I love short stories -- characters coming alive in compact narratives. There are many short story collections that makes great reading group picks and create lively conversation. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri -- just to name a few. One of my personal favorites is Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett! Oprah selected a short story collection, Say You're One Of Them, by Uwem Akpan. Is there an reason why short fiction is a dying genre? Will Oprah come to the rescue of the short story? Has your book club selected a short story collection? Which one and why?
In the big picture, reading groups represent the foundations of democracy! Yes, I said it! Many people across the world aren't allowed to read what they want. Even if they manage to read an unauthorized book; they won't be able to discuss with anyone else. Reading groups offer conversation without any pressure from outside, in that, members can share ideas about anything -- the book, the author, how the book opens up to member's lives, regional issues, national issues, and world issues. I love that! Self-identity and real community and cultural awareness and discourse. Who knew your group is so crucial for the nation!
I recently read about the National Reading Summit Conference in Canada. Writers, editors, librarians, booksellers, and policy-makers from other nations will speak about their countries' reading program with Canadians delegates. Canada is in the process of setting Canada's national reading program -- Becoming a reader is at the very heart of responsible citizenship!" Bravo for Canda coming on board.
Last weekend was my first time in Nashville and I was in for a ride! Authors descended on the Music City (I say, Book City) for the 21st Annual Southern Festival of Books. High force winds and a tornado warning on Friday didn’t stop me and the rest of the book lovers from going to the author readings and panels held on and around the War Memorial Plaza.
Being a reading group “groupie,” I was excited for the National Reading Group Month Signature Event. “Breakfast with Authors” – what a grand way to start a Saturday! Five authors with great discussable books chatted and joked with moderator, Nina Cardona, Nashville Public Radio, All Things Considered Host and the over 150 book club member attendees.
Here are some comments from the authors and there are no spoilers!
Marie Brenner spoke about her memoir, Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found, and how she used locations and settings to define and reflect both her brother and herself. The differences in their personalities echo their completely opposite home bases, New York City and rural Washington State. The memoir tracks their sibling rivalry and how their opposite worlds lead to an understanding, appreciation, and love for each other. Her touching and comic story makes me think of my own relationships with my family.
Inman Majors joked with the audience saying he believed every author has a little bit of ego claiming “I’ll show you what I can do!” Inman’s novel, The Millionaires, is slightly based the Butcher brothers of East Tennessee in the 1960s and 1970s. Inman revealed he likes to distance himself from his characters – forgetting himself when writing. His “Southern Great Gatsby” has a dysfunctional family, the Southern class system, politics, ambition – everything a southern book needs and a great reading group pick!
In her short story collection, Girl Trouble, Holly Goddard Jones finds a little of herself in all her many characters – even the character of a rapist. Holly commented that even the book world sometimes ignores short stories so she tried to write a novel in order to sell her collection. That didn’t worked so well --she didn’t feel passionate about the novel and the stories held up on their own! I’m so glad she stuck it out – they are wonderful!
“I know what I wanted to write about!” said Dr. Perri Klaus. The Mercy Rule tells the story of a pediatrician working with at-risk children, along with being a mother and wife, herself. Perri examines the relationship with the doctor and the mothers with at-risk families. In her novel, she explores the strange line between “the reporter and the reported,” explained Perri. With three daughters, a husband, and being a pediatrician, herself; Perri commented on how social services would see her household. That’s an interesting question that reading groups may consider discussing in relation to their households.
Kathryn Stockett remarked that she didn’t think anyone would read her work! She got scared after her debut novel, The Help, was published -- did she take too many risks when writing her book? Kathryn’s work explores the moral issues of race in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. She examines the stories of the black maids who raised white children. When writing her novel, Kathryn realized the joy of getting to know her characters. With themes of race, family, and personal challenges and discovery, The Help should be an every reading group list!
Unfortunately, the breakfast ended though there were still hands raised for questions. I filed out still thinking about the authors and their books and couldn’t wait to tell my reading group what I learned.
National Reading Group Month was initiated three years by Women’s National Book Association to commemorate its 90th anniversary! National Reading Group Month celebrates the joy of shared reading and encourages more people to get involved in reading groups.