its revelation of the dangerous, altruistic and nefarious choices people make to support their family, their country and themselves. Manhattan Beach is classic in all of its American glory. “—Al Woodworth, Amazon
Since writing this post, friends havebeen sending the names of books they have read and loved. I’m starting a running list:
Educated, by Tara Westover. “I highly recommend it,” wrote three different people. I didn’t care for it.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Quick and thought-provoking. Story takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I loved it.
The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan. WW2 from the viewpoint of the Italians. I loved it.
4 3 2 1: A Novel, by Paul Auster.
The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Nine interlocking fables about trees & people. Reading it now..
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