I know this is going to sound funny, but the whole idea of book clubs confused me until relatively recently. Six years ago, when my friend Bonnie invited me to join hers, I was wary, and had lots of questions. What was up with women and book clubs? Wasn’t it easier to just read on your own? Wasn’t it a lot of pressure to present an educated opinion on a book? What if I didn’t like the book? What if I never liked any of the books? Also, I hate my filthy couch right now, can I not host until I get a new one?
Later that night, when I was sitting on Bonnie’s (very clean) couch, and the selected book came up — Wench, didn’t love — I cleared my throat and presented my two-minute, well-crafted opinion, one that was remarkably resonant of my daughter’s second grade book report. Everyone else weighed in casually, like normal people, in between conversations about Fresh Air, which event to volunteer for at school, what the kids are going to be for Halloween, where to get the best pad-thai takeout.
Oh! So it’s not a college seminar. It’s fuuuunnnnn.
Though we’ve been a little delinquent in the past few months, our group is still together, and I’m proud to say, it feels like we’ve had way more hits than misses on the selection front. Other than our next pick and other than that brief flirtation with John Updike in 2012, we’ve mostly stuck with contemporary fiction with a memoir sprinkled in here and there: The History of Love, The Interestings, Wild, All the Light We Cannot See, Freedom, Cutting for Stone. (Is there a book club left in the world that has not read Cutting for Stone?)
A Window Opens (shown up there next to the triple berry pie) is also on deck, and is, in fact, the novel that inspired this post. I don’t say this lightly, but I think it was the most fun I had all summer. (And I went to Amsterdam in August!) It’s about a woman named Alice Pearse who decides to return to full-time work at an Amazon-like company after her husband loses his job as a corporate lawyer. She’s a mother of three and until that point, had always felt “the tiniest bit smug” about her work-life balance situation, punching the clock as a part-time magazine editor and PTA mom in equal shifts. I know that phrase — work-life balance — is now on the banned phrase list right below “having it all,” but I don’t care, I’m such a sucker for these stories. Especially when the stories haven’t been written like they’re mere pitstops for the movie version, complete with hen-pecked husband and mom who forgets about the recital. AWO is one of the most nuanced and honest novels about parenthood that I can remember. As the mother of three kids in real life, Egan knows she doesn’t have to look very far for drama. Not high-wire-revenge-plot-against-the-boss kind of drama, but the small-scale things that can feel so weighty for a parent: A daughter who is suddenly dumped by her best friend; watching your kid ride a bike for the first time; leaving your family for a solo business trip and feeling kind of guilty about loving it. Not to sound like a self-help book you’d buy at an airport, but that small stuff isn’t small. It’s everything. Especially in Egan’s hands.
This is what I plan to present to the book club when it’s my turn to talk. Is it OK?
OK, enough about the books. Let’s talk menu. I know people who belong to book clubs where there is a bonafide sit-down dinner, and each person at the table presents his or her take in clockwise order in between the entree and dessert. As you’ve gathered, we’re not that kind of club, favoring post-dinner snacks and sweets. I almost always go with what you see above: Cheese (La Tur, Aged Gouda, Humboldt Fog, Parmesan Crisps) Rosemary-Pecan Raincoast Crisps, Dried Cherries, and some kind of Pie or Galettte. Above is a summery triple-berry number that will be in my next book, but you could do a lot worse than Deb’s Key Lime Pie or my cheater’s Cherry Galette.
Above, that’s La Tur, a perennial favorite. Below, a partial list of some of our better book club picks through the years:
This Life is in Your Hands, by
*Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
*Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
Away, by Amy Bloom
Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
*Blood Bones and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
*The Tender Bar, by JR Moehringer
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
*Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
*All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
*Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
*Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
*extra special personal favorite
P.S. Plan on reading A Window Opens with your book club? If so, comment below to be eligible for Elisabeth Egan to call in and answer questions on the night you get together. (Thank you Elisabeth Egan!) All you have to do is comment with the hashtag #AWO and tell us what to read next. Winner will be chosen Friday, October 23 at 3:00 PM ET. Good luck!