When I tell myself to stop looking at, reading about, and seeking out books to read, I always fail. I am a member of two book clubs that tell me what to read, so I have no responsibilities except to read the books by the appointed day and time and be prepared to discuss them. I am happy with that arrangement.
I also belong to two other book clubs where I have a great deal more responsibility. One of those, I started in 1985; over time, the group has evolved so that I choose the books for each meeting. Because we follow an academic calendar for that group, I choose three books for the fall with a theme in mind and three for the spring with a different theme. In the summer, I choose a book for the June discussion; in July, members bring a book to describe to the others in an attempt to interest them in reading the book. I do provide guidelines that limit the discussions so that everyone has an opportunity to speak.
I am the leader of a fairly new book club, formed in Nov 2017. Choosing books for that club is a bit less straightforward. I both take suggestions from members and make suggestions, but, admittedly, I tend to sway the decisions.
Should I mention that I belong to yet one more book club? It meets irregularly and only from September through April. I am not responsible for selecting the books for it, but I am a consultant.
Should I also mention that I do love to read and to discuss books? Or perhaps that is self-evident.
Some of my favorite sources for locating books include the following: Nancy Pearl, https://www.nancypearl.com/; Riffle, https://www.rifflebooks.com/; Bookriot, https://bookriot.com/; and NPR books, https://www.npr.org/books/. BookBrowse, https://www.bookbrowse.com/, is another useful source. After using the free portion of BookBrowse for some time, I decided to join and have access to more information now. I have also received several books from BookBrowse to read, review, and discuss.
Today, as I read my email, I started down a rabbit hole of books recommended from some of the sites listed above. I started with Nancy Pearl’s site. Her reviews intrigue me. I discovered two nonfiction books to keep in mind for one of the book clubs.
Code Girls by Liza Mundy tells the story of women who served as code breakers during WWII. More than ten thousand women came from small towns and elite colleges to help shorten the war and save lives. Who would not be interested in the story of these women? Pearl also mentioned The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal. In her review, she said The Hare With Amber Eyes is a book she would like to give to everyone. To me, that sentence sealed my desire to read the book. De Waal provides a true story of art, history, and family. De Waal inherited his family’s collection of 264 “wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.” From Japan, they are netsuke, objects of art which evolved over time from utilitarian objects that were used to secure a cord which held personal possessions. Kimonos had no pockets, so men who needed a place to keep pipes, tobacco, money, and other personal items would put them into a pouch which then hung from a cord on the sash or obi. The netsuke started as an object of utility, but evolved into art forms. The family also owned a large collection of priceless art in other forms, but the Nazis removed all that art. Because the netsuke were hidden away, they survived to remain in the family.
Nancy Pearl’s recommendation of Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper caught my attention because I had read Etta and Otto and Russell and James, also by Hooper. Our Homesick Songs is a story of a family “on the edge of extinction, and the different way each of them fights to keep hope, memory, and love alive.” I enjoyed Etta and Otto and Russell and James so I am intrigued by Hooper’s new novel. I have been unable to discuss Etta and Otto and Russell and James with anyone else, so I am hopeful that will not be the case with Our Homesick Songs.
Another book on Pearl’s fiction recommendations is The Great Believers by Rebedda Makkai. Makkai weaves in the story of the AIDS crisis along with art, loss, and friendship. The story takes place in Chicago and Paris. A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee puts readers in Calcutta in 1919. It is also the first in a planned trilogy starring Captain Sam Wyndham, formerly of Scotland Yard, and now living in Calcutta for a new post in the police there.
Then at NPR books, I discovered Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane. May, the main character, is a university gardener who is more at home with plants than with people. At forty, she decides to take a year and reconnect with four old friends. May has four rules which she follows rigidly:
- Make the visit for the purpose of friendship only—not because you have a business trip in the area, for example.
- Stay at your friend’s house.
- Be alive in the space of the friendship, meaning no social media during the visit. Take pictures for yourself, if you want, but no posting until later.
- Don’t make special plans (spa, resort, fancy local restaurant), because the purpose is to see an ordinary day in the life of your friend.
So, dear readers, as you can see, my desire to stop looking for books to read is an impossible goal. I must continue to look for that next great read to share with my book clubs, my friends who are not in book clubs, and my blog readers.
Currently, that book is Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, but you will have to look for the complete review from the Book Whisperer soon.