Tag: book club

20 Books that Mattered

My book club is preparing for our last meeting before the summer break. As well as discussing this month’s book, we’ll be generating a list for next season’s reading. We have been doing this since 2000, with mostly the same members. Five of us could be considered charter members. We hover around nine members most years so over half of us have been there from the beginning and are still going strong. 

Just for fun, I looked back at our previous reading lists. The very first book we read was the best seller of the time, Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone.  I can’t say it was my favourite of all time, but I’m glad I read it just to know what all the fuss was about.

My favourites from over twenty years of book club include

  • The Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
  • And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
  • Parallel Lives  by Phyllis Rose
  • Coventry by Helen Humphreys
  • The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Amazing Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
  • Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright
  • Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers
  • Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  • God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicolson
  • Old Square Toes and His Lady by John Adams
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  • The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The Company we Keep by Frances Itani
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
  • Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page

So, a list of 20 from over 200 books read. Ten percent.  It is not that I didn’t enjoy the other books we read. Maybe 10% of them didn’t suit my taste. Usually these were books from the best seller lists. 😕

My personal biases are showing here as many of the books on my list are historicals, or women’s fiction, or Canadian authors. The books listed above are not necessarily the “best” books from our reading list, or the most popular, or the ones destined to become classics. What these books did was make an impression on me. I admit, that when I read over the titles on  our old lists, some of the books I’d forgotten entirely, even though I enjoyed reading them at the time.

My list of twenty are books that became touchstones for me. Whenever I hear the word “Coventry” the story of its bombing during WWII instantly springs to mind. “Old Square Toes. . .” is about Sir James Douglas. I can’t drive down Douglas Street in Victoria, without remembering the book.  I cannot read Charles Dickens in the same way since I read Parallel Lives. That is how I created the list. If the story, or the writing, or the idea has stuck with me, then the book made my personal list.

My friend, Laura Langston, often blogs about the books she is reading, but she doesn’t say if they have become an integral part of her memory bank.

As my readers group considers our next set of books, I’d love to hear of any book you think should be on our list. A book that left a mark on your heart or your mind.  Please list it in the comments to this blog. 

Visits: 113

Is It My Story to Tell?

    My to-be-read pile has reached such towering proportions I’ve had to break it into two  edifices. The collection includes books I’ve chosen myself, books I received as gifts at Christmas, and books chosen by my book club. Topics range from the science of climate change to a Gothic fantasy to a YA mystery. That’s the joy of reading books others have chosen. I’m not a science geek so would have passed over the climate change book, yet I find it fascinating , and actually easy to read.

     Gothic and fantasy are not my first choices, but this gift introduced me to a writer of amazing skill and imagination. It opened my eyes to a subject I have long ignored.

     There is a lovely gentle read from an author I love. I’ve opened that one today and consider it my reward for persevering through the tough ones.

     One of my book club choices  provoked controversy upon its release over the question of cultural appropriation. Unless you’ve been living on a desert island with no internet, the topic of cultural appropriation has crossed your consciousness. I’ve heard people get really worked up about the topic but I could not understand what all the fuss was about. Isn’t fiction supposed to show us other cultures, other ways of being, other realities? Can’t a woman write from a male point of view? or a child’s or even a cat’s? It happens all the time.

     The argument that you don’t have to be a murderer to write a mystery seems obvious. I write historical fiction but I am not a pioneer. I’ve never lived without running water or electricity. Yet I feel I have every right to tell those stories. My forebears were pioneers. Their story is part of my history. It is their cultural legacy to me. I research the times and places to be as accurate as possible, but I believe these are my stories to tell.

     Wouldn’t the same research-based approach allow me to tell a story from another culture, another race?

     Now that I’ve read this controversial book, I can appreciate the furore.  Although the protagonist of the book in question is non-white, I never really identified her as such. As I read, I felt as though she was a middle-class, white woman looking through a picture window at a story unfolding before her. The protagonist was in peril but the narrator was safe.

     When I read Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, I had a very different experience. I was terrified for every page of the book. If I read before bed, I’d have nightmares.  Hannah never lived in Nazi-occupied France, but she told an authentic story.

     Authenticity is, I believe, at the heart of the cultural appropriation debate.  For someone who has never been beset by bullies because of the colour of her skin, or her style of dress, to tell the story of someone who lives with that reality every day, is a herculean task. It may be possible, in the hands of a very skilled writer, dedicated to uncovering the nuances and subtleties of a different culture and layering them onto her characters. Such a book would be very hard to write. In the case of my book club choice, that author missed the mark.

     The variety in my “to-be-read” pile, is a gift. It demonstrates the wonder of books, how they stretch our minds, challenge our prejudices, and bring joy and comfort. Even when they fall short, they can teach valuable lessons.  The old adage of “write what you know,” I now understand can mean, “is this your story to tell?”

Visits: 142

Write of Hope

Planting seeds=faith and hope

I missed posting last week’s blog because COVID hit our house at Thanksgiving. Taking on all the household chores and tending a person in isolation takes a lot of time. On top of that, I caught a cold. It was just a cold. I tested on day one, day three and day five. All came out negative for Covid, but a rotten cold can wreck havoc with a schedule too.

By mid-week, I was well enough to go to book club. We read The Rosie Project and everyone had a good laugh. In my book club, good conversation and lots of laughter signal a successful meeting. We’re not big on literary critique.

However, at the end of the meeting talk turned to the local election, the war in the Ukraine, protests in Iran, climate change, destruction of the oceans, drought, floods, violence on the streets, crisis in health care, to name only a few of our cheerful topics.

Then we reviewed our book list and nearly everyone agreed that they only wanted to read uplifting, hopeful stories for the time being. Tales that take us into places of darkness and disaster and despair are too hard to take, given the situation in the world today. We’ve read them before and we’ll read them again, but not right now. Right now we need to hear hope, we need to see light and we need to live in a world of possibilities.

So to all you authors who write about love and family and home and faith, thank you. Even if others tell you to write “real” books, don’t be dissuaded or discouraged. The stories you (we) write that show right triumphant over wrong, love beating hate, and happily-ever-after winning over despair are the message many need to hear. 

By Providence, I received a devotional in my morning mail the next day, based on .  Hebrews 11: 1  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  The letter was written over 2000 years ago to a despairing, persecuted people, a reminder that the evidence of our eyes — the sight of evil, poverty, greed, hatred — are not the only reality. We need not be overwhelmed. We can live in hope.

Visits: 78

A Beginning

The calendar reads July, summer, hot days, lazy days, vacation days, winding down days. January or September is the time for new things, days when the weather is sharp and clear, the garden is put to rest and a new term has begun. Yet, today I began work on two new projects. When the mood strikes . . .

First I organized a reading list for my book club. We won’t meet until September but many of us like to have the reading list in advance so we can get a head start. We’ll read nine books over the fall and winter. We take December, July and August off. The suggestion list is long and enticing. I had a hard time paring my choices to nine. Some I’ve read before, like The Dictionary of Lost Words. Much as I enjoyed that book and think it would make for a great discussion, I didn’t vote for it because there were so many other intriguing suggestions.

Ann Patchett is on the list and she’s one of my favourites so one of my votes went there. There’s a history of Victoria that I want to read even if it doesn’t make the final cut.  There’s a family saga that will go into my TBR pile, along with a romance, a couple of mysteries and a Canadian Classic, Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. There is a book set in Japan, another written by a First Nations author and another set in Afghanistan. 

I’ve mentioned my book club before on this blog. We’ve been reading together since 2000, with the same core members. Of course, over twenty two years there have been some changes. We all started out as working women and now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through some major life changes, like big moves or the loss of a parent or a spouse. We’ve read nearly 200 books — everything from children’s literature to William Faulkner. Through the medium of books, we’ve gotten to know each other very well. 

The marquis at my local gas station reads “the best antique is an old friend.” Well, my book club is full of some genuine “antiques.”

The other new thing I’ve started is a contemporary story with a “seasoned” heroine. Since I usually write historical with twenty-something heroines, this is a whole new endeavour, but I’ve started it in July, so there must be something drawing me on. 

One of the advantages of growing older is that we become more secure in who we are. I’m hoping that attribute will be one of the main characteristics of my heroine. Instead of a girl/woman feeling her way into adulthood, I’ll write about a woman who knows her own mind. Who knows what she values in a partner, and knows the cost of love is often heartbreak.

I hope you are all enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer. Unless you live in Australia, in which case I hope you enjoy the nip of frost in the air and a warm apple cider by the fire.

 

Visits: 46

In Praise of Book Club

Twenty years ago, when book clubs were all the rage, my friend and I decided to start one. We had few rules. One was that members had to live in the neighbourhood.  Our winter nights are very black and often pouring rain. No one wanted to travel a long dark highway in November. The second rule was about the reading list. We wanted to push ourselves to read outside our usual book choices so we agreed that the reading list had to have books from a variety of genres. So, our choices included one each from romance, mystery, historical, biography, travel, hobbies, best seller, classic, children’s . . . you get the idea.

Over the life of the book club, our membership has changed a little, but four of the original members are still there and two others are eighteen year members. When we started, we were all working women. Now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through children’s graduation, the arrival of grandchildren, health challenges and the rough spots of life. And we keep reading across a broad range of topics.

Last week we did a trip down memory lane recalling the books we’d enjoyed the most and those we’d disliked but that sparked great conversations. I had done a sort through my files and come upon bits of paper with scribbled titles that never made it to the actual reading list, usually because it would repeat a genre. At our next book choosing session, I’ll put those old titles up for consideration and see if they make it to the final reading list this time.

I haven’t used a book club in any of my novels but in the latest book of the Prospect Series, Her One True Love, my hero and heroine get to know each other while discussing books. Of course, in the 1890’s their “best sellers” were very different from ours. Here’s a sample:

“We should hear back in a couple of weeks. Now, give me your opinion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mrs. North has it in the library now.”

“Such a strange book.” She refilled their coffee cups. “I suppose it can be read as a treatise on the human personality. We all have good and evil contained within ourselves. Mr. Stevenson has presented the two sides of a man’s nature in an exaggerated form.”

They talked until the coffee pot was empty. Books, music, current events, Louisa found they had much in common. If it weren’t for the clerical collar, she could like Daniel Stanton very much. As it was she resolved to keep him at a distance. The minute they disagreed on anything, he’d go all stony-faced and quote scripture at her and remind her that she was a daughter of Eve and therefore responsible for the fall of mankind.

Visits: 222

© 2024 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑