Reading list for my imaginary book club

November 18, 2013 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under:

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt The Signature of All Things
I’m not in a book club at present, but I’ve been entertaining myself with thoughts of what books I would suggest to my book club if I belonged to one. This is because I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s sweeping, sad, thoughtful The Signature of All Things, and naturally I’m yearning for a nice long discussion of it, preferably involving baked goods. (I’m also wanting to start a moss garden, which in San Diego would be no mean feat.)

Other books I would throw into the ring:

1) The Diamond Age, Or: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I read it a year or two before the advent of the iPad, and when that magical device appeared, all I could think of was the Primer. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of a ‘best’ education—what that might look like, what its aims might be, and the unpredictability of outcomes. And the mind-stretching nanotechnology permeating and altering society: this is a richly layered and sometimes difficult book, with much that made me uncomfortable (something I appreciate in a book), but also a compelling page-turner of a narrative. It’s one of those books I think about in the context of daily life quite often (and not just in connection to the iPad). It would be fun to dig into with a really lively, argumentative group of readers.

2) The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. I’ll be drummed out of my own imaginary book club if I keep suggesting these mammoth tomes, but there it is. I’ve read The Children’s Book twice (three times? I’m losing track) in four or five years (also losing track; can’t be bothered to check my log now) and like The Diamond Age (and, I suspect, The Signature of All Things), it’s a book I find myself pondering in many a stray moment. A curling fern frond, a strand of seaweed, a beautifully glazed pot, the Nesbit books on my shelf, a reference to William Morris, a pre-Raphaelite painting, a sinister undercurrent in a fairy tale—any number of things send me straight back into the pulsing green world of this Fabian family and their troubled, talented, struggling circle of artist-friends. Downton Abbey was full of reminders (Lavinia’s clothes, Sybil’s causes, Branson’s political activism, the devastation and radical shifting of relationships and ways of life during and after WWI). No work of fiction in recent years has sent me on more rabbit trails, nor hounded my thoughts so relentlessly.

3) Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s been several years; I’m due for a reread. Every year this book feels more prescient. We may not have the Feed implanted in our brains quite yet, but we’re closer than we were the first time I read it. Won’t it be fun to fumble for words about how alarming we found the notion of a society so dependent on an advertising-driven stream of information piped directly into their minds that people can barely form a coherent thought anymore, much less an original one? And then we can all post photos of our desserts to Instagram.

4) Hmm, we’ll need something by Muriel Spark. A Far Cry from Kensington, I think, but perhaps I’m leaning too much on my own favorites. Certainly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would provide fodder for hours of discussion. Actually, Miss Brodie would make a tremendous follow-up to Feed and The Diamond Age: all of them exploring ways of educating (even shaping) young minds. Oh, what am I talking about—Signature and The Children’s Book fall right into that category as well. Education isn’t by any means the only theme of these books, but it’s a dominant thread in each, one way or another. You’d almost think this was a pet topic of mine, or something.

5) Well then, let me throw something entirely different into the mix: how about American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I can brag about how he’s a friend and former classmate of mine, and of course we’ll have to have a tasting party to accompany our discussion of this book, a fascinating exploration of how terrain affects flavor (in many subtle ways), and why certain regions are famous for specific foods. I’ll bring the chocolate, you bring the maple syrup.

6) Now here I go reverting back to favorite books about unconventional upbringings, but when’s the last time you read Midnight Hour Encores? It’s one of my favorite YA novels, right up there with Emily of Deep Valley (though utterly unlike) and…hmm, that’s a different list, my favorite YA. Anyway: Encores features one of my favorite dads in all of literature, and an ending that takes my breath away every time.

7) But it isn’t quite fair of me to stack the deck with books I’ve already read, most of them more than twice. How about something new? I’ve got Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch, on hold at the library. I’m #70 in the queue, but since this is an imaginary book club, I’ll just imagine myself next in line.

How about you? What’s up next in your book club—real or imagined?

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30 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    Wonderful idea, I am going to steal it. And such interesting books you have listed – I wouldn’t dare attend your book club, I’d be too embarrassed by my lack of intellect! 🙂

  2. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh hardly! In person I laugh too much and say “like” a lot. 😉

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    P.S. If you post your own, share the link here so everyone can enjoy!

  4. Sandra says:

    I’ve got some of these on hold at the library already and have just added a couple more. Another one I’m waiting to get my hands on is Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. There is much to be said for old favourites – Pride and Prejudice ( plus the new spin off Longbourn which I’m just finishing) and The Guernsey Litereary and Potato Pie Peel Society spring to mind most quickly.

  5. sarah says:

    Here’s mine – but I’m ashamed, it is really, like, quite lowbrow. I actually wanted to add The Hunger Games because I think there is so much scope for discussion in those books – not only about themes and symbols within the books, but about what they say about YA literature in general – but I thought people would look down at me. Infact I’d quite like to discuss Twilight too, for furious-deconstruction purposes, and genre analysis purposes, and a deeper discussion on contemporary adolescent culture – but one does not simply add Twilight to an Ideal Book Club list. (I hope you’re imagining Sean Bean saying that.) Anyway,

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah, actually I quite enjoy lowbrow. 🙂 I’d be right on board for a Hunger Games chat. And I agree that Twilight presents much rich fodder for discussion. It can go on the list right after Flowers in the Attic, about which I can talk for HOURS. Just ask Scott.

    Sandra, I love Guernsey Lit Society! Reread it not long ago–such a delight.

  7. selvi says:

    I love this idea.
    Here’s my list, I think more than one of them your recommendations.

    I’ve noticed that you have more stomach for darker writing. I’ve always been wimpy, and it’s gotten worse after having children. I love A.S.Byatt (at least her writing if not always her content) but cannot bring myself to read The Children’s Book. Didn’t you find that motherhood made it harder to read painful stuff?

  8. Kate says:

    My imaginary book club is reading All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. Great list, I just finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which made me want to resurrect my now defunct book club.

  9. Laura Grace Weldon says:

    I drive nearly two hours, round-trip, to attend a book club once a month. It’s an eclectic group, so I often stretch to read books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. We just finished the first volume in a trilogy, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Magical adventure with fascinating characters. I’ll be reading the second one, The Wise Man’s Fear, as soon as I wrestle it away from my husband.

    I loved The Signature of All Things, ample discussion fodder there.

    Some of my favorite books never made it to my book club. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. I’d list more, but rushing off to buy a dozen turkeys. Long story….

  10. Delphine says:

    You convinced me: I just bought The Children’s Book on my Kindle. I’m not that confident it will be a great maternity reading, though, after selvi’s comment. 🙂

  11. Meg says:

    Oh, I keep talking about FEED and THE DIAMOND AGE and I can’t get anyone else I know to read them! And the fourth book in Scott Westerfeld’s PRETTIES series, EXTRAS, also explores these ideas of the pervasive power of social media and media dependence.

    Helping my own children and several of their friends through the college search and application process, I was surprised to learn how shallow their “tech savvy” actually is. It took a lot of coaching from me to guide them through layers of websites to find the information they needed. They seemed to expect a window to pop up immediately with everything they needed in one place! They had very little patience to try several different paths or to search for slightly different wording. I don’t think their high schools have caught up with the teaching of Internet research skills. But the kids all had the delusion that they were quite skilled at navigating the online world!

    I am also haunted by THE CHILDREN’S BOOK–one idea, in particular. One of the girls is dissatisfied with her education and suspects that there must be more out there than she is being offered, but she has no way to find it. Oh, what she would have done with the Internet!

  12. Sherry says:

    Here’s my sort-of-imaginary book club list, Melissa: However, I’m going to use yours and those who linked to theirs to come up with real book club selections for the “club” that my sister and my 80 year old mom and I started a couple of months ago. I’ve read all the books I suggested on my list, and I’d like to read books with the family that I haven’t already read.

    I’m off to check out the links to specific books in your list that I haven’t read—or even heard of.

  13. Scott says:

    It can go on the list right after Flowers in the Attic, about which I can talk for HOURS. Just ask Scott.

    And by “Flowers in the Attic,” obviously she means “The Clan of the Cave Bear.”

  14. Sherry says:

    OK. I’ve never heard of Midnight Hour Encores, but I have to read it immediately because The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks is one of my favorite YA novels ever. And it’s (partly) about basketball, and I don’t even like sports at all.

  15. Pippi says:

    I want to join your imaginary book club! I’m just up the coast a bit in Vancouver — that’s do-able, right? I started the Children’s Book years ago but I was newly postpartum and never finished it. Yet it still pops up in my mind frequently — the scenes and characters are so vivid. It made me think about LM Montgomery’s Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside — what different perspectives! Maybe after the Christmas rush I should try to settle back and tackle it again.

  16. mamacrow says:

    I’m over half way through NaNoWriMo at the moment so finding it hard to read anything other than the occasional blog, and a re-read of Conversations with God (Neal Donald Walsh). I’m feeling I might want some Austin next month, certainly Christmas Carol again, and something new but I’m not sure what…

  17. Natalia says:

    My IRL book club read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and we had a good discussion about it. It kept us going for a while. The funny thing about book Clubs is that you can’t always make people understand that not every good read is a good book club. There are some books that after you finish reading it there is not much to say, except “it was good book. I enjoyed it”
    I am looking forward to checking the books on your list. So far your favorites have never disappointed me.

    I wish you will consider having a “virtual book club”. I’d join in in a flash!

  18. Melissa Wiley says:

    Your lists are making me giddy! 🙂 Adding more titles to my TBR list.

    So I’ve been toying with an idea all day…we could maybe try a Google Hangout for an actual book club. I think you can have up to ten people in one Hangout. Could be fun…

  19. Sherry says:

    I’d love to join your virtual book club. It sounds like great fun.

    I’m curious about Signature of All Things. I never read Eat Pray Love because it sounded so immature, travel around the world and have affairs, trying to find yourself? Maybe I missed something, or maybe she/her writing has matured?

  20. Lisa says:

    I fell head-over-heels in love with Daphne DuMaurier’s The King’s General this year. Would love to have people to discuss it with. Just finished a great women’s book club book: Elizabeth Buchan’s Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman which was so real I gasped. I’d second Muriel Spark but would say the uncomfortable Driver’s Seat–read it and still want to discuss it.

    I have read several books you’ve recommended over all the many years I’ve been reading your blog and you would run an amazing book club!!

  21. lesley austin says:

    I would love to join your book club, Lissa…but hmmm…does the “hangout” mean skype-type hanging out?

    Still smiling over Scott’s Clan of the Cave Bear comment.

  22. Melissa Wiley says:

    Yes, I was mulling over the possibility of a live gathering via G+ Hangouts. There’s a limit of ten people per Hangout, but we might have trouble coordinating time zones anyway. It wouldn’t have to be the recorded-for-broadcast (on YouTube) kind, just a Skype-ish group conversation.

    A written conversation (i.e. comments right here on the blog) is another possibility. I was just entertaining myself when I wrote this post, but with so many of you lovely people expressing interest, maybe we could give it a try. I’m afraid my track record with online (written) book discussions is inconsistent…as I mentioned on Facebook where a parallel conversation is taking place, it’s so much harder (slower) to *write* a thoughtful response than to simply gab about a book in person. 🙂

  23. selvi says:

    I would be interested in participating, perhaps depending on the book. The thing I really miss about not having people in person to discuss certain books with is the back and forth discussion where thoughts can develop. I think you can get some of that in both of the formats you mention. But also just hearing and airing opinions is great.

  24. Erica says:

    Please do this IRL. You do all that involves the intellectual part, I will do the hosting/party part and pray I can keep up. 🙂

  25. Tabatha says:

    So many trails for me to go off on from your blog this morning — I loved the Cleary statues, I have the post-antibiotic world article open to read next, and I just bought The Diamond Age. Thanks, Lissa 🙂

  26. selvi says:

    Anne Fadiman’s essay on Charles Lamb and then some of his essays!

    I was wondering whether the book club could simply be a facebook group that way people could make separate remarks, maybe in answer to a question or whatever, and each could have a little thread of responses. Would that work? I don’t know what the limit on the number of members is on fb groups, but it is more than 10.

  27. Melissa Wiley says:

    Charles Lamb…isn’t it a book of Charles Lamb essays that first connects the two main characters in Guernsey Lit Society?

  28. selvi says:

    Well, you are not suffering from the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, that seems clear.
    I didn’t have a copy, but I found this:

    I don’t even remember noticing about the two authors, (sadly, that doesn’t mean I didn’t) and the review tells why there are two. Touching.