July 2016 Book Discussions

The Tuesday Morning Group will meet at 10 am on July 19 to discuss Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. This girl waits with gun jacketbook, set in 1914 and 1915 in Paterson, New Jersey, is based on a true story. One morning, three sisters in a horse-drawn buggy are run down by a large black car driven by a ruthless silk factory owner, and their lives suddenly get a lot more interesting.

The Tuesday Evening Book Group will discuss The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck at 7pm on July 26. Rinker and his brother Nick attempt the first crossing of the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon drawn by three mules in a century. Lots of history, humor, and adventure as two very different brothers tackle the challenges of the journey.

oregon trail jacketCopies of the books are available at the Adult and Teen Services Reference Desk. Both groups are taking August off, and will meet again in September, along with The Crime Readers. September titles will be announced in early August. I am considering a wide variety of titles for our fall book discussions.


BookExpo America

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are a few of the advance reading copies I brought back from BookExpo America in Chicago last month, and shared with my book discussion groups. A few books will be prizes in the children’s summer reading program. I met several authors, got a preview of big books for fall, and attended two programs. Some of the authors I talked with include Brandon Mull, Candice Millard, Robert Hicks, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I enjoyed a panel discussion of What’s New in Young Adult, moderated by author Veronica Roth. Five authors of teen fiction, Lauren Oliver, Alyson Noel, Kendare Blake, and Melissa de la Cruz, along with Roth, talked about the writing process, what inspires and challenges them, and how their new books are going to be a little different. Veronica Roth, who I didn’t expect to be funny, is coming out with a science fiction book next January, Carve the Mark.
After meeting more authors, it was time for Book Group Speed Dating, sponsored by ReadingGroupGuides.com. I was assigned a round table, with dozens of advance reading copies on the table. Several publishers’ reps took turns spending 5-10 minutes telling the people at my table about their new and forthcoming books that they think will be great for book discussion groups. Afterwards, we could take the books that interested us, which I later shared with the library’s book groups. I have a lengthy handout listing all of the books, and several ideas for future book discussion titles. One expected highlight of my day at McCormick Place: I got to meet Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, who was signing posters for a forthcoming children’s book.

June 2016 Book Discussions

Both library book discussion groups have decided to meet in June and July this year. The Crime Readers are deep down dark jackettaking the summer off.  The Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10 a.m. on June 21 to discuss Deep Down Dark, by Hector Tobar. This is the exciting true story about 33 men trapped in a Chilean mine in 2010. Tobar’s vivid, compelling account is hard to put down. My earlier review is here.

On June 28 at 7 p.m., the Tuesday Evening Book Group will read a short historical novel, Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans. Set in and around London during World War II, this is not the typical story of life on the home front. Instead it’s about young orphan Noel Bostock, living in London with his elderly godmother, and how he connects with Vee, a widow who makes ends meet as a small-time con artist. I was thoroughly charmed by this unlikely pair.  Read more about it here.

Copies of both titles are available now at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.


May 2016 Book Discussions

unknown americans jacketThe Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10 a.m. on May 17 to discuss The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, a novel about Hispanic immigrants from eight different countries who live in an apartment building in Delaware. Arturo and Alma Riveras have recently moved from Mexico so that their teen daughter Maribel can get special schooling. Gradually they meet their neighbors, who all have different stories, including teenager Mayor Toro from Panama. Arturo works long days at a mushroom farm while Alma struggles to assimilate, hampered by her lack of English.

The Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing The Wright Brothers by Davidwright brothers jacket McCullough at 7 p.m. on May 24. At 262 pages, this is one of historian McCullough’s shorter books. Once you can tell Orville and Wilbur apart, the reader will get swept up into their exploration of flight, including the contributions of their lesser known sibling, Katharine. Here is my earlier review.

The Crime Readers will be discussing Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, a crime novel about three connected cases, on Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m., at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. Optional dinner is at 6 p.m. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.

Copies of all of the books are available now at the Adult and Teen Services Reference Desk.


April 2016 Book Discussions

rachel jacketOn April 19 at 10 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, by Ann Weisgarber, a historical novel about an African American family homesteading in the Badlands. Here’s my earlier review.

The Tuesday Evening Book Group will be meeting on April 26 at 7 p.m. to discuss The Bees by Laline Paull, a novel about a year in the life of a bee hive, narrated by worker bee Flora 717. My review is here.

The Crime Readers will be discussing Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout, a Nero Wolf mystery, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 21 at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. Optional dinner is at 6 p.m. The Crime Readers is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.

Copies of all three titles are available at the Adult and Teen Services Reference bees 3 jacketDesk.


March 2016 Book Discussions

On Tuesday, March 22 at 10:00 a.m., the Tuesday Morning book group will discuss The Distant Marvels by distant marvels jacketChantel Acevedo, a novel set in Cuba. Maria Sirena tells the stories of her life to a group of women waiting out  Hurricane Flora in the old governor’s mansion in 1963. She was born in 1881, on board a ship heading to Cuba. Maria also shares the stories of her mother and grandmother, so that the reader learns some of the history of modern Cuba.

simple murder jacketOn Tuesday, March 29 at 7:00 p.m, the Tuesday Evening book group will be discussing a historical mystery, A Simple Murder, by Eleanor Kuhns. Set in late 18th century New England, Will Rees is a traveling weaver and Revolutionary War veteran whose search for his missing son leads him to a Shaker community, where he is asked to solve a murder.  Both of these groups are meeting a week later than usual because of the Primary Election on March 15.

The Crime Readers will meet at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, March 17, to discuss The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart. This group is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library. Meet at 6:00 p.m. for an optional dinner. The Circular Staircase was published in 1908, and a features a middle-aged woman who rents a country house for the summer, along with her grown niece and nephew, while her house is being remodeled. Reviews indicate that the book has both suspense and humor.

Copies of the three titles are available at the Adult and Teen Services Reference Desk.   staircase jacket


Selecting Book Discussion Titles

Selecting Book Discussion Titles

I’m frequently asked how I select titles for book discussions. I’ve been leading two book discussion groups at the Woodridge Public Library for over 8 years, with occasional discussions led by my library director, Susan McNeil-Marshall. Leading book discussions has turned out to be very rewarding, but selecting titles continues to be challenging. There are so many books published each year, and even if I limit selections to historical fiction and narrative non-fiction, it’s still a daunting amount of books. Just to make it more fun, I like to challenge the book groups with a variety of titles that don’t fit neatly in those two categories. Sometimes the book group participants have suggestions, and sometimes I get ideas from other librarians. When asked, my book groups tell me that they’re interested in reading books they wouldn’t have found on their own, and that they like to read about other times, other places, and other cultures. When I have a long list of discussible books, I booktalk a variety of titles to each book group and have them vote, but usually I make the selections. Here are some of the places I look for ideas, as well as my own reading log:

Book Discussion Suggestions:
Summer ’15 Reading Group Indie Next List from Indiebound.org, recommendations from independent booksellers. A long, annotated list; very helpful.

Great Group Reads Selections from the Women’s National Book Association.

Websites like ReadingGroupGuides.com

Best Books of the Month Lists:
Monthly: Library Reads
Indie Next
Amazon.com Best of the Month

Best Books of the the Year lists:
Notable Books List from American Library Association Reference and User Services Division
New York Times Notable Books
Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly lists of best books: these are trade publications full of professional book reviews.
EarlyWord.com is a good source of links to best book lists, books being made into movies, and lists of award-winning books. Book awards are a logical place to look for great books, although our groups do not always enjoy reading Pulitzer, Nobel, National Book Award, or Man Booker Prize winners. They often make for lively discussions though, even if we don’t all like the books.

What are other public libraries discussing? I look at their websites, and occasionally talk with other book discussion leaders. Popular selections may be discussed by many libraries in the area, including these recent titles:
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
We haven’t discussed Me Before You although I’ve read it and other titles by Moyes, and our discussion of Henriquez’s book is upcoming. The other titles we’ve already discussed here. Ideas I got recently from looking at other libraries’ selections include these books I haven’t looked at yet:
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, also suggested by two patrons
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, about Chilean miners trapped in an accident in 2010.

Every book discussion group is different, with some focusing on mysteries, non-fiction, science fiction, and “edgy” books, often for discussion in a bar.

Not very helpful lists: Lists that are heavy on classics, older titles, and titles most libraries have already discussed. Here’s one that disappointed me: Sure Bets for Book Discussions from Booklist, December 15, 2015. Eight of the eighteen titles mentioned are more than fifty years old, and only two were published in the last three years.

When I have compiled a list of discussible books, I read book reviews, I look at reader reviews and rankings on Good Reads.com, and I read part of many, many books. Most of them I just read a chapter or two, and quickly decide that they probably won’t work for my book groups. Some books are too long. I will occasionally pick a book of over 400 pages, but attendance tends to be lower. Four years ago, I led a discussion of the historical novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, 532 pages. It won two awards, and I loved it, but only 3 patrons came to the discussion. Non-fiction books can take longer to read, so I try to be especially mindful about the length of those.

I also need to take a look at popularity and availability. I was all set to schedule a discussion of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, when it won the Pulitzer Prize last year and publication of the paperback reprint was postponed a whole year. By the time the hold queues are gone and I can buy several paperback copies, most of the readers who are interested will have had 2 years to read it. And yes, at 531 pages, it’s quite long. And will my book groups be ready for another World War II novel set partly in France? We recently discussed Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland, and many readers love The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, both World War II novels set in France.

What did I pick for this spring, and how?
The Bees by Laline Paull I had read and liked, but didn’t really consider until I looked at the IndieNext list of reading group suggestions. A year in the life of a fictional bee hive, this is a non-traditional selection to discuss.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez has been on my list of discussible books for several months. Recently another librarian shared that it was well-received at her library’s book discussion. Westmont and Elmhurst are also discussing it this spring.
The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo was well-reviewed and the modern Cuban setting was intriguing. I read it, and it’s on the IndieNext List of reading group suggestions.
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber was a hit at another library, and I’ve never seen another novel about African American homesteaders in the Badlands.
A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns I read a few years ago, and realized that the setting of late 18th Century New England, with an itinerant weaver/detective visiting a Shaker community, would be something new and different.
The Wright Brothers, at 320 pages, is a shorter book by the noted historian/biographer David McCullough. Published in 2015, a paperback will be out in early May. I read it pre-publication, knowing it was a strong possibility for discussion.

I started leading book discussions on a regular basis in September, 2007, as the previous leader was retiring. That fall we discussed:
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, a witty, clever novel told in letters.
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, a historical novel set in Montana that was so well-liked that many of us found a new favorite writer. We’ve since discussed his book The Bartender’s Tale.
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson, a successful discussion of a popular real-life adventure led by librarian Susan.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a very dark and depressing post-apocalyptic novel. Beautiful writing, memorable characters, and deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Somehow I led two discussions of this title. After the first quarter of 2008, I discontinued the previous discussion leader’s practice of discussing the same title with both groups a couple of months apart. One title, one discussion. Of course, that meant I needed to find more discussible books.
A Year in the World by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I listened to this memoir before selecting it; it didn’t hold up as well on re-reading; not popular with the book group.

For other suggestions, here is a list of discussible books. To search this blog for books we’ve discussed, search under the category Book Discussions.

If you’re in a book group or thinking of starting one, I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful. If you need ideas for your book group, or have suggestions for ours, please leave a comment or stop by the library to chat with me.

Brenda O’Brien


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