Monday, April 6, 2020

Ten Books I Discovered Because of Book Club

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is "Books I Bought/Borrowed Because..." I get recommendations from a lot of sources — friends, podcasts, people I follow on Goodreads — so I don't always remember the reason I borrowed a particular book by the time I read it. My book club reads, however, are memorable for the conversations we have, and also I have a special tag for them in Goodreads. I've been in different numbers of book clubs at different times, as many as four at once; currently two of mine are still active. Here are ten books I probably wouldn't have read if it weren't for one of my book clubs!

1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The co-organizer of my online book club did her doctorate research on representations of police shootings in YA literature (sorry, Eli, if I butchered that explanation) and nominated this book for discussion. In some ways it's very carefully crafted to share a message — as opposed to the authentically messy edges of The Hate U Give — but I appreciated how well done it was.

2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Although I struggled with a lot of aspects of this book, it had some fascinating world-building aspects and plays around with gendered language in interesting ways. As mentioned previously, I don't read a lot of sci-fi, so it always pushes me out of my comfort zone when my fellow book club members choose sci-fi books to read.

3. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
This one I think I'd heard of prior to it being nominated for book club, but I don't think I would have picked it up on my own. It wove together several different aspects I greatly enjoyed: discussions of the books Schwalbe and his mother read and discussed at the end of her life, an overview of her very fascinating life, and philosophical musings on life mixed with the practicalities of her end-of-life care. I'm very glad book club pushed me to read this one.

4. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
You guys, this book destroyed me. I thought it would be similar to some other memoirs I'd read from Holocaust survivors, but it was powerful and moving in a way I did not expect. If I remember correctly, this was nominated by someone who never actually came to the book club discussion, and it probably wouldn't have been chosen by any of our regular attendees, but I am very glad that it ended up getting chosen.

5. Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman
If I'd read the description of this book on my own, I definitely would have skipped over it — who wants to read a whole book about birding? Turns out, it was a great opportunity to learn a lot about a hobby I knew very little about, while also enjoying an interesting travel memoir and getting some valuable philosophical reflections on how we spend our time as humans. These kinds of books are the reason I love my book clubs!

6. Mink River by Brian Doyle
I never ended up getting to go to the book club discussion for this book because I came down with the flu, but I was glad to have read it regardless! It was the first of Doyle's work that I read, and although I never got to meet him when we worked at the same university, I was glad to have read something of his before his sudden passing. I've since read some of his nonfiction, and I like this novel the best.

7. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
This is a profile of the astonishing co-founder of the Partners in Health global health organization. He brings a perspective on the inherent worth of every individual human being that seems almost foolhardy in the field of global health, but it's absolutely compelling. I think this book would be particularly interesting to read again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way that deaths are talked about as an inevitability and a statistic.

8. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
This was one of the first books I ever read for the in-person book club that I've now been part of for more than six years. It's the kind of slow, meandering historical fiction that I don't tend to favor myself, but the writing was beautiful and evocative and the characters were the beating heart of the book.

9. Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
This book was published right before the 2016 election, so it wasn't written to "explain" Trump's win, but as my book club read it in early 2018 it was obvious why Trump would have appealed to the individuals profiled in this book. It's a hard, hard book if you're a progressive like me, but it did shed some light on why some people disliked Obama so much and why traditional liberal appeals don't work with a subset of people who distrust anyone trying to make them feel a certain way about other people.

10. When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
Funnily enough, I was the one who nominated this book for book club, but I would never have discovered it if it weren't for that month's book club category, which was books that had won the Oregon Book Award. I looked up the list of winners and then checked them each out on Goodreads and this one looked like the best option. It was the first book I'd read about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and I appreciated the chance to hear a first-person account from someone who'd lived through it.

Are you in a book club? What books has it led you to discover?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Search Inside Yourself
Five years ago I was reading: These Is My Words, Mary Poppins, Angle of Repose, and Boxers
Ten years ago I was reading: Bird in Hand and Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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