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!