Going (Book) Clubbing

Do you belong to a book club? They’ve been around a very long time, mostly under the radar but in the past 20 years or so, they’ve become really popular. They have also moved out of people’s homes and into local bookstores, I’ve noticed signs up for them in “my” Chapter’s store and in others. I think some of the libraries provide space for them, too. I’ve never belonged to one.

I know. That seems odd considering how much I read. With Goodreads, I’ve been a participant in online group reads so that’s kind of the same thing. The appeal of “real life” book clubs is the physical interaction, the coffee/tea/wine/treats aspect, the live reaction and discussion. Unless you’re meeting in an online real time chat room to talk about a book, the discussion loses it’s initiative (I think that’s the right word I was looking for) and it’s impact. Whether I could find a book club or join one at the bookstore or library  likely wouldn’t be difficult. The main drawback for me was that I don’t own a vehicle and traipsing around in the evenings by bus does not appeal in the least. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

I attended a book club meeting once, with a friend of mine on a late spring evening. I think there were about 8 or 10 women attending, most on the older side of middle age, all very well educated and most of them quite serious readers, I think. I don’t remember the book they were discussing and I do know I hadn’t read it. The club was also choosing the books for the next year, beginning in September (taking the summer off). My suggestion of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon made the cut for the first book of the new reading  year, a good summer read, it was deemed. I wonder if they read it and  if they ended up enjoying it.

This brings me to a very famous book “club” started some years ago by Oprah Winfrey. She is a reader herself and decided to recommend books to her fans, books that she enjoyed and made a “club” out of it. Everyone would read a book for a month or two. Then she’d have the author on her tv show and they could all talk about/watch the show about the book. Her recommendation would spike sales for that book immensely and generate a lot of interest in that author. She didn’t just pick books off the top seller lists either and that made it interesting. A little later, she started to focus on Classics. I think Oprah did quite a lot to promote literacy not just in children, not just in people who struggled to read, but in ordinary folks that just never took the time to read or appreciate the joy of a well written book.

I never participated in Oprah’s book club but did look at the books she recommended. Many of her choices were written by black writers and/or were about black women and their experiences. That would resonate with her and a lot of her audience and you want a book that you can relate to. I’m not black so sometimes I found it difficult to relate to a book’s message and some of the books she promoted were quite dark. Not all, though. But an Oprah sticker on a book at your bookstore will pretty much guarantee you a good book with an intriguing character or two in it.

The reason I’ve dug into all of this is this month’s newest Oprah book club, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I’m not sure why but the book caught my eye. It’s about an African American couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s world comes crashing down when Roy is jailed for something he didn’t do, and what happens to them both individually and as a couple after that. I thought “Oooh, that sounds good”.  Then I realized I had read one of Ms. Jones’ books before and liked that one, too. It’s called Silver Sparrow and is the story of two families linked by a bigamist husband but told from the point of view of the daughters. (My review) Always a good sign if I’ve already “met” the author and liked one of their books.

It’s now on my wishlist, with the hope that I can get an ecopy from my library. I’ve got too many others on the go at the moment to try to fit that in as well and with Canada Reads  coming soon, that’s going to bump a few more books up the priority list. (looks ruefully at the increasing stack of paper books and magazines stacking up waiting to  be read and loved!)

You can browse through Oprah’s picks here and there’s a downloadable pdf file of them there as well. She’s chosen a good variety of books over the past 20 years including two of my all time favourites, Fall On Your Knees, by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s a good list to peruse if you’re looking for something new.

Q&A with Tayari Jones

So. Do you belong to a book club? Is it “in real life” or online? Is it more about the social aspect than the books? I think once I retire I may look around for one, perhaps one that meets on a Sunday afternoon and near-ish where I live in case taxis are going to be involved.

Book Lists

I make lists, especially when I travel. Endless lists. I like lists. I like book lists, too, because I’m always looking for that next great book to read even if I still have a stash of hundreds of ebooks that I haven’t read yet. Seriously. I have a mini library of ebooks I’ve accumulated from various sources over the years and yet, I still want more and often will buy a new book when I could have read one of the older ones for free. Such is temptation.

I blame book lists in part. I look through the book lists and read the summary of the story and add it to my wish list, my TBR (To Be Read) list. Goodreads is great for keeping track of books you want to read or have read. So is 50BookPledge. There are apps for that, and other websites, too. And you can keep a wishlist on Amazon or, in Canada, Indigo,  where you can then purchase the book. Kobo hasn’t caught up to that yet.  I keep a wish list on my local library e-site. I really should use that more often, it would save me a lot of money. More and more, newly published books are getting picked up by libraries which is a good thing.

Most of those sites above will have lists that you can check out for ideas and recommendations. Goodreads even generates a recommendation list based on books you’ve tagged as ones you’ve read or want to read. I’ve discovered some good books that way.

CBC Books, a division of Canada’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)’s website (Canada’s national radio and television stations) has some good lists too, obviously Canlit based. Here’s the 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be a Canadian. I’ve read just under 30 I think and there are some excellent books on that list. In a related list, they also have 100 YA books. The contents of both lists cover fiction and non fiction and even graphic novels and short stories. While we finish off with CBC, check out their general book lists for quite a few different lists, long and short including best sellers by the week and books mentioned on a couple of their literary radio programs The Next Chapter and Writers and Company, and you can listen to both of them online.

A couple of other lists I’ve seen lately:

50 Amazing New Books You Need To Read This summer  from a blog called Parchment Girl. There are some interesting books on that list, and a wide variety of sources with about 50/50 fiction and non fiction split.

50 Books Written by 50 Canadian Women of Colour on a website called Room Magazine. I applaud putting the focus on authors that don’t always get the mainstream attention. I have read a small number of books on this list but I’ve tagged quite a few more for the TBR list.

Then we get into things like the literary prize long list and short lists, Scotiabank Giller prize, Man Booker, Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction), the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards, American Book Awards, Hugo Awards (Science fiction), and so many more. Wikipedia has quite a good list of literary prizes by country and region which could keep you busy for days, browsing. All of those websites have the current year’s list as well as prior year lists.

That’ll do for now. I plan to keep a list of good sites like this for future posts! Or just, you know, make a note of them somewhere!

What year were you born?

One of the Bingo Squares I have to fill for 2017’s Goodreads CanadianContent challenge is to read a book published in the year you were born. I’ve looked up the lists of Canadian books and there’s not a lot that interests me. One book, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler would have been my choice but I read it last year! If I do stick to a Canadian author, probably I’ll be reading The Watch That Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan. Apparently, I could go with anything published in the 1950s because the challenge says Year/Decade but we’re still pushing things.

During a discussion thread on the group the other day, someone posted a link to a slide show of the Most Popular Book The Year You Were Born, showing one for each year back to 1930. This will be American published books and ranking, which is obvious from the book titles, some of which are indeed classics.

There are 87 books on the slide show, going right up to 2016. I would suggest that the last 5 – 10 years wouldn’t be of interest to anyone born during those years, not yet anyway and they wouldn’t likely be reading the list in the first place but never mind. I’m being a bit pedantic. Of the books, these are the ones I’ve read:

1936 – Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell (one of my all time favourite movies. The book is great, too!)
1937 – Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (short book, more of a novella really, liked the movie better!)
1943 – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith (a real weeper, loved it and loved the movies (film and tv) as well)
1945 – Forever Amber – Kathleen Winsor (I can’t remember it well, but I’m pretty sure I read it. One of the first historical romances I think I read)
1948 – Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Hasn’t everyone read it?)
1952 – The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger (I don’t think I finished it. Didn’t like it)
1957 – Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (a real pot boiler soap type book, early “trash” reading and it was great! Due a reread, I think! It’s probably pretty tame by today’s standards but it raised a few eyebrows in its day)
1960 – To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (Very long time since I’ve read it. Might read again sometime)
1966 – Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann (another pot boiler, racy book, probably the best example of early “chick lit” aka “women’s fiction” there is. Certainly one of the most famous along with Peyton Place)
1971 – The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty (I read this many years ago, was probably too young but I seem to recall being a bit sneaky while reading it! I must have enjoyed it!)
1977 – The Thornbirds – Colleen McCulloch (every woman I know that read this book absolutely loved it. Soap story in Australia, romance between a young woman and a young priest at the heart of it. It follows several generations of a family and was probably the book that really sparked my love of the family generational sagas.)
1979 – Sophie’s Choice – William Styron (I know I’ve read it, but I don’t remember how much I may have liked it or not)
1980 – The Bourne Identity – Robert Ludlum (I really liked it, never read too many thrillers before that but this one was good. Read a few early Ludlums until they all started to become “samey”)
1983 – The Color Purple – Alice Walker (A modern classic. Very good book)
1986 – The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy (Liked it a lot as I recall)
1987 – Patriot Games – Tom Clancy (Quite liked a lot of the early Clancy books)
1988 – Queen of the Damned – Anne Rice (I preferred Interview with the Vampire and the Vampire Lestat, this was the third book I think, or the middle of the three but not as good as the other two for my liking)
1992 – Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan (Four women friends, all looking for love, all older than the age of 35. yes!)
1993 – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller (Read this months after everyone else. Wondered why the hype? Boring book. Boring movie)
1994 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt (Scandal behind the posh doors of the Savannah mansions)
1999 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (aka The Philosopher’s Stone) – J. K. Rowling (another book I didn’t read until months or even a few years after everyone else was in Pottermania. This first book really is a children’s book but they became more and more grown up and while a bit long and unwieldy at times, were very un-put-downable)
2003 – The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown (Didn’t get more than about 4 chapters in. Dreadfully cliche writing, just couldn’t do it. Watched the movie so that I knew how it ended. it spurred on a raft of books with similar plots, some of which I did really like, such as Labyrinth by Kate Mosse)
2007 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling. See above.
2010 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson (love it, really kicked up my love of “serial” killer thrillers. Great characters, flawed and fascinating. What Would Lisbeth (Salander) Do? Kick ass.)
2011 – The Help – Kathryn Stockett (Liked it, though it could have taken the subject a lot further I think)
2013 – Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn (Liked it a lot, though I think her two earlier books were even better)
2015 – The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins. (Liked the book, but the movie really lacked something)

These are the ones that I think I’ll add to the To Be Read list. I do like to mix in a few classics each year and I think by now, anything before the mid 60s for the most part could be considered a classic.

1931 – The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
1939 – The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (a “maybe” to be read, haven’t decided)
1959 – Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak (My birth year and I think I’ll read this even if it doesn’t get used for the Bingo square. I have a feeling I’ll like it more than MacLennan’s offering)
1961 – Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (first published in 1934 in Paris, banned in the USA for almost 30 years.
1967 – Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin (Another classic or candidate for a modern classic. The movie was superb, it’ll be interesting to compare to the book since books are usually better)
2001 – The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen (looks like a good family saga, A have an eye on a few of his books, I really must get around to him)
2002 – The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (Been on my TBR list for a long time but keeps getting passed over. One of these days!)

When I look over the list, especially the books from the past 30 years, I wonder if any will be considered true classics in another 30 years. Certainly The Color Purple should be on that list. It’s far more than just popular fiction, it’s an examination of a culture, a social commentary. I wonder if that’s the modern equivalent, in some ways, to To Kill a Mockingbird? They’re certainly along the same lines though two very different stories and told from different points of view, of course. I think perhaps they complement each other in a way, maybe because they are told from opposite sides of the coin.


Books to read for Black History Month

February has evolved into Black History Month. We can trace its origins back to 1926 when a man called Dr. Carter G. Woodson originated a Negro History Week to celebrate the anniversaries of the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans who never made it to the inside of a history book, or if so, not in any positive way. It is observed in the U. S., Canada and the U.K. The U.S. Government recognized Black History Month in 1976,the Canadian government in 1995  and the British government in 1987.

I live in Nova Scotia and there are two “firsts” that we can claim. The first all-black town was established in Nova Scotia in 1783 near Shelburne, called Birchtown,  and was populated by Loyalist Blacks feeling the American War of Independence. The settlers were recorded in The Book of Negroes which was featured in a very good (fiction) book by Lawrence Hill a few years ago. It’s well worth reading. Also related is Chasing Freedom by Gloria Ann Wesley which is a historical fiction novel about Birchtown.

Rosa Parks was a black woman who refused to sit in the back of a public transport bus in 1955 and it was a catalyst for the civil rights movement but before Rosa Parks, there was Viola Desmond who lived in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She was a respected businesswoman but in 1946, she challenged the rule at a local cinema and refused to leave the section reserved for whites. She was arrested and charged with a minor tax violation and the publicity kicked off a similar civil rights movement in Canada. In 2015, Nova Scotia inaugurated an annual holiday in February. Each year Nova Scotia Heritage Day will be named in honour of a well known Nova Scotian. The first year, the day was dedicated to Viola Desmond and the new harbour ferry in Halifax is also named for her.

I’ve seen a number of websites and news articles in the past few days that are publishing lists of books by black authors so I thought I’d post a few links and suggestions here.

In addition to The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, I’d recommend any of his other novels. I’ve also read Any Known Blood by LH.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is another really good book by a Canadian author. It won the Scotiabank Giller prize and a number of other awards as well.

Fifteen Dogs and The Hidden Keys by Andre Alexis are definitely worth a look in . Fifteen Dog also won the Giller Prize. The Hidden Keys is his new book.

Another French Canadian novel also translated to English is the now-classic How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferrière.

The Underground Railroad was a network of people that helped black slaves escape to Canada in the 19th century before slavery was abolished. I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land by Karolyn Smardz Frost is about the Underground Railroad and won a Governor’s General award for non-fiction in 2007. Of course there’s the current best seller, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is quite good. It might be “hyped” but apparently is worth the publicity. It’s on my TBR list.

We may think of Canada as the place that the American slaves ran to for freedom but Canada was a nation that only abolished slavery in 1834 with the rest of the British Empire. Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage  by Marcel Trudel traces the history of slavery in Canada from the mid 17th century French colonies up to the abolishment.

Helen Oyeyemi is a black British author. Her books are listed here. I read Boy, Snow, Bird last year and it was pretty good. Another black British author I really like is Zadie Smith. I’m reading her newest book Swing Time at the moment. I’ve really liked almost all of her books though her first book, White Teeth and her third, On Beauty are my favourites. I think Swing Time is very good, too though I’m only halfway through at the moment.

Here’s a list for this year by the Guardian newspaper in the UK, and one from last year.
A Tumblr List from Penguin Randomhouse for a book a day, and another list from Penguin Randomhouse here.
A list of kids’ books collated by PBS