With September right around the corner and the promise of a fall lineup of exciting cultural events in Los Angeles, book clubs all around the city are also swinging into gear and putting together their book selections for the fall. So far, my two book clubs have their September selections in place -- "Lady Chatterly's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence and "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey. We are working on selecting additional titles for the upcoming months.
Book clubs are truly a phenomenon at this point. Everyone I know is in one. Most of the women I know love to read and they are passionate about their book clubs. Publishers know that book clubs can help create best sellers -- "The Help" and "The Kite Runner" became bestsellers due to their popularity among book clubs all over the country. For women, book groups satisfy two needs; a love of reading and a love of getting together with other women. The ability to gather with friends for a scheduled monthly meeting over dinner or lunch and a good book is one of the pleasures of life. I often picture some of my favorite scenes from "Howards End" by E.M. Forster when I think about my book clubs: the cultured and idealistic Schlegel sisters meeting with their friends for discussions of set topics over dinner and wine. Conversations are flowing and people are laughing, arguing, agreeing and ultimately being enriched. I like to think that the women in my groups are continuing that tradition.
I am in two book clubs and each one has a distinct personality and unique way of functioning. The group I have been in the longest was formed by myself and a friend 18 years ago out of a group of women at my daughter's school who wanted to meet on a regular basis to talk about books. We meet in the evenings over dinner at a member's house. There is a lot of laughter and friendship here as we have been together for many years. We all catch up on life for a while and then get down to the business of discussing the book selection. We do not have a facilitator but run the meetings ourselves with each of us taking turns selecting a book and coming to the meeting prepared with discussion topics and background material on the author. Over the almost twenty years we have been together we have read some amazing books! Our tastes are eclectic, we read novels (classic and contemporary), memoirs, and biographies. Here are a few that stand out in my memory (in no particular order); they were great books that led to exciting discussions:
"Everybody Was So Young" by Amanda Vaill
"The Shooting Party" by Isabel Colegate
"Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
"Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies
"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes
"Wolf Hall" by Hillary Mantel
"Adam Bede" by George Eliot
"Any Human Heart" by William Boyd
"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion
"Scoop" by Evelyn Waugh
"Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" by Judith Thurman
My other book club is a newer group for me -- I joined about 4 years ago -- and it also has wonderful qualities. We have a facilitator who guides our book choices and also the discussion. This is a good thing as this group is large, with at least 15 members in attendance at most times, and discussions can get unruly if everyone wants to be heard at the same time. We meet over lunch at a member's home and we have incredible book discussions with our bright and engaging facilitator leading the way. She brings her vast literary knowledge as well as background information on the author to the table. The members bring their life experiences and opinions about the books. It all adds up to stimulating and lively discussions.
Favorite books read by this group in recent years:
"By Nightfall" by Michael Cunningham
"The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton
"The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles
"Old Filth" and "The Man in the Wooden Hat" by Jane Gardam
"Defending Jacob" by William Landay
"The Paris Wife" by Paula McCain
"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson
"Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann
"Cutting For Stone" by Abraham Verghese
"The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer
Here are some exciting literary events coming up this fall in Los Angeles:
The Hammer Museum: "Some Favorite Writers" is a regular reading series at the Hammer. It will feature the writer Michael Chabon on September 13.
Literary Affairs: "Sex, Lies and Literature" is a four-part lecture series on the novels "Lady Chatterly's Lover," "Madame Bovary," "Lolita," and "The Lover." It starts in September.
Eating Our Words: Taylor de Cordoba art gallery in Culver City presents a bi-monthly series that features acclaimed literary and culinary artists sharing words and food. Recently they presented Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling book "Wild," and two Los Angeles artisanal dessert makers. Their fall schedule should be coming out soon.
Over one hundred years ago Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell and their brothers Thoby and Adrian Stephen moved to 46 Gordon Square in the London district of Bloomsbury. It was there that they got together with their young artistic and intellectual friends for regular evening meetings to talk about their favorite topics: books, art, and life. Book clubs are continuing the tradition of literary salons and discussion groups that have been going on forever...
Are you in a book club? What are some of the best books you have read lately?