Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Communal Reading and Personal Choices

Years ago, in an article I wish I had clipped and saved, the book editor for the Charlotte Observer bemoaned the fact that her husband, while also a reader, did not like to discuss with her the books he read. I find reflected there my own need to talk about what I read. (I suppose that's why I'm here blogging.) My first instinct upon finishing a book I enjoy (or even one that baffles me) is to suggest it to someone else who might read it and then talk about it with me. Every book doesn't fit every friend; I know that for sure. Some of my friends and family have reacted either violently against or apathetically to books I have loved.

I had dinner last night with a small book group that has been in various stages of flux for several years now. We had finished reading The Help--one everyone liked--and we were ready for the next selection. I always show up for our meetings with book lists and suggestions, but I can rarely predict what we will choose. There's a certain amount of pressure, too, in selecting a book for several people, particularly when I feel obliged to read it and to finish it by a certain date. (Usually I finish far enough ahead that I have to review my notes or start to forget character names. I do, though, remember reading the last few pages of Middlesex in the parking lot before our meeting.)

This time we decided to read Lisa See's new novel Shanghai Girls. Those of us who have been reading together the longest had read both of her previous books, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. We'd loved them both and appreciated that they were quite different from one another. Our second choice (since we only meet once a month and most of us read much more than that) is A Reliable Wife, a book my daughter gave me for Mother's Day.

Once we've made our choices for the group, we begin to discuss our other reading over the past month. Having spent a good proportion of that time driving, I had made it through several books on tape, including a particular favorite, The Devil in the White City, a nonfiction account of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the parallel story of the serial killer loose in the city at the time. Since I'm heading to Chicago soon, this gave me some ideas of places to visit while there.

I also listened to Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, a novel about race horses, their owners, breeders, and trainers. Even the horses' personalities emerge through her novel. My lightest fare was an abridged version (I hate those but happened to have it on hand when the others ran out) of Peter Mayle's Hotel Pastis. His books all make me want to travel--and to eat French and Italian food.

So far, I've found willing listeners to whom I've passed along the tapes. Now I can slip back into my corner with a book of my own choosing.

1 comment:

susanv said...

Can't wait to hear about Shanghai Girls. It's on my "to buy" list.

I saw Laura and your sweet grandbabies at swim class yesterday. Claire and Avery are in the same class. They sure are cuties!