For the last 10 years we have had great success with the December book discussion. The way I run it, everyone can have a break if they want, but still participate. What we do is purposely pick the book to have a good movie, in this case, we had the fabulous film, Gettysburg.
Our plan is to turn the normal discussion rules completely around and put the socializing first and the discussion second. This is always a welcome change come the end of the year. We all bring food to share, and while we are eating we talk about the book. Then we move to the movie.
I make it clear to everyone that they DO NOT need to read the book. I encourage all to come and be part of the celebration of another great year of reading whether they have read the book or not. Even I took advantage of the break. I read this book years ago and had seen the movie back when it came out, but in the spirit of the party, I did not re-read the book for the meeting. It was a welcome break.
Before I share some of the notes from our short discussion, I want to stress how important it is for any group, but especially a longstanding one such as ours, to take a break now and then. We don't necessarily need a break from each other, but you don't want to burn out on discussing books either. Our December meeting is always a nice change of pace that we all look forward to.
For more great ideas on ways to keep your group from getting stuck in a rut, check out Neil Hollands' "Bringing Back the Buzz" series on Book Group Buzz.
Our discussion itself was very short but a few things did come up:
- We talked about how "real" this fiction book felt. It really walked the line between where fiction and nonfiction meet. We decided that if someone wanted you to pick just one historical novel as an example of the best of the genre, this could easily be it.
- The groups of soldiers here made up a microcosm of life. For example, in the camps they had bands and played games amidst the chaos of war. In fact, one participant loved how music was "woven" into the story.
- We all found it interesting to see so many different characters with so many different reasons for choosing to fight in the war. We all got a better picture of the story behind the war, and developed a better understanding of why the people of that era fought in it.
- Speaking of characters, there were a lot here. One participant mentioned how you could have an entire discussion about a few of the officers alone. People shared favorite characters or quotes. We all agreed that while there were too many characters to keep track of at times, the shear magnitude of them added to the story. It reinforced the fact that there really were thousands of men out on those fields, each with their own unique story, fighting for their own reasons.
- Fighting. There was a lot of it. There was blood and death and gross hospital scenes. Did I mention there was a lot of it? But this is a novel which realistically depicts war from every angle. Even my group of mostly older ladies was okay with the level of gore and violence. It did get to a few of them after awhile, but only because it hammered home how brutal hand to hand combat could be.
- We ended by agreeing that this was not the type of book we would normally read, but we were glad we did.
Readalikes: There are too many Civil War novel readalike options. I have mentioned many of my personal favorites in the past. Use this link to access our book discussion for Manhunt where I go into great detail about it.
NoveList also lists Killer Angels as a readalike in the book discussion guide for Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
For the record, Killer Angels is the second book in the Civil War Trilogy begun by Michael Shaara and completed by Jeff Shaara. In fact Jeff has keep it up, writing consistently excellent historical fiction set during American Wars.