“Hey, did you finish that book I gave you?”
“…um. No, not yet.”
“That’s okay, I won’t spoil the ending for you. Are you enjoying it?”
“…um. No. Not really. I don’t think I’ll finish it.”
Ouch. It’s a trivial thing but I always feel bad when someone doesn’t like a book I gave them, especially if I thought that they were a dead-cert to click with it. First comes denial – “Are you sure you are reading the right book?” That’s usually followed by the urge to defend the book (“Have you read the bit with the zombie space monkey butlers? Like, really read it? Twice?”), followed by the sheepish realisation that I got my friend’s reading taste completely wrong and probably wasted several hours of their time and they’d like me to stop going on about it now, please.
I’ll admit to a touch of neurosis on this one but I think most people would agree that when you recommend something, you really hope that people will like it and it can be disappointing when they don’t. So choosing the next read for a book club meet is particularly fraught with difficulty. If you gift a book to a friend and they are not a fan, at least you only have to have that awkward conversation once and quickly. If you recommend completely the wrong book for your book club, you’ve not only forced ten people to sit through something they hated but now you have to talk about it. For about two hours. With snacks.
So, the second rule of book club has got to be that you need to pick a good book. But what makes a good book?
Clearly this – along with deciding the rules of a book club generally – is a contentious subject. People have plenty to say. Googling “book club rules” brings up 148,000,000 results (whereas Man Booker Prize brings up just 1,830,000 results). Adding “Oprah” to that search string gets you about 17,100,000 results, so it looks like one in eight people discussing book clubs on the internet is talking about Oprah’s take on it (and for every eight Oprah fans, there is one person discussing the Man Booker Prize).
With that many hits you’d imagine Oprah’s recommendations for book clubs would be pure reading gold. Her picks from the last decade are:
- Discover the Power Within You – Eric Butterworth
- A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
- The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
- Night – Elie Wiesel
- A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
- East of Eden – John Steinbeck
- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
- The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
- The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
- The Known World – Edward P. Jones
I have to admit, I’m skeptical. There are two there – Pillars of the Earth and East of Eden – that I very much enjoyed (although Pillars is really just a soap opera in medieval cathedral form). There’s another few I would like to read. But there’s at least 3 that if someone gave me as book club read would have me setting the zombie space monkey butlers on them. I won’t name names for all the ones I find less than inspiring, other than saying the person who gave me Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is still picking virtual poop from their hair. But what do you think? Are these the sort of books you want to read? What would be your ideal book club pick? Is this list a good one or would you rather read about the zombie space monkey butlers?