I am super excited because my article about Books on Tap is the feature piece of the September/October issue of Marketing Library Services, an Information Today, Inc. publication. It was so much fun to write about a program that I love so much. You can read the article on their website, here: http://bit.ly/14nLcuU and enjoy!
People who know me, know that I am slightly obsessed with Cloud Atlas. About a year or two ago, my personal book club read the book and ever since, we all find ourselves unable to stop talking about it. It is a multi-layered, gorgeously written epic. So when a member of Books on Tap asked if we could discuss the book, I was a little concerned.
Generally, I try to avoid my all-time favorite books when leading professional discussions. Why? Well, I'm SUPER biased. When you adore a book, it can be very difficult to remove yourself emotionally when, for example, someone hates the way the book is written. Also, Cloud Atlas is a challenge. Personally, I gave up on the book twice before finally getting into the book and then, obsessively so. But I figured, why not? Never know unless you try, right?
Well, let's just say that the members of Books on Tap continue to blow my mind every time we meet. Yet again, I found myself leading one of the best discussions of my career as a librarian. And by the end, I felt a little silly that I ever doubted them or really, this book. It was awesome.
When I asked people to use a word or phrase to describe the book, here is what people mentioned: connected, interactive, moving, ambitious, multi-layered, and six books for the price of one. One person called it the "Readers Digest of literary fiction," which I just love.
I was completely intrigued to find out that most people found the Adam Ewing chapter to be their favorite section, and some even mentioned that they enjoyed the fact this isn't a book you can read mindlessly. We talked a lot about the "Russian doll" or nested story-telling. And one of my favorite moments was when a patron asked if people think Luisa Rey herself might be a work of fiction within the fiction of the tale.
Mind = blown.
Previously, I'm not sure I would have suggested this to other librarians who lead book discussions as a good option. But now, I say go for it. Just make sure to give your members enough time to finish the novel. Most of the Books on Tap folks said they used the full two months to read.
Please feel free to use my discussion questions, mostly written by me but some pulled from the publisher provided set. You can access them, here.
And long live Cloud Atlas.
Last week, Books on Tap, Northbrook Public Library's book club in a pub, met to discuss The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
The Sisters Brothers is a tale of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are infamous assassins hired to kill a man named Herman Kermit Warm, during the time-period of the Gold Rush. The book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and has won numerous literary awards.
I always begin my discussions by going around the group and having everyone introduce themselves and give a general impression of what they thought of the book - did they love it - did they hate it - and so on. This discussion, I tried something new, and asked members to select a word or phrase that they would use to describe the book. The outcome was very positive and a lot of these words and phrases help shape the rest of the discussion. Some of the words they used were:
The mention of Homeric was a great jumping off point to discuss all the characters and quirks of the story, such as the Crying Man, and the Intermissions that are placed throughout the story. One member compared the story to The Odyssey, and many agreed this was a good comparison. One person pointed out that these small, Homeric episodes humanized the brothers, specifically Eli.
We also talked about the Western genre and whether this book could be called a Western or not. One member pointed out that Westerns are usually about the heroes, but this book is about the guys who are hunting the hero. Another person pointed out how bleak the book feels, which is so different from the gaudy and flashy Westerns of the past, like Bonanza.
Humor was a big topic as well. Some saw the book very funny, while others only found the book disturbing. All agreed that the humor is very dark, and not going to make everyone laugh.
Finally I asked the group if this book reminded them of anything else. One person mentioned the television show Lockup, a documentary series about prison inmates. She found the two similar because the show humanizes a group of normally demonized individuals. I mentioned the book True Grit by Charles Portis because it seemed like a good read-alike for the book, especially in terms of writing style and time-period.
The Sisters Brothers was one of the best discussions of my career. It was just that perfect combination of the right book, the right people, and the right time. I would highly suggest considering this title for your library book discussion. You can access the questions that I used for our meeting here.
This past week Suspicious Minds, Northbrook's crime fiction book club, met to discuss Blue Heaven, by C.J. Box.
Blue Heaven was the first stand-alone novel written by Box, author of the popular Joe Pickett series. All of his books take place in the American West...which make sense once you see his author photo...
See what I mean? Total cowboy. His heroes tend to be the Clint Eastwood type - misunderstood, independent, and know how to take care of cattle. (is there a name for that?? I'm such a city girl...)
Anyways, I picked this book for several reasons but mainly because it won the Edgar Award in 2009, and generally the Edgar Award is reliably awesome. For any others running a similar type of book club, check out the Edgar lists. There a great resource.
But I also picked Blue Heaven because it isn't a traditional mystery novel. It is the story of two children who witness a murder, and the men who try to silence them before the children can tell someone what they saw. And since this murder takes place right in the very beginning of the novel, you know who the killers are from the get go.
Blue Heaven reads extremely fast, very much like a thriller, which worried me at first - will this book be discussable? It turned out we had plenty to talk about at Suspicious Minds.
Of the 12 attendees at the discussion, all 12 really enjoyed the book, which again worried me. Sometimes when everybody loves a book, the discussion just dies, but thankfully that was not the case with this group. Some of the words and phrases used to describe the book were: different levels of evil, well-written, good sense of place, city slickers vs country folk, special, and morality tale.
When I asked the group if they still considered the book a mystery, they emphatically said yes. I asked what makes a mystery if it isn't finding out "whodunit" and they answered it's the secrets and knowing what happened that matters most. The discussion then turned towards understanding people's motivations, and what selfishness makes people do. The "levels of evil" in the story are fascinating, and really what takes this book from commercial crime fiction to something more.
Overall, it was a great book. Fun to read. Fun to talk about. I would suggest it to other book clubs that focus on crime fiction.
Last week was the very first meeting of Books on Tap, the Northbrook Public Library's first book club to meet in a pub. Of course, I love all of my book clubs equally, but this was a big day for me. Starting a book club that meets outside the library is a big undertaking. I had no idea how many people would show up, or really whether the months of effort, planning, and promotion were going to pay off.
I am pleased to announce that the first meeting of Books on Tap had 23 attendees, of varying in ages from 20-somethings to several women in their 60s. That's one of the reasons I love running this type of club - how often does a 55 year old woman and a 20-something man sit in the same room to talk books? Unless the 55 year old woman is his mother, probably not that often.
Anyways, I will save the "how to start your own library book club in a pub" post for later. For now, I am going to stick with a recap of the discussion.
We discussed the book Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, a beautifully written but very divisive book about a family who runs a failing alligator wrestling amusement park in Florida. The book is fairy tale-ish but definitely the kind where Cinderella's sisters cut off their toes to fit in the glass slipper - not the one where Cinderella sings about dreams to little furry animals. It's strange, creepy, and very darkly humorous - full of allusions to Dante's Inferno.
When we went around the room to give general impressions of what people felt about the book (did you love it, hate it, etc.), two people flat-out hated the book, three loved it, and most were left somewhere in between enjoyment and bewilderment. Some words used to describe the book were: quirky, engaging, hipster literature, a slog to read, unoriginal, aggressive, and bizarre.
We spent a good amount of time discussing what genre the book is - is it magical realism? There are many elements of the book where the reader isn't quite sure what's real and what isn't. This lead of to a discussion about reliable narrators - the book is told from the perspective of two of the children in the family. The other issue we talked about in great detail is the ending of the book, which is such a huge spoiler alert that I cannot write it out. But if you check out my discussion questions, you can find info about it there.
When I asked about similar authors or works, Carl Hiassen and John Irving were brought up. But I would compare it to Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, a book that I'm hoping Books on Tap will read in the future.
I would absolutely recommend this book to other discussion leaders. This book has so much to discuss, simply because it evokes strong feelings on both sides of the spectrum - those who loved it and those who do not. You can find the publisher provided book discussion questions here, but I think they are particularly awful for this book, so I made my own, which you can access on this Google doc.
Happy Monday, and happy reading!
In the spirit of the amazing and extremely talented Readers Advisor Becky Spratford, who writes the blog RA for All (if you're not reading it yet, GO NOW), I will be briefly recapping the various book discussions that I lead.
Suspicious Minds is an evening book discussion that meets inside the library, in the evening, and reads only crime fiction.
Last night we met to discuss The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, a much more divisive book that I had anticipated. Of the 12 people who attended, two flat-out hated the book, another three were somewhere in the middle, while the remaining adored the book.
I always begin my book discussions with a go-around where everyone gives their general impression: did they love it, did they hate it, etc. Words used to describe the book were: goofy, fun, charming, no character development, and boring.
We spent the most time discussing Flavia de Luce, the precocious child narrator of the book. The big question is whether an 11 year old could actually be as smart and witty as Alan Bradley writes her. Some people insisted that they knew 11 year olds just as smart as Flavia, while others insisted it could never be. I asked the group if they think that characters need to be realistic in order to enjoy the story, and of course, they were divided.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to other discussion leaders, even for groups that read more than just mysteries. We could have debated and discussed for another hour, at least. There are publisher discussion questions available, but I tend to write my own. You can access those on my Google Doc.
Happy Friday, and happy reading!