I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me, “Book club saved my life.” They’ve cited reasons such as being shut in at home with a baby or infirm spouse, feeling loneliness or depression, moving to a new city and knowing no one, or needing somewhere to turn for intellectual stimulation. I truly believe book clubs provide a vital sense of community, and I love helping clubs get started and stay active with fun, interesting reads.
Often I hear from groups who say they’ve run out of steam and ask how they can get back on track. From time to time, that stale feeling creeps in for most longstanding clubs. It sounds like that may be happening for many of you from near and far who wanted to virtually attend my book club workshop last week. We didn’t have a virtual option for the workshop this time, but I’ve collected the book recommendations and book club tips we discussed here for you to refer back to when needed. Here’s to a re-invigorated book club experience for 2023!
— Kathy Schultenover, Parnassus Book Club and Classics Club Moderator
Tips for Rebooting Your Book Club
Does your group usually read fiction? It seems most do! Perhaps you could make this the year to explore other genres like memoir, history, essays, and even cookbooks.
When life gets busy, it’s easy to fall into a skimming habit. Commit to reading more thoughtfully and mindfully this year. Take notes, underline, or highlight as you read, and you’ll be amazed at how having these passages handy during a book club meeting improves discussion.
Assign someone the task of doing some research each month before each meeting – or have everyone get online and dig up a little background material on the book. Book reviews and online book club guides can also prompt great conversation. (LitLovers, BookBrowse, and Reading Group Choices are just a few of my personal favorite sites for this purpose. And don’t forget to peruse each season’s “most anticipated” lists!)
Change your format this year! For example…
– Create a designated pre-meeting (or post-meeting) social hour for chit-chat. If your club’s discussions have wandered away from books and onto jobs, families, and the news, breaking the evening into book-talk and non-book-talk may help get things back on track.
– It can feel like a real novelty to have a month without a common book, in which everyone brings two of their own recent reads to talk about and briefly share.
– If you usually have a designated discussion leader, try going leader-less and ask each member to bring two thought-provoking questions or topics to stimulate conversation. This can bring out quieter members and get the whole group back into the mix.
Try a session designated to this very topic — fresh starts. Ask each member to bring one suggestion for a change they think might improve the club. Nothing personal (this is not the time to tell Janet nobody likes her spinach dip)… Just objective, positive ideas that could be fun to try or produce long-lasting improvements.
Kathy’s Book Club Picks
It is a hot summer in rural Ireland. A child is taken by her father to live with relatives on a farm, not knowing when or if she will be brought home again. In the Kinsellas’ house, she finds an affection and warmth she has not known and slowly, in their care, begins to blossom. But there is something unspoken in this new household–where everything is so well tended to–and this summer must soon come to an end.
By Dani Shapiro
An ancient majestic oak stands beneath the stars on Division Street. And under the tree sits Ben Wilf, a retired doctor, and ten-year-old Waldo Shenkman, a brilliant, lonely boy who is pointing out his favorite constellations. Waldo doesn’t realize it but he and Ben have met before. And they will again, and again. Across time and space, and shared destiny.
Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.
The Mitford Affair: A Novel
Between the World Wars, the six Mitford sisters–each more beautiful, brilliant, and eccentric than the next–dominate the English political, literary, and social scenes. Though they’ve weathered scandals before, the family falls into disarray when Diana divorces her wealthy husband to marry a fascist leader and Unity follows her sister’s lead all the way to Munich, inciting rumors that she’s become Hitler’s mistress.
Fellowship Point: A Novel
The masterful story of a lifelong friendship between two very different women with shared histories and buried secrets, tested in the twilight of their lives, set across the arc of the 20th century. Celebrated children’s book author Agnes Lee is determined to secure her legacy–to complete what she knows will be the final volume of her pseudonymously written Franklin Square novels; and even more consuming, to permanently protect the peninsula of majestic coast in Maine known as Fellowship Point.
To donate the land to a trust, Agnes must convince shareholders to dissolve a generations-old partnership. And one of those shareholders is her best friend, Polly. Polly Wister has led a different kind of life than Agnes: that of a well-off married woman with children, defined by her devotion to her husband, and philosophy professor with an inflated sense of stature. She exalts in creating beauty and harmony in her home, in her friendships, and in her family. Polly soon finds her loyalties torn between the wishes of her best friend and the wishes of her three sons–but what is it that Polly wants herself?
Cole, Bart, and Teddy, the three principals of True Triangle Construction, are hired to finish a project for a mysteriously wealthy homeowner. The grand house is unlike anything they’ve worked on before, and they’re sure it’ll put their name on the map. But the owner is intent on having it built in a few months, an impossible task made irresistible by an exorbitant bonus. Up against the critical deadline and the threat of a harsh Wyoming winter, the trio will do anything to get the money, even if it means risking their lives…or each other’s. With heart-pounding danger and high-stakes action, Godspeed is a
gripping thriller about greed and violence that asks: How much is never enough?
The Trackers: A Novel (releases on April 11, 2023)
Hurtling past the downtrodden communities of Depression-era America, painter Val Welch travels westward to the rural town of Dawes, Wyoming. Through a stroke of luck, he’s landed a New Deal assignment to create a mural representing the region for their new Post Office.
A wealthy art lover named John Long and his wife Eve have agreed to host Val at their sprawling ranch. Rumors and intrigue surround the couple: Eve left behind an itinerant life riding the rails and singing in a western swing band. Long holds shady political aspirations, but was once a WWI sniper–and his right hand is a mysterious elder cowboy, a vestige of the violent old west. Val quickly finds himself entranced by their lives. One day, Eve flees home with a valuable painting in tow, and Long recruits Val to hit the road with a mission of tracking her down.
Take a book club field trip to Parnassus to see Charles Frazier discuss The Trackers with Tony Earley on release day, April 11, at 6:30pm CT! Get your tickets here.
The Golden Doves: A Novel (releases April 18, 2023)
American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are thrilled to be working in the French resistance, stealing so many Nazi secrets that they become known as the Golden Doves, renowned across France and hunted by the Gestapo. Their courage will cost them everything. When they are finally arrested and taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, along with their loved ones, a reclusive Nazi doctor does unspeakable things to Josie’s mother, a celebrated Jewish singer who joined her daughter in Paris when the world seemed bright. And Arlette’s son is stolen from her, never to be seen again.
Learn more about our three in-store book clubs here! Then join us this month for the Parnassus Book Club’s discussion of Zorrie by Laird Hunt and the Classics Club’s discussion of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Dates and times are always listed on our events calendar. No registration required!