I’m very happy to be part of a book club again. I’ve belonged to only one in my life; it was a couple of years ago, and my relationship with it was very brief, mostly because it was held about 40 miles from my house.
This new one is comprised of eightish women from my church, each of us with enough interest-overlap to make things comfortably familiar, but with enough diversity to make for lively discussion. The whole thing was spearheaded by a woman, who, for many years, I was hesitant to call “friend;” I hold her in such high esteem. I still hold her in high esteem, but not awe. Being awe-struck is not a good catalyst for friendship, and she’d rather be befriended than be held in awe. So, I now call Kathy my friend, and she’s glad to be down from her pedestal. 🙂
The goal for choosing the books is Good Art + Good Message. Just because we’re a bunch of Christian women does not mean we want to be reading the religious equivalent of pulp fiction, so, no Francine Rivers for us, thankyouverymuch. (She would fall under Bad Art + Good Message.)
Our first book (recommended by Kathy) was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. It was, in fact, one of the best books I’ve ever read, at least in the top 10. It’s called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It was good on so many different levels. It has a well-conceived, well-executed plot, with a lot of moral dilemma. It’s beatifully written. All the strings were not tidily wrapped up in the end; a number of things were “resolved” in a very surprising manner, but in such a way that just seemed apt. Actually, “apt” is a word that I’d use to describe Enger’s writing. He has a fairly wide vocabulary, but it’s his apt usage, especially of adjectives, that had me in deep appreciation. He doesn’t write showily, but all words are so judiciously chosen that the whole thing just seems right. This book wasn’t ever presented, I don’t think, as a “Christian” book, but the author knows God; it’s apparent from his writing. Peace Like a River was a completely satisfactory read, one you feel better for having read when the last page is done.
(From Wikipedia, I learn that there’s a movie version in production right now, slated for release in 2009. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, who must be playing the father in the story, and that’s probably a good casting, IMO.)
Before-during-after Enger’s book, I also decided to tackle Jane Austen. I’d never read anything by her. I’d always been intimidated by her, though, in retrospect, that doesn’t make sense, seeing how I’ve loved every movie I’ve seen made of her works. But, that’s true for many fears: once they come to light, it’s easy to see how irrational they are. Yes, I was afraid of Jane Austen. She’s held in such high regard — with deep love, even — by so many readers — scholars, even — and I was afraid, I think, that I didn’t have what it took to appreciate her. I’m not so very girly. I’ve never been into romances, or even books heavy on relationship. I’m not so very proper. Plus, given that she wrote 200 or so years ago, I thought maybe I couldn’t get into the archaic language… and I didn’t want to feel like a literary failure for having no appreciation for Jane Austen. So, out of discipline, more than anything, I decided that I would read at least a book of hers, just to say I’ve done it, both to myself, and anyone who might ask. “Yes,” I’d dramatically sigh, “I tried reading her, but I just don’t have the depth of character to appreciate her works.” Well, the only thing on our library’s shelf was Northanger Abbey. So, I started with that. And, golly, I couldn’t put it down. Though a fairly slim book, it wasn’t a particularly fast read; I did discover that, at least for me, there’s no skimming of Austen. And, I didn’t want to. I wanted to pick up every word and nuance and gentle foreshadowing. I quickly followed Northanger Abbey with Emma, and after several very late nights consuming that delicious book, decided that I would have to limit myself to only one Jane Austen book every three weeks, or I’d never get any sleep.
At the book club (which meets only every-other-month), discussing Peace, we ended with a discussion of what book should be next. It seemed like no one had really come prepared with a book to recommend. One popped into my mind, and after no one piped up with their own suggestion, I laid it out there. It’s a book that I’ve read three times already — twice when I was in high school, and the last time, 11-ish years ago, when I was pregnant with my firstborn. And, I’d been wanting to read it again. I remembered it as a fabulous book, and why not share its fabulousness with others, right?? Ugh. I wish I could take it back. Not that it’s a bad book, by any means, but as I start to read it again, I realize that it’s a terrific, compelling story, but it’s not necessarily anything art-like. There’s not much craft in the author’s style; he just lays it out there. I’m realizing that it’s probably not the best book for our group, and since it was suggested by me, it’s humbling. Plus, it was reported to me that a friend’s 8yo exclaimed to her, upon picking it up from the library, “Gosh, mom! That’ll take you five years to read!” It’s over 400 pages. With that compelling bit of salesmanship, if you’d like to read it, too, please do. It’s called The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain. I scored a hardback in excellent condition from half.com for $4.74, including shipping.
(I’m wishing that I had suggested In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden. What a glorious, deep, beautiful book that was. Hmph. Maybe in another 18 months, when it’s my turn again, to recommend a book….)