Posted by Caren Crane Apr 21 2012, 1:13 am in book clubs, books, Caren Crane, David Sedaris, ella minnow pea, Genres, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Shakespeare, something different, The Weird Sisters, what are you reading
Maybe because many people know I write, I’m often asked what I’m reading. I read a ton of books every year, especially considering I work full-time. I buy, beg and borrow lots of books in lots of different genres and sub-genres, and people are sometimes surprised at what I’m reading.
I also belong to a book club with about 14 other people at work. We take turns picking a book for each month, then meet for lunch once a month to discuss the book. This can be a bit like herding cats for the facilitator, but makes for energetic and lively conversation. It also forces me to read books I would not normally pick up. My sisters, mother, daughters and sometimes my son, recommend books they are sure I will love. Almost 100% of the time, these books are nothing I would ever pick up in a million years. Many, however, have turned into some of my favorite books of all time.
I wanted to share some of the most interesting books I have read lately that may not have crossed your radar, so here is a short list of books you may want to pick up if you’re looking for something different:
1. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – This book is women’s fiction and is a tale of three grown (30ish) sisters. Their father is a Shakespearean scholar and professor and they grew up in a small college town in Ohio. They are brought home when their mother is diagnosed with cancer – and due to circumstances in their own lives. The two most interesting things about this book, to me, were: 1) the exceptional and excellent use of third-person collective, omniscient POV; and, 2) the insistent interweaving of childhood anecdotes throughout the book. A fun, fast read that feels different. This was a book I picked for book club based on reviews and I was very happy with my choice.
2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark – This book is set in the Regency, during and after the Peninsular Wars. It is the story of two very different magicians who are attempting to resurrect “good English magic” and the trouble that ensues. My mother recommended this book to me and it was an absolute delight. It is also lengthy – almost 900 pages – so anyone who enjoys stories set during the Regency and also enjoys a bit of fun and magic in-depth character studies all set in a hefty book should enjoy this one. I have not had so much sheer reading delight in a long time (okay, since last summer’s plow through the whole A Song of Ice and Fire series – recommended and gifted to me by my son).
3. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris – If you’ve never read David Sedaris, you may not want to start with this book. His books are all hilarious collections of essays – some very true, some mostly true, some slightly true and some purely fictional. You get to decide which are which. For the beginner, I would recommend Holidays On Ice or Me Talk Pretty One Day. He is laugh-out-loud funny and tells painful truths about himself and all of us. This is a fairly recent (2008) collection of essays and, now that Sedaris is 50-ish, his painful truths of being middle-aged, living with a long-term partner, living in foreign countries, dealing with family and handling things like trying to quit smoking are even more searingly close-to-home for me than his earlier fare. This was a book club pick by another member and I was delighted she chose it.
4. Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn – The original hardcover title was Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogramatic epistolary fable, but apparently people were intimidated by that title, so they dumbed it down for us. This is a short, insanely fun book about a fictional island nation off the coast of South Carolina, where the inhabitants pay undying and very serious homage to their most famous citizen, Ned Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” In the course of the book, letters from the pangram begin falling off the statue of Nollop in the town square and the reactive town leaders decide that as letters fall off, they must be excised from speech, writing and literature. Communication quickly becomes both difficult and frustrating for island inhabitants. The punishment? Public censure for a first offense, lashing or stocks (violator’s choice) upon a second offense and permanent banishment from the island nation upon the third. Compelling, fast-paced and a rollicking good time!
So what great book have you read lately that was different from your usual picks? Do you have friends, relatives or a book club that push your reading boundaries? Please share, because we all love to discover great new (to us) books!
Posted by Caren Crane Aug 16 2009, 5:32 am in book clubs, Caren Crane, The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb
by Caren Crane
So, a while back I blogged about joining this book club at work. I joined the book club for several reasons. First, I liked the lady who invited me (we are old friends from leading Girl Scouts). Second, it was a great way to “network” a bit and get to know people who work in departments with whom I rarely or never interface. Last – and certainly not least – I knew the group would give me a reason to read outside my genres of choice, romance and mystery. And no, it’s not like The Jane Austen Book Club with hot guys and stuff. Although there are a couple of guys in the book club and we do, oddly, find aspects of many of the books reflected in our lives.
What I didn’t realize was that I would like it. I mean, really and truly dig it. Hard. I haven’t loved all the books. In fact, there have been a couple I haven’t like a bit. However, I am definitely reading outside the circle of books I would choose for myself. I have read non-fiction – my least favorite thing EVAH – for this book club. With all that reading and digesting and discussing stuff I would never pick up on my own, it must be a good thing.
I’ve found, though, that I enjoy picking apart books with people who are, for the most part, not writers. Well, one group member is a writer, but she writes literary fiction, so we don’t approach writing from the same world view at all. These intelligent, diverse people are readers and I love hearing what they enjoy or find hard to digest in a book. As you readers-who-are-not-also-writers know, because we say it all the time, writing kind of ruins that “gee golly” experience of just immersing yourself in a book and losing yourself in it. Except…I have. I’ve had the closest thing to a “gee golly” read that I’ve had in years recently and I wanted to share it with you.
It was Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. Now, I read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True and I thought they were brilliant, but that was before I was a writer. I was hesitant about this new book for a couple of reasons. First, my younger sister (whom I adore and whose taste in books I often share) thought it was incredibly depressing – even for Wally Lamb. Second, the book is 723 pages. Yep, 723. And that is NOT counting the Afterword, the Notes From the Author, and the Acknowledgments. Yes, friends, this puppy was a tome.
My sister happily passed it along to me months ago. I thought, since our book club discussion was in August(!), that I would have plenty of time to read it. Except I couldn’t quite pick it up. I had a teetering TBR pile this summer and a little more reading time on my hands, with the school year activities on hiatus. Then came the RWA conference and another load of “must read” books. Wally’s tome kept sitting there, gathering dust, on the dining room table. Until this week. This week, I picked it up and dutifully delved in, wary and skeptical. I was completely sucked in by page 7 and didn’t come up for air that first night until long about page 117. It was just that good.
I am a slow reader, but Wally makes me keep turning pages and stay up lo-o-ong after my bedtime. I very much enjoyed Kirsty Gunn, Ann Patchett and Lisa See, as well as some other great authors whose books we have read and discussed. But Wally…I think Wally has won me over yet again and probably forever. Much as I adore and cherish every happy ending I read in romance and even mystery, I like the sidetrips into Wally’s brand of family dysfunction, all-too-real marriage drama, mental illness, alcoholism, troubled childhood and trial-by-fire adolescence. He has a gift for illuminating human pain and for putting in words the ways we humans tear each other apart and knit it all back together.
I don’t love Wally because he is an easy read. He isn’t. His books pack a hard emotional wallop, which some find hard to take. Sometimes, I like my emotion the hard way. I love him because he shines a light on the darkest places in the human soul and shows that, no matter how bad things are, there is always a way back. And someone – usually the last person you would choose – can be there to lend you a hand, if you’ll let them. I like to go to that dark place sometimes and, thanks to my book club, I have regularly scheduled times to do so. When I’m done with one of these beautifully-constructed odes to pain and reality, though, I usually need an extra helping of happy-ever-after to re-establish the balance in Caren world. Which is generally, after all, as happy a place as I can make it!
So, what do you read when you don’t read romance? And why are you drawn to whatever “other” sorts of books call to you? Is romance a palate cleanser or the main course? I definitely use it to cleanse my literary palate, but I think the heavy stuff is merely an interesting side dish for this reader!
Posted by Caren Crane Sep 21 2008, 4:01 am in book clubs, Caren Crane
by Caren Crane
Most people here in the Lair know me well enough by now to guess that I’m not much of a “joiner”. I pretty much eschew clubs and organizations of all kinds, unless they pertain to romance writing. But a few weeks ago, I joined a…book club.
I know, right? I was at an ice cream social at work, where we were supposed to “network” (another thing I’m not too keen on). I happen to know someone who works in the swanky executive center, saw her at the social and she eventually invited me to join this book club. Under the influence of Ben & Jerry’s, I said, “Yes.”
The book club is made up of employees (and one former employee), most of whom work in the aforementioned swanky executive center. I work in the not-nearly-as-nice building a block away. The club meets at a different upscale eatery once each month to discuss a book chosen by one of the members. I could tell these people do not read genre fiction. I was right.
Yet, I was intrigued by the idea of joining a book club. I’ve never really done such a thing. Sure, I discuss books constantly with my writer friends – even with family members – but I haven’t been in a club. I was also a little skeptical. Whenever I read the “book club questions” in the back of mainstream fiction books, they make me roll my eyes or scratch my head. (Never both at the same time. I’m not that coordinated.)
We had our first meeting Friday and were discussing Ann Patchett’s “Run”. This is a book I never would have picked up on my own, but enjoyed. Sure, I had trouble believing some of the characters’ motivations, I found the primaries a bit unsympathetic at times and some of the author’s research was heavy enough to sink a battleship, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Even more surprising, I was able to discuss the book like a reader with only a few annoying writer-like comments slipping in. It was freeing.
I know people get their hackles up when romance fiction is described as formulaic, but it is – in the very best sense of the world. We know that no matter how unlikely it seems during the black moment, the hero and heroine will somehow find their way to a happy – or at least hopeful – ending. With mainstream fiction, however, there are no guarantees. I found it interesting to read the book and guess what might happen next, to speculate about how the story would end, but really have no clue.
I have tried over the years to read more broadly and not get boxed into a romance corner. But I love romance and, after struggling through other books, I run back to the comfort of my most beloved authors time and time again. I find that no matter how satisfying another sort of book is, I am always hungry for romance.
Next month, my book club is reading a memoir by a chef. The month after that, a book on discovering your psychic type. I am not sure how I will like these books about sautéing and figuring out what sort of intuition I possess, but I will read them dutifully and be prepared to discuss them at the appointed time. I’m a bit nervous about what book I should choose when my month rolls around and I’m equally concerned about finding an appropriate restaurant for our discussion.
I like my new book club friends, I was pleased to find, and I hope they will like me. Especially after they are subjected to my book pick! This group is different. It is definitely a club. But maybe I have become someone who can join a “club” every once in a great while without having my individuality threatened. I’ll let you know after the chef and the psychic.
Have you ever been in a book club? How did it work out? Do you read widely outside the romance genre? And most importantly, do you have a book you would recommend when it’s my month to choose?!