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
The Monsters of Templeton. Laura Groff. 361 pages