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My reading group’s top picks for 2017

December 23, 2017

Jane Fletcher Geniesse, Passionate nomad, book coverThis year was my reading group’s 30th year, and for the first time ever we decided to vote on our top picks for the year. Will it become a tradition? Who knows? Anyhow, in the spirit of end-of-year lists, I thought you might be interested to see the result, because you will know some of these books.

First, though, here’s what we read in the order we read them (with links to my reviews). I missed one when I was travelling – unfortunately:

And now, the winners …

Min Jin Lee, PachinkoAll eleven of our currently active members voted. We had to name our top three picks, which resulted in 32 votes being cast (as one member only voted for two books). The top vote-getters are:

  1. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (7 votes)
  2. The museum of modern love, by Heather Rose (6 votes)
  3. Black rock white city, by AS Patrić (5 votes)

Highly commended were Nutshell by Ian McEwan (3 votes), and Our souls at night by Kent Haruf (3 votes). In other words, five books received 24 of the 32 votes cast, which is pretty decisive, don’t you think?

Heather Rose, The museum of modern loveBut of course, this is not a scientific survey. Votes were all given equal weight, even where people indicated an order of preference, and not everyone read every book, which means different people voted from different “pools”. If all had read every book Pachinko may have had even more votes (because my memory tells me that every one, or almost everyone, who read it voted for it.)

A few, including yours truly, tried to sneak in some extra “votes” but these were rejected by the returning officer (who happened to be yours truly!) These “extras” were for Stan Grant’s Talking to my country, Kent Haruf’s Our souls at night, Kim Mahood’s Position doubtful and AS Patrić’s Black rock white city.
 
AS Patric, Black rock white cityInterestingly, a few commented that there wasn’t one book in our schedule that they didn’t enjoy. Now, that’s an achievement! Of course, sometimes disagreement can engender the best discussions, but this year’s selection contained such meaty and/or “big” books that there always seemed to be issues to tease out.
Selected comments (accompanying the votes)
  • PACHINKO: Most members who commented on this one liked it for the cultural history it provides about Koreans in Japan, something which few us knew much about. One member added that  “the story was told so very well without pathos but with sympathy for the victims.”
  • THE MUSEUM OF MODERN LOVE: Comments on this included that it was revealing about “Abramovic the artist and the relationship with her audience”, with one member saying  “it was almost perfect. It satisfied on so many levels”.
  • BLACK ROCK WHITE CITY: Two members were uncertain about this to start with, one saying “I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it but found I was totally absorbed very quickly” and another that “I started with low expectations and his beautiful writing won me over.” In the end, all who voted for it agreed, I’d say, with the member who called it “a fabulous and quirky story related to the migrant experience .”
  • NUTSHELL: The two members who commented on this one wrote “beautiful writing and a very innovative theme, makes me look at foetuses in a different way” and “clever, quirky and a lot of fun.”
  • OUR SOULS AT NIGHT: As for this one, if you’ve read Haruf you won’t be surprised at comments describing it as “a real gem”, as “deceptively simple with big themes and big heart.”

And next year, do I hear you ask?

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The sympathizerWe choose our schedule twice a year, so here are our books for the first half of 2018:
  • Rabih Alameddine’s An unnecessary woman
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The sympathizer (which most of you know I’ve already read)
  • Claire Coleman’s Terra nullius 
  • Helen Garner night: read any from Garner’s oeuvre (an experiment. We’ve done poetry nights where we bring a poem or two to share, but never something like this.)
  • Richard Flanagan’s First person
  • Randolph Stow’s The merry-go-round in the sea (our classic, because we always like to do at least one)

If you are in a reading group – face-to-face or online – I’d love to hear your highlights and/or what you plan to read in 2018.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2017 10:09 am

    Pachinko must be very, very good to be better than those other two.

    • December 23, 2017 12:36 pm

      Well, they are quite different Bill. The other two are more innovative, I’d say, but Pachinko is well written and tells a complex story with clarity and warmth.

    • December 23, 2017 12:39 pm

      Oh, and Black rock white city could have been equal second if I hadn’t tossed a coin and decided to go with Stan Grant as my third vote because of its relevance to where we are today. (Not that Patrić isn’t also relevant, in its own way). My sneaky attempt at a fourth vote was for the Patrić!

  2. December 23, 2017 10:48 am

    Wow, 30 years! Your reading group is almost my age! I really enjoyed reading your review of Pachinko, so I bought it for Tim for Christmas (so I can read it. Hehe.). It’ll be good while we still remember our time in Japan and Korea. ~ Li

    • December 23, 2017 12:35 pm

      Haha, it is Li, in fact less than a year younger than Hannah. We had our first meeting in Feb 1988. I’m thrilled that my review resulted in your buying Pachinko. I like your thinking there too! Have a great Christmas. It’s nice staying in contact!

  3. December 23, 2017 1:50 pm

    Your group reads interesting books. I haven’t decided if I will rejoin the book club I have had a break from. Need to decide soon and let them know. For one month in a past group each person had to read a non fiction book about something they knew nothing about. Then come to group and talk about what they learned. We had an assortment. Everything from the care of ferrets to Winston Churchill. It was great fun.

    • December 23, 2017 2:53 pm

      I think we do Pam!! But that idea sounds like an interesting one to try one month too. If I remember when we come to choosing for the second half I’ll suggest it.

      What are your pros and cons for rejoining your club? Is it to do with the choices?

      • December 23, 2017 5:18 pm

        It is due to being a slow reader and not thinking the book choices are worth discussing. We do hit on a few good ones but there is so much I want to read and reading “airport novels” for a book club is a waste of time. Also some members don’t finish or read the book at all and book choices appear to be picked by the facilitator. We are asked for input but I don’t see that input being listened to or taken seriously. I think I won’t be continuing. I enjoy chatting books with more serious readers online to tell you the truth of just contributing to various blog posts I enjoy. I have so many books at home that need to be read!!!

        • December 23, 2017 5:35 pm

          I wondered. I think (and I think I’ve said this before) that this was the group my brother’s partner tried, but didn’t stick with. It sounds like the choosing approach wouldn’t suit me – we do work by a general consensus of whoever is there on the night we choose. The first question when someone suggests a book that sounds a bit “airport-y” or a bit straightforward is “but does it have anything/enough to talk about”. We do have people not finishing books but it’s not the same people usually, and we always have enough who finish it to have a good discussion. Everyone knows that we are there to discuss books and that there’s an allocated time before and after that for chit chat, which we also do. Online discussion with other keen readers can be very stimulating I agree but I’m lucky with my in-person group.

  4. Deepika Ramesh permalink
    December 23, 2017 3:29 pm

    “A few, including yours truly, tried to sneak in some extra “votes” but these were rejected by the returning officer (who happened to be yours truly!)”

    That made me laugh, WG. You are adorable. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your reading group’s picks. I haven’t read ‘Pachinko’. Now that you all have voted for it, I want to try.

    I have read ‘An Unnecessary Woman’. It is one of my all-time favourites, WG. I think you would love it. The writing is utterly delightful. It is melodramatic, but I love such books.

    I am not a part of any reading groups. I would love to, but I am too shy to go out and talk about books. 🙂

    • December 23, 2017 3:35 pm

      Oh good Deepika, re An unnecessary woman. I put it forward because it is one of my sister-in-law’s favourite books. She has read it more than once, she liked it so. So, I’m hoping most of my reading group (at least) will too!

      Think again about joining a reading group – you’re not too shy to blog after all!! The hardest thing is finding a group which likes to read things you’d be happy to read and which actually does then discuss the books (respectfully.) We’ve managed it with amazingly few problems but I know many groups don’t. (You could start one yourself if you have a few like-minded friends.)

      • Deepika Ramesh permalink
        December 23, 2017 3:40 pm

        Thank you, WG. I will see if I can do something like that in 2018.

        Also, are you still using the e-mail address mentioned in your ‘About’ page? I have sent you an e-mail. 🙂

        • December 23, 2017 10:31 pm

          Hi Deepika. Yes I do, and I have replied to your lovely, though only today. I have two gmail addresses and they forward to each other so it took me a while to log into the blog one to reply from it. Hopefully you have my response now.

        • Deepika Ramesh permalink
          December 23, 2017 10:52 pm

          Thank you, WG. I have your response now. 🙂

        • December 24, 2017 2:36 am

          Wunderbar … I had to wait till I got to my laptop to check my password to sign into the right account!! Weird set-up I have, I know!

  5. December 23, 2017 4:12 pm

    I bought Pachinko based on your recommendation when you reviewed it.

  6. December 26, 2017 12:21 pm

    Thank you for these recommendations! I’ve just finished the Museum of Modern Love and adored it so much that I don’t know what to read next. Will try Pachinko next. Magdalena

    • December 27, 2017 6:07 pm

      Oh, I’m so glad you loved the book too Magdalena. It was such a thoughtful book but a page-turning read as well. Memorable. Let me know if you read and like Pachinko. A very different book but so engaging too.

      • December 28, 2017 10:37 am

        I ADORE books about art, so The Museum of Modern Love was made for me! I’ve just started reading Tin Man, which is divine, and also touches on art. Pachinko will be next! Thanks again for the recommendation.

        • December 28, 2017 11:03 am

          Thanks Magdalena. I tend to love books about writers and writing – strangely!! But books about any of the arts – like art and music – come very close so I loved the book too. I particularly loved its questioning of what is art.

  7. Brian Joseph permalink
    December 27, 2017 7:33 am

    Thirty years is so many impressive foe a reading group to last. This is also a great looking list of books. I want to read The Sympathizer myself this upcoming year. I am off to read your commentary on it.

    • December 27, 2017 8:32 am

      Thanks Brian. We love our group, and still have about five original members of the currently active 11. I’ll look out for your review of The sympathizer!

  8. Meg permalink
    December 31, 2017 1:49 pm

    Hi Sue, my book club has been going for about 44 years, but I have only being involved for about 30 years or so. Though only 3 original members. Our favourite reads for this year were Salt City by Lucy Treloar and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Last week in Tasmania and now in Queensland house and dog sitting for most of .January.

    • December 31, 2017 4:59 pm

      What a great group. I have a friend in a group that’s around 50 years. It was a couples group but now most have died (I think no couples are left – just widows and widowers – and they meet for afternoon tea. I don’t think much book reading is going on, but I hope my group is still meeting in twenty years.

      Those sound like great favourites. I must suggest Elizabeth Strout to my group. I seem never to get to her but that would be a good way, and I reckon they’d like her.

      Enjoy your house and dog sitting. Hope you are not in a too-humid part of Queensland.

  9. December 31, 2017 6:11 pm

    I am sure your friends would enjoy Elizabeth Strout. I have a male friend who thinks she is great. lYes, I am in a very humid part of Queensland. On the beach tonight for fireworks with my nieces children. Hopefully the storms will keep passing.

    • January 1, 2018 12:35 am

      Yes I think they would from what I’ve heard. I just have to convince them. I’m afraid I couldn’t cope with humidity. I sure hope the storms keep passing.

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  1. ‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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