Saturday, March 20, 2010

Great Conversations

Day 39 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. And Happy First Day of Spring!

Christina has finished Olive Kitteridge and moved on to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer, completed by her niece Annie Barrows. The real story of its composition is heartbreaking and heartwarming, as is its fictional plot, but with everything coming out on the cheerful side despite the dark, relentless realities. And it's an epistolary novel, which we don't see many of these days.

This book follows on yesterday's entry, in that the paperback carries an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat, Pray, Love and Committed author. Likewise, coincidentally, a new book by Laura Munsen has appeared in my email this morning, a pre-order announcement from Amazon for a diary-style relationship agony book, leaning toward the cheerful, that promises in its title not to be what we expect: This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. So if you are in relationship angst, limbo, or are committed to happiness, this might be the book for you.

These are all potential "book club" books, where people gather after reading and discuss them. Or, in many cases, where people get together and eat & drink and talk about other things. I hear all sorts of book club stories--clubs where the food is the main event, clubs where no one ever actually finishes the book (and a few don't even start it), clubs that meet in friendly bookstores, clubs that meet in bookstores that have cooled off and stopped ordering the books, and clubs that got kicked out of bookstores and moved to coffeeshops.

The contemporary "book club" appears to have been a marketing event that has and hasn't worked. Editions are published with reader questions at the back. Authors have websites where the questions can continue, or people can become fans, etc. Facebook. So people are buying and reading these books, but 1) the publishing industry is still struggling and 2) if bookstores are kicking book groups out, they seem to be committed to the sales but not the actual conversations.

And now, back the the Great Book Foundation, which also publishes editions and anthologies and series with questions included. One of the series is even titled Great Conversations. And there are Great Books discussion groups in libraries and homes all over the place, for people who really do want to talk about the books, essays, stories, or poems they are reading together. But I think these conversations are a little different. Not that they are always about what someone has decided is "great literature," but that there is an actual method of discussion that encourages listening, interpretation, and focus on the text, rather than opinion, personal experience, and general rambling. The newest Great Books anthologies include a lot of contemporary literature, but the "shared inquiry" discussion method is the same.

So we can find each other out there, people who really want to read and talk to each other about what we read! And/or we can "talk" (which includes rambling and opining) here.


mike said...

Kathleen: that's why I love this blog! There's no one speaking on it who hasn't read the book they're talking about. I can't imagine why someone would pretend to have read a book they haven't. In cyberspace? What's the point? So something unreal becomes the only real place to talk about books. Funny, eh?

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Mike. For full disclosure, of course I myself have not read all the books mentioned here, but the people who told me about them have! I hope each entry makes that clear. I tell you what readers have told me, or people in their own comments tell you what they think, and I include plot summary, other readers' comments, or wikipedia info as seems appropriate.

Of course I opine and ramble indeed about the books I have read!

Nikki said...

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.