Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What shall I read next?

As explained in our Welcome section we started our reading group almost exactly 25 years ago. I don’t recall that any of us had had any experience being in another book group at that time. Our very first book was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Very early on we adopted as our policy or theme to read only books that had a strong female character. The books didn’t need to be written by women but did need this strong female character. To give us suggestions we invited at different times a woman whom I knew who taught a class in children’s literature (I was a math major so the word “literature” in any context was impressive to me) and a man that I met at a Christmas party who was a professor of women’s literature at the local state university. Over time (25 years is a lot of books) in our search for titles we adopted other themes: magical realism, South American, classics, contemporary, World Wars I and II, prize winners (Nobel, Booker – no guarantee: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner was a general disappointment as I recall). Of course the easiest way out is to hire a facilitator who provides a list of choices and guides the discussions – which we have also done at times.

But there are other sources and I thought I would share a few of mine. In December I picked up at my local Costco a copy of 501 Must-Read Books published by Bounty Books. I must say I’m impressed by what we have – and haven’t - read over the years. I don’t know that I will ever get to The Epic of Gilgamesh from circa 2100 BCE but someone is reading it as there are four translations currently in print. There are many authors in the Modern Fiction section that are new to me – especially it seems Italian authors: The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Declares Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi…In addition to Fiction (Classic and Modern) there are sections on Thrillers, Travel Writing, History, Memoirs and more.

In a similar vein is a book that I picked up at least a decade ago: The Reader’s Choice 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria Golden McMains. The book starts with suggestions about forming a book club. Then each of the book selections (which include fiction and nonfiction) is given a page of description and a couple of questions for discussion. The selections are arranged alphabetically by Author but then at the end is an index by Title but best of all a Subject Index including Countries. So if you are planning a vacation to Wales or New Zealand or even New York and you want a book in that locale this will give you some ideas. Or perhaps when you return to recapture some of the feeling...

Of course there are magazines – my current favorite is Bookmarks (subtitled For Everyone Who Hasn’t Read Everything) which is published every 2 months. Much of the content is available for free online at The first thing I do when my issue arrives in the mail is turn to the Book Group Profile. This is a profile in question and answer format and a photo of an existing book group including some located overseas. They describe themselves, what they read, how their gatherings are conducted, what they’ve liked or disliked. The variation among groups is astounding! With that out of the way then I can turn to the actual book and author contents. This is a great resource. I would never have known about the free book downloads (mostly classics) available at

Finally no list of sources could omit the Internet. Twice a month I receive by email a newsletter BookBrowse (subtitled Your Guide to Exceptional Books). It previews/reviews new or forthcoming books. There is the version of the newsletter that I receive which is free and then there is a subscription membership which seems like a reasonable value but I already am suffering from information overload. And then there is the tradeoff between reading more about books or actually reading a real book itself. I think that I need less of the former and more of the latter.

Let us know in your Comments if you have found other sources of interest.

Happy reading!

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