It must be a sign of the times . . . my latest book club is virtual! I joined “Bookworm,” a bunch of dedicated readers without the time to actually get together, who communicate with a messaging app on our phones, exchanging recommendations, and engaging in mini-discussions—even letting each other know when a book is on the local library shelves. It’s a long way from my first traditional-style club, where we met, ate, drank, and compared notes (even a little about the book). The online format lacks the personal touch, but certainly saves on the calories!
I have Oprah’s Book Club to thank for introducing me to Wally Lamb. Lamb’s She's Come Undone, and I Know This Much Is True, have been residents on my bookshelf for nigh on 20 years, and count among my most favorite reads ever. Lamb’s books tackle tough subjects: mental illness, rape, obesity, romantic obsession, and more, but do so in a down-to-earth way that leave me feeling enlightened and empathetic, rather than weighted down. His characters, whom the stories accompany from childhood through to midlife, come alive with small everyday details, and it is easy to find myself in their many flaws. Lamb’s complex plots, splattered with familiar triviality of working-class life, keep me turning the pages (and there are plenty of them) right to the end, and then linger on.
Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, gives us the following glimpse into her book club. “It’s rare for my book club to all agree on a book, which is one of the reasons I enjoy the company of the ten women who welcomed me as their latest member. Discussion is never lacking, be it about the book, or some topic inspired by the book (and the wine). The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, was one of the few books that received a positive rating from every last member in my book club. The first half of the book, although easy and enjoyable to read with its poetic language, left me wondering what the point of it was, or if McDaniel was ever going to get to the real story. The second half ramped up the action (and the tragedy) with unexpected outcomes. The Summer That Melted Everything dissects humanity one quirky character at a time. I spent a better part of the final 150 pages crying, often times weeping, but the book isn’t so much sentimental as it is brutally honest. While it may have been a little heavy on the metaphors, this story of the devil coming to town one summer in 1984 is more than worth the read. Plus, it has one of the best character names of all times, ahem, Autopsy Bliss.”
Libby Maxey, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, made an unexpected discovery through her book club. “It seems like half the books published today have ‘girl’ in the title, but my book club is currently reading one that you’ve probably never heard of: Philip Larkin’s 1947 novel, A Girl in Winter. Larkin is fairly well known as a poet—having been offered (and having refused) the position of England’s poet laureate—but I had no idea that he had written novels until I was directed to read this one. Those familiar with the heavy irony and unapologetically crass language of some of his most famous poems might be surprised by the restrained delicacy of his early prose. This book tells the story of Katherine, a girl from some tantalizingly unnamed European country who, at age 16, comes to visit her English pen pal’s family for a few weeks of summer. Her memory of these weeks is framed by her current life: age 22, working in an English city during a grim winter with World War II underway. Alone and disconnected, she finds herself inescapably preoccupied with thoughts of her former host family, particularly her male pen pal, now in the army, whom she had once hoped would make her young life exciting. Reading this book—unassuming and slightly old-fashioned, but also incisive, poignant, and realistic—it’s not difficult to see why Larkin was a champion of Barbara Pym’s novels in the 1970s, when her work was deemed too quiet for modern tastes. I’m grateful to have a book club that challenges the contemporary norm, mixing up the newly popular with some forgotten gems.”
Here’s another book club pick from Colleen Kearney Rich, Fiction Editor. “In my book club, we take turns picking the book for that month, so we get an eclectic mix of mostly fiction. The one book that seemed to resonate with us the most this past year was Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I am a big fan of apocalyptic stories, but I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm. Station Eleven is different. Mandel writes about the post-apocalyptic world with such beauty and elegance. The novel is told in third person, and follows several characters while moving back and forth in time. Haunting is the only word to describe it. There will be a part of the book that lingers long after you’ve finished. For me, it is a section when one of the characters, Miranda, realizes she has the flu. She is in a hotel in Malaysia on business, and the hotel workers have stopped coming in to work. Civilization is collapsing and she is sitting with her blanket looking out at the harbor where the ships have stopped moving. Just thinking about the book as I write this makes me want to read it again.”
Finally, if you would like a recommendation for your next book club meeting, Karna Converse, Editor-in-Chief, has a home-grown pick: “What better book club suggestion than our own Literary Mama anthology! I’ve been rereading bits and pieces all summer and continue to be inspired by these introductory comments from our founding editors: ‘The basic story arc of motherhood is the same as it always has been. . . . What’s different about the mother writing of today versus centuries ago . . . has more to do with the cultural zeitgeist than with anything fundamentally new about the story of motherhood itself.’ Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, was printed in 2005 and celebrates only the first two years of our online presence, but I believe the editors’ comments hold true today and continue to be the driving force behind every editorial discussion we have. The 54 pieces highlighted in this anthology are compiled thematically into seven sections, each of which includes pieces of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Online readers who are dedicated to one section of our magazine are sure to appreciate this printed invitation to explore other genres.”