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What my bookgroup will be reading in the first half of 2017

November 30, 2016
Woman reading with cushion

Courtesy: Clker.com

You may notice that I sometimes identify a review as being for a book I’ve read with my reading group, but only once before in this blog have I dedicated a post to my reading group’s schedule, so I thought it was time to do it again. It’s particularly appropriate now because last night my group chose our first 6 books for next year.

I recently mentioned in a comment to ANZLitLovers Lisa that my group would be choosing its schedule, and she wished me good luck because she knows reading group selections can be fraught. However, that’s never really been the case in my group (at least I don’t think so. Those who read this blog can correct my rose-coloured glasses if they see it differently!).

This is not to say that there’s not discussion about our selections, or that there aren’t some different reading interests in the group. There is always some lively argy-bargy. But, the group was established on the basis that we wanted to read “good” books – books that challenge us, books that have a reputation for quality, books that have something to encourage discussion. Content is part of it, but sometimes you hear people recommending a book as a “good reading group book” because it’s an “issues book” like, say, a Jodi Picoult. We have nothing against “issues books” – many of us read them – but for our schedule, for the sort of discussion we want, the books we choose need to be more multi-dimensional.

Before you think it, I must clarify that this doesn’t mean that we read only “worthy” award-winning literary fiction. We read all sorts – including non-fiction – and we’ve occasionally had poetry nights. The best way to demonstrate this is to share our next 6 books:

  • Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s Passionate nomad: this book was chosen as the result of one of the members reading my recent post on 19th century travellers. In the end, we chose a biography of an early twentieth century “lady traveller”, Freya Stark. It’s probably our riskiest selection, but the biography is respected we believe.
  • Grahame Greene’s Travels with my aunt: we try to do at least one classic each year – such as, most recently, Dostoevsky’s Crime and punishment and Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart – so when someone suggested Grahame Greene whom we haven’t discussed before, he was in.
  • Madelaine Dickie’s Troppo: this is a debut novel which won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for unpublished manuscript in 2014. Of course, it helped that the author is the fiancée of one of our founding members.
  • AS Patric’s Black rock, white city: as this year’s Miles Franklin Award winner, Patric’s book was an obvious choice.
  • Ian McEwan’s Nutshell: there are several McEwan fans in the group, and we haven’t done one of his books since Solar in 2010, so it seemed time!
  • Kim Mahood’s Position doubtful: this is author-artist-mapmaker Mahood’s memoir about her experience of place and landscape in the Tanami Desert area of remote central Australia where she grew up and now spends part of her time each year. This book is particularly interesting to us because of the perspectives she can bring from her very particular history as a white woman working and living in what is now indigenous land.

So, three women writers and three men; four novels and two non-fiction works; three Australian writers and three not. No translated works or indigenous writers in this group, but there’s always the second half of the year to increase the diversity. We did do a translated work, an indigenous writer, and an African writer this year.

If you’re in a reading group, have you decided on your schedule for next year yet? And, if so, what criteria do you use?

34 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2016 12:04 am

    Good choices! I read Passionate Nomad and found it very interesting. I also read Travels with My Aunt but that was a long time ago and I loved it back then. Finally, I read Nutshell just recently with an online group and we all enjoyed it quite a lot.

    My groups are all online. They all nominate and vote for selections – the schedules go for 3 months. One group is All-nonfiction so that’s the constraint. One group has a theme like Christmas.

    • December 1, 2016 12:19 am

      Thanks Bekah … one friend said she thought Nutshell was McEwan’s best. Big call. I’ll be interested to see if I agree. Not knowing much about Passionate nomad your approval is good to hear.

      I wish I had time to join a couple of the online groups again. My reading diversity did so well when I read with you all. But the blog has taken me in another direction and it’s really hard to combine them all – at least it is for me in my current life anyhow!

      • December 1, 2016 1:16 am

        Actually, Nutshell might very well be McEwan’s best, all things considered. I’m a big fan of his early work but not so much the more recent more literary attempts. Nutshell seems to do both the suspense and the literary.

        • December 1, 2016 7:27 am

          Such different opinions on this one, eh, Bekah. I think the last of his that I loved was On Chesil Beach, but then I think I’ve only read one since then.

  2. December 1, 2016 12:18 am

    I guess Nutshell will give you plenty to talk about, but it’s a terrible book! I reviewed it on Sept. 25 and counted some of the ways.

    • December 1, 2016 12:21 am

      Thanks for this Jeanne. I don’t read reviews until I read the book myself – hence I know very little about Nutshell – but I’ll try to remember to come back to your review then You have permission to remind me if I don’t! It sounds like an odd concept, but as I just commented to Bekah, one friend thought it was his best. It sounds like it’s one of those books with a very particular set up that you either like or don’t?

  3. December 1, 2016 1:12 am

    Your list looks interesting – I’m especially eager to read Black Rock, White City.

    I haven’t heard from the co-ordinator of our local book group so I’m not sure if it’s even continuing in the new year. Declining attendance, and regular vacations by key players were taking their toll this past year.

    • December 1, 2016 7:25 am

      Oh that’s a shame Debbie. A good book group can be such a joy. I must say we have had declining attendances in recent years with many of us now retired and travelling, particularly in the winter months, but we had 9 at this last meeting.

  4. December 1, 2016 6:33 am

    Wish my book club was as organised and clear focused as this. If you miss a meeting you only get to know the next choice a few days before the meeting……On McEwan, I am afraid he and I have parted company. I enjoyed his earlier work but after Atonement I started to lose interest

    • December 1, 2016 7:35 am

      In always surprised Karen by the number of book grips who choose their books month by month. We do like to know quay we are facing so we can buy them in advance, reserve them at the library, borrow from friend etc. The smallest advance notice we have is two months, twine a year – from November, when we choose the first 6 books of the year starting in January, and May, when we choose the second set of the year starting in July.

      I know some groups here use book group services and they receive their next book, which will be one of a number they’ve nominated, at each meeting. Nothing much they can do about that.

  5. Meg permalink
    December 1, 2016 7:23 am

    My book club brain stormed last month and we confirmed January and February reads as The Dry by Jane Harper and Black Rock White City. The other definite reads for the year will be Everywhere I Look Helen Garner, The Boy Hehind the Curtain Tim Winton, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, La Rose by Louise Erdich and The good People by Hannah Kent.
    I enjoyed Nutshell but my favourite is Atonement. I would like to get back to my online book clubs, but I just don’t have the time anymore, since I have retired!

    • December 1, 2016 7:43 am

      I know exactly how you feel, Meg, about retirement. I feel lucky if I can find an hour to read in a day. Weekends I might managd a couple of hours a day, but otherwise… I’m really surprised at how little time I find.

      Not surprising I suppose that we have some crossovers. Hannah Kent’s was tossed around. It may end up in the second part of the year – or it may not. Love that you have Louise Erdrich in your mix.

  6. December 1, 2016 9:23 am

    I’m reading Black Rock White City at present and find it enormously profound. A great choice for a reading group!

    • December 1, 2016 9:46 am

      Thanks Annette. I’m really looking forward to reading it. I haven’t heard a bad word about it.

  7. December 1, 2016 9:57 am

    I’m not looking forward to retirement if it means I’ll read less! I’m glad you’re getting to Black Rock White City. As for the others, I like Greene and I found Atonement pretentious, but Passionate Nomad sounds good.

    • December 1, 2016 1:45 pm

      Maybe your retirement will be easier than mine, but mine has been packed (so far) – contract work (slowing down now, after several years of it), volunteering, organisational commitments, family commitments, not to mention social activities have filled up the time almost too nicely!

      Re Atonement, it was quite a controversial book in my reading group. Some hated it, but most of us loved it.

      • December 3, 2016 10:45 am

        Atonement irritated me because it was so similar to The Chamomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. Incredible similarity and I read Lesley’s book first. It made me wonder.

        • December 3, 2016 2:09 pm

          Ah, I can understand that. Have you ever googled, say, atonement chamomile, and seen what turned up?

  8. December 1, 2016 11:30 am

    I think you will love Position Doubtful. I’ve just read it, and it’s in my head all day long as I look around my own landscape…
    I think I might chase up Troppo… I try to read the Hungerford winners because they’re usually very good.

    • December 1, 2016 1:46 pm

      I’m sure I will Lisa, but I have to wait until next June! Wah! I never like to read books way before we discuss them as I like to be fresh. I think Nathan has reviewed Troppo, but I’m saving reading his review until I read it.

  9. sharkell permalink
    December 1, 2016 4:52 pm

    I am a member of 4 bookclubs, all quite different. One is a group that has been running for over 10 years, we rotate the book choice around the group, some choices are brilliant, others I don’t get around to reading as they are not of interest to me. Another is a very small group of friends who don’t read a lot – I choose a book each month that I have already read and enjoyed which the others then read. The third is like the second, but with a couple more literary members, but I choose all the books (at their request, of course). And the 4th is a group of literary minded women and while we don’t read a book, we pick a bookish topic to discuss and go from there. Because I choose the books for 2 of the groups and can choose from books I’ve recently read or I’m about to read, this helps me manage the reading load of belonging to 4 groups, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I haven’t read any of the books on your list but I am waiting for Patrick’s book from the library.

    • ian darling permalink
      December 1, 2016 8:55 pm

      That seems a really good list. Interesting to see what you will make of the Graham Greene as it isn’t one of the more obvious choices of his for the group to make. What a brilliant Australian word is Troppo!

      • December 1, 2016 10:58 pm

        Yes, interesting point Ian. Would you have thought The quiet American, or another of his “serious” novels? I’d be interested to know. I haven’t read Travels with my aunt so was happy to support the option.

        Troppo, yes! Aussies are known, as you may know, regularly use abbreviations, through Troppo is a good-un I agree.

        • ian darling permalink
          December 2, 2016 1:01 am

          With the film and everything Quiet American would have been the “obvious” choice as would Power And the Glory, Brighton Rock or perhaps The End Of the Affair…just goes to show what an original and discerning reading group you belong to!

        • December 2, 2016 7:48 am

          Haha, Ian, you know how to win friends! But so many interesting options for Greene, eh?

    • December 1, 2016 10:22 pm

      Haha Sharkell, thanks for sharing this. Sounds like you have it well organised. I used to be a member of several bookgroups, but now it’s just this one – we’ll celebrate our 29th anniversary in February – and my Jane Austen one for which we do all sorts of homework but we don’t necessarily read a book for each meeting.

      • sharkell permalink
        December 2, 2016 9:17 am

        29 years is pretty amazing – how wonderful for you

        • December 2, 2016 9:24 am

          Thanks Sharkell, yes we love it. There are still five of us from those first days, and we keep in close contact with those who have moved away.

  10. December 2, 2016 4:43 am

    Wow, look at your group, so organized! A Nice mix of choices too. I will be interested in what you make of Nutshell because to me it sounds utterly ridiculous and I trust your opinion so if you tell me it isn’t I will stop laughing at it 🙂

    • December 2, 2016 7:51 am

      You’re on, Stefanie… I know what you mean, but you also know that I’m good at suspending disbelief.

  11. December 3, 2016 10:40 am

    Interesting list. Our book group makes a list of 5 books at the end of the previous year and send it to one person. She then picks the books. None of us care what we read. We’ll try anything. We usually have two books per month. A lighter one or a child’s or one that might be kind of fluffy then a serious one. We can read one or the other or both depending on our month’s schedules. We are a moderately serious group then we break into a silly mood when we play a literary game of some sort after the discussions. We meet in the foyer of the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Hobart each month in the evening. Have wine, tea or coffee and maybe a Creme Brûlée or a bowl of chips. Some people come there and eat a quick meal before the group if they have worked all day. We meet from about 7:30 to 10:30. A great night out.

    • December 3, 2016 2:07 pm

      I like the sound of your group’s meeting – the hotel clearly doesn’t mind your meeting in their foyer? How many of you are there? Also, do you manage to discuss both books? Anyhow, I’ll share this with my group, they’ll be intrigued. We had one meeting at a restaurant that has a bookshop this year – but only 5 turned up so it worked well. With 8 0r more of us (like 9 we have last week) conversation would have been trickier I think.

      • December 6, 2016 9:20 pm

        We have 10 members. No one can join until someone leaves. It took me a year to get in. The hotel foyer is huge and there are lots of little (cubby houses is what I call them). Couch x 2 + chairs + 4. They don’t mind at all because people buy things from the bar. There is a bar menu plus drinks both hot and cold and alcoholic. It works out really well and our view is of the fishing boats on the Hobart waterfront. Great idea.

        • December 6, 2016 9:41 pm

          Yes, sounds like a great idea Pam. No work for anyone. We don’t have a set number of members, but when we feel we are getting low we invite someone new in. One person waited for 15 years or so, and another one for quite a few years too. We are getting a bit low again. Well, actually, we have 10/11 active members but for much of the year we are only getting 5 or 6 to meetings these days because with most of us retired, there’s a lot of travelling, particularly in winter. Last meeting – starting to be nice weather – we had 9, but the one before, changeable spring, we only had 5. It’s a bit of a juggle to work out, under these circumstances, how many members would be good to have.

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