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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take Ten: Suggestion for a Book Club


Today's Take Ten list comes from my student Ellen who used her midterm assignment to help an actual book group pick their titles for 2013.  She was able to interview the members of the group before compiling her list, and she is scheduled to present this list to them in December.  From her paper:
The book club I chose to study meets once a month from 7-9 pm at the Berkeley Public Library. The club consists of 6 to 8 middle aged white women, all middle class. The community where they live (all but one reside in Berkeley) is diverse, with a strong Hispanic community and a large elderly population as well. The town has a population of approximately 2000, and is a suburb of Chicago. 
When asking the book club members what type of literature they liked, the consensus seemed to be historical fiction, or stories about women’s lives and relationships, particularly with strong female characters. Some of the favorite titles they have read over the years include The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wall, Lottery by Patricia Wood, When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka, and Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shores When asked what they enjoyed, they mainly mentioned that they enjoyed “real life” stories, with not too much romance, but a touch of romance was fine as long as it did not dominate the novel. One member did mention that in her free reading time she enjoyed reading more typical romance novels, but she also mentioned that her favorite book was Beneath a Marble Sky which is definitely historical fiction.
Some books that the club expressly did not like included The Lord is my Shepherd: Psalm 23 Murders #1 by Debbie Viguie, In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.  They expressly disliked The Lord is my Shepherd because there was “too much God stuff” and not enough mystery. They also seemed very standoffish towards reading non-fiction. They did not enjoy Eat Pray Love generally, although some liked particular segments of the book there was too much “God stuff” and romance for them. They read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as another non-fiction title, and while they found this story a bit interesting they were not thrilled and said they would probably pass on another similar title. The Jennifer Weiner title was not a hit because the members felt that they had already heard this same type of story by other authors, and there was nothing to keep them guessing or intrigued. They had read another title by Jennifer Weiner previous to this one, and felt that it was almost the same book with a slight change in characters. 


Overall, while this group has some specific likes and dislikes, they seem to be pretty typical of a white, middle class, female book group.  Ellen's research process (described in her midterm paper) was also very thurough.  And, I just love how she efficiently and effectively gets the appeal of each book into her annotations while still including a bit of plot.

While her annotated list geared to this group specifically, I think many book discussion groups out there could use this list to help them to pick their new titles, which is why I asked for her permission to post it here.  Feel free to use Ellen's list with your group, but please cite this url.

And I just want to say, I am always so happy to see my students using the work they produce for this class to help real life patrons.

Here is Ellen's list.

Berkeley Book Club Suggested Reads List


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Jamie Ford. 301 pages

Soon after losing his wife, Henry Lee discovers a cache of artifacts from the time of Japanese internment in the United States. The story, which toggles between 1986 with Lee’s personal grief and exploration of the artifacts, and the 1940’s with a budding friendship between a Japanese American and a Chinese American, explores the vast beauty and pain that characterizes human relationships. 

The Last Brother. Nathacha Appanah. 164 pages

On the island of Maritus in 1944, nine year old Raji is all but unaware of any unrest in the world, until he stumbles upon a young boy who, he learns, is a Jewish detainee being held for an indeterminate amount of time on the island. As the boys’ friendship progresses, they hatch a plan for a harrowing escape and are faced with a desperate mission to survive.

The Magician’s Assistant. Ann Patchett.  357 pages

Ever since becoming Parsifal’s assistant, Sabine had vied for a love she knew she could never have. After Parsifal’s male lover’s death, and then his own death, Sabine finds out a series of secrets and uncovers the part of her love’s life that she never knew existed, and comes to terms with her loss in a haunting but hopeful tale of love, grief, and understanding. 

Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi. 343 pages

This memoir of Azar Nafisi, an Iranian woman and teacher of English and American literature, tells her brave tale of silent rebellion. Every Thursday for many years during the Iranian revolution, Nafisi and a group of forward thinking young women would meet to read and discuss the classic tales of American and English literature, and through these tales, would craft an amazing story of their own.

Bee Season. Myla Goldberg. 274 pages

In a family that seems to be holding together by the slightest threads, Eliza is anything but exceptional. She is in the class for slow learners, and her brother, Saul, is much more the pet of her family since he hopes someday to be a rabbi, which puts him in their father’s best graces. Yet when Eliza suddenly beings winning a series of spelling bees and garners national attention, the entire family dynamic changes and she has to use her own strength to try to maintain sanity as her family spirals into darkness.

The Monsters of Templeton. Laura Groff.  361 pages

After being asked to leave school in the midst of a scandalous affair with her married archeology professor, Willie Upton arrives home shamed, and is greeted with the death of a giant lake monster. While the monster certainly brings national scientific attention, the main story lies in Willie’s search for the truth about her family, her father, her past, and ultimately herself. 

The Time Traveler’s Wife. Audrey Niffenegger.  536 pages

This compelling novel chronicles the beautiful but unconventional love between Claire, a normal woman, and the love of her life and eventual husband Henry. Their love story is a genuine one, but with a twist: Henry is sometimes suddenly transported in time and has no control over where or when this will happen. While the time travel certainly is a key aspect of this novel, many other complex ideas, such as love, marriage, friendship, and loss are examined in this masterfully written novel.

Girl in Translation. Jean Kwok.  303 pages

After emigrating from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, only to find desperation and squalor, Kimberly Chang makes an important decision to better her life. So she begins her double life: smart conscientious student by day, Chinatown sweatshop worker by night. Through the course of her story, Kimberly learns many amazing lessons about herself, her family, and her culture. 

The Paris Wife. Paula McLain.  314 pages

The Paris Wife tells the mostly true story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Peterson, and their early relationship, the hardships of his up and coming fame, and the eventual downfall of their relationship. This beautifully written tale is a masterpiece of fiction, describing both literary bombshells like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, alongside an evocative story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal.

Sarah’s Key. Tatiana de Rosnay. 316 pages

In 1942, a young girl named Sarah hastily locks her four year old brother Michel in a cabinet during a round up of French Jews at Velodrome d’Hiver, with the promise that she would let him out when it was safe. In modern times, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist, becomes deeply interested in Velodrome d’Hiver and the experiences of Jewish people during both the Holocaust and the German occupation, and begins to unravel many secrets of the past. This masterfully written work uses an excellent contrast between the past and the present to keeps the reader engrossed to the end. 

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