It’s been over a year since my last turn to pick the book for book club, and I’ve been looking around for just the right book for months. A few weeks before I needed to have made a decision, I still felt unsatisfied with the choices. I wanted something that would be universally liked (if such a thing is possible), sparked interesting discussion, and broadened our reading scope. I’d had requests from a few friends to please pick something with a happy ending, so I thought I wanted something light and easy to read. I went on a reading binge, obsessively listening to podcasts and reading lists of recommended reading to get even more ideas. I ended up reading more books in the past few weeks than I’ve read in any month this year. I introduced my choice last night, and I still find myself listing toward my nightstand where 3 more books are waiting. Here are the 9 books I strongly considered:
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa documents a friendship between a housekeeper and an aging mathematics professor with a memory that lasts only 80 minutes at a time. I really loved the way Ogawa wove mathematics into the story as the professor inspires the housekeeper to learn more about the world of numbers. Despite loving math as a kid, I’ve never considered mathematics as beautiful as I did while reading this book.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a book I’ve been meaning to read for over a decade. I can see why so many of my friends list this among their favorite books of all time. I’ve spent my time since finishing the book trying to pick the books I’d recommend to my daughter if she could only read two books for the rest of her life.
Eligible: a Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld started out so well! I approach Austen retellings extremely cautiously, but Sittenfeld updated the Bennett family so perfectly that I sped through the first half in one sitting. (Mary as an eternal student working on her third master’s degree? Kitty and Lydia joining a cross fit box? Yes, please!) The book ultimately derailed for me; both the plot and characters ended up feeling contrived in the second half of the book. It was still a fun read, but I felt very let down by the time I got to the end.
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta is one of my favorite books of all time. I should have known I was looking for something a little different when even Finnikin didn’t feel right. I love the book too much to not enjoy it, but it just wasn’t the right fit for this group this month. Someday, I fully intend to encourage my book club friends to go outside their comfort zone with a great fantasy novel; Finnikin of the Rock is often the book I recommend for just that purpose.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a charming story of a retired British major and his late-in-life romance. I saw a lot of my father in Major Pettigrew’s attempt at balancing honor and propriety with a hopeful new relationship and the realization that he might have been wrong about quite a few things for years. (And in the Major’s aversion to talking about messy emotion.) I admire a love story that can convey the butterflies and thrill of a new love while accounting for grown children and the respective grief of a widow and widower.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple was everything I’d been told it would be: funny, thought-provoking, and unique. The novel documents 15-year-old Bee’s attempt to string together facts and memories to figure out where her mother is after Bernadette disappears without a trace. I ended up reading parts of the book on the kitchen floor because I couldn’t put it down. I laughed and cried. It ultimately missed the mark for my purpose because of the profanity, but I will confidently give this book to at least two different people this Christmas.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is the third Addison Allen book I’ve read over the years. Each one is a completely atmospheric dive into the mountains of North Carolina. So much of the story revolved around food that I was sure I’d have a perfect pick. (I’m definitely one who likes to serve food described in the story.) In the end, it was an enjoyable read that I didn’t think about once after I read the last word. I knew I wanted something a bit more toothsome for book club this month, even if the book left me with a page-long list of food choices.
Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright would be perfect if I didn’t have a complete aversion to all things Elvis. You certainly don’t have to like Elvis to enjoy this book, though. It bounces back and forth between Corey Beth’s trip to Graceland to find out about her mother’s past and glimpses into Honey’s experiences thirty years before. This is more a story about Corey Beth discovering her mother and less about Elvis, but I can’t think of a public figure I am less interested in than the King. (Sorry, Dad.) I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but I ultimately decided against it because I didn’t want to lead a discussion about it.
So what did I finally choose? Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a book I have tried to read twice before. If I’m being perfectly honest, I find the cover and premise completely unappealing. Once I got used to the narrative style, though, I was fascinated. I put this book down and came back to it at least three times over the course of my frantic book search. The hook for me was the relationships: between Ruben and his sister Swede, between Jeremiah and his children, between Jeremiah and his friend August. I finished the book yesterday morning and just breathed a contented sigh. What a beautiful book! I’m a little nervous it won’t be as easy for the book club to get into as some of the other books I considered, but this one just felt right. It’s just unusual enough without being inaccessible. Here’s hoping they love it!
Looking for more quick summaries of what other bookworms are reading now? Check out the Quick Lit link up at Modern Mrs. Darcy.