Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Clubs

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?


  1. Some of my favorites are on your list. I too am in two book clubs and enjoy the differences between the two. It's such a nice way to read a book knowing you'll be discussing it among friends. A great way to make new friends and keep old friendships alive and well.

  2. I always love it when you talk books. I am going to miss our first book group meeting as I will be in Ireland, but I am putting together my suggestions to pass on before I leave. There is nothing I love more than meeting with my book group friends. So many of the titles you mentioned are among my favorites. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post. Bonnie

  3. I love a good book, and with Fall right around the corner my nesting instincts are settling in. I have written these down and am off to get them from Amazon.

    Thank you Sunday for the suggestions! I cannot wait to get them.

    I hope you have a fabulous week!

  4. I used to belong to a church book club, but I never seemed to like the books they chose (we never read anything as wonderful as the books on your lists) so I stopped going. I'd really love to find another group to attend as I feel I rarely get the opportunity to discuss the books I'm reading with others face-to-face. My blog is a wonderful alternative, but there are no snacks!

  5. Yay for literary events! So wise to keep them alive!! xo

  6. I'm not in a book club at the present time and miss it. The one I was in met during the day, which is hard for me. Would love to find an evening one. We did go to hear Cheryl Strayed at "Eating Our Words" which was wonderful, and will probably go to hear Michael Chabon at the Hammer. Has anyone ever been in a mixed (male/female) book club?
    I'm currently reading "Beautiful Ruins" and in-between "Tiny, Beautiful, Things" after hearing Cheryl Strayed read from it at Taylor de Cordoba.

  7. Wonderful post, Sunday. A prelude to Autumn.

    Our book group will celebrate 25 years this winter. We try to do a classic each year and a children's book. The rest is anywhere and everywhere on the book spectrum, from Nickel and Dimed, Noah Chomsky (don't ask, it was a disaster). I think one of our favorite reads that has resonated over time is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. We are reading her book, Run, in September. It is always the book where members say beforehand that they either didn't like it or didn't like the ending that gives us our best discussions.

    Enjoy you months of books.

    Oh, I should mention Erik Larson's The Devil and the White City. Just outside of the City of Chicago, this true story captivated all us. So much so that we took an architectural boat tour and then, another day, a tour of Washington Park where the Columbian Exposition took place. They were highlights of what a good book does.

  8. I am in a book club, formed by women at my daughters school last year. I hope many years from now, we, too, will still be getting together like your group does! The Good Earth, A Sense of an Ending and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox are a few I have really enjoyed at book club. Thanks for your lists.

  9. Hello,I have popped over from Hostess's blog when I saw the words Book Club.

    I am in the process of thinking of starting one,or would have prefered to join one...I live in the UK,and know there are some around,having fairly recently moved thought it might get me involved with people who love/read books.

    Any advice on this would be welcome,especially with the Autumn round the corner.
    I do not have a blog,just follow a few.

    I have read a few of the books you mentioned in your lists.I have just finished The Good Soldier written in 1915 by Ford Madox Ford,I would like to read his Parade's End...but am holding off til I have watched the new 5 part series on BBC tv.It has Benedict Cumberbatch playing the main role set during the twilight of the Edwardian era.Not sure if this is something you are interested in? Will browse the rest of your blog.Ida

    1. Ida, thanks for the great tip on "Parade's End." I can't wait until it airs in the U.S. As far as starting a book club goes, I would inquire at your local independent book store to see if they know of people who are interested in joining. Maybe you could put up a flyer on their bulletin board. And maybe the book store will help you organize it. I know of a book store in Los Angles that used to host meetings of a book club. Good luck and I hope you are successful in finding or organizing a book club.

  10. Wonderful post with some wonderful book selections!
    Like you, I belong to two book clubs. One is comprised of neighbours, both men and women, and reads a wide variety of books. The other is out of state ( I drive there once a quarter ) and reads only classics. Both are delightful fun.

  11. This is lovely, Sunday! I was in a book club for about a year with 6 girlfriends but then it slowly started trickling down to 5, 4, 3, 2....It started off as a Jane Austen book club and we read 3 of her books, and then moved on to other authors. I loved getting together with my girls over dinner and wine and talking about each book. I also loved that it made me read more frequently and not spend so much time on the computer, which is a hard thing to stay away from! I'm hoping to join another club this fall. Thanks for this great post! xo Joanna

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