Monday, June 3, 2013

7 Great Books That Got Me Weird Looks At Book Club

I have been in a lot of book clubs.

It almost never works out.

Here's part of the problem. Once I feel assigned to read a book, I have a hard time being excited about it. Picking my next book is always an exciting thing for me, and when I don't get to do that because there's one I have to read, it takes some of the fun out of reading for me.
But the other problem is finding a book club that suits my personality. Everyone reads a little differently and likes different kinds of books. I happen to like a lot of different kinds of books, including an array that didn't always go over well when I brought them up at book club. Here are a few gems (all of which were really good books!)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach*: I actually read this one in my most successful book club, and we all loved it. It's this truly fascinating book about what happens when people donate their bodies to science, what happens to bodies when they decompose, body snatching, and more. Mary Roach is hilarious and insightful, and I love her. Then I brought it up at another book club a couple of years later and it went something like this: "And there was this cool part where old people who were dying just ate honey until their bodies turned INTO HONEY! And then other people ATE THEM AS A DELICACY!"

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex* by Nathaniel Philbrick: This is an absolutely wonderful book about the true story that inspired Moby Dick. I could not put it down. It was full of history and science but presented in a wonderfully readable narrative form. I brought it up at a book club like this: "And then after the whale crashed into their boat, they all got lost at sea and started eating each other!" (Correct. That's two for cannibalism.)

World War Z by Max Brooks**: This book is  written like a series of oral histories, and it's fun and a little gory, but also thought-provoking. Someone at my book club was talking about a book they'd read where they examine what would happen if we lost power, and how nursing homes and hospitals would be affected and so forth, and it reminded me of a part in this book where the blue collar workers became much more valuable to society than the accountants and lawyers and such because they have real-life skills when America is no longer inundated with first-world problems. But what I said was, "That reminds me of this book I read about the zombie apocalypse!" There is no coming back from that when you're talking to 40 year old ladies from church.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: This is a really fantastic book about the Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer who built a death hotel and lured young women into it. It is CRAZY and so well-written. This is what you should not say about it to someone you want to convince you are not a nut for reading it:  "I thought I would just like the part about the serial killer, but the part about the World's Fair was really interesting too!"

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: This is a fun, creepy book about these two sisters who live in their family house and are ostracized by their town after the rest of their family mysteriously was poisoned all at the same family dinner. Whoops. "So it's about these two sisters who are living alone after one of them is accused of having poisoned their whole family, and the other one is crazy. And it was awesome."

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein: This is a very interesting, well-researched and (I thought) fairly balanced book about the girly-girl culture that seems to be springing up as women gain equality, and whether it's ruining/limiting our daughters. Pretty much all I had to say was, "I just checked out a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It's about feminism."

The Secret History by Donna Tartt**: I read this one for a book club too, but only about two of us actually read it, and then while we discussed it, lots of people looked at us suspiciously. "So their teacher gets them all obsessed with the Greek classics, and there's a guy named Bunny, so you know he's doomed, and there's a weird part where the protagonist is just hanging out in an apartment with no heat because he's too proud to mention it to anyone and he almost DIES, and IT WAS SO GOOD!!"  

Okay. So looking over the list now I realize that it's possible my tastes occasionally tend toward the macabre. And then those are ALWAYS the books that come up. But I swear some of them aren't as bad as I made them sound. In fact, they were great!

The moral here is two-fold.

  1.  Don't judge a book by its cover, or by the weird thing someone says to you about it before you've read it. There are lots of really fabulous books out there that don't sound good but just are. (Have you ever tried to explain Room by Emma Donoghue to anyone and make it sound appealing? It is nearly impossible, but it is SUCH a fantastic book.)
  2.  If you're going to be in a book club, find people who already know you're crazy. 
What great books have you stopped telling people about lately?

*Parts of this book should not be read while you're eating lunch.
**Contains some strong language and adult themes.


Tiffany said...

6 of those books are books I've been meaning to read for a while. They been on my list for forever, and its good to have yet another recommendation!

Also, I'm not a huge fan of book clubs either, but I love your descriptions of reactions when you brought these books up! :)

Megan B. said...

As someone who also reads a wide variety of books, I can definitely relate. I've for sure gotten interesting looks when mentioning Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The book itself is pretty balanced, but it's definitely got a provocative title.

grburbank said...

I have also been in a lot of book clubs, and they almost always never work out.
We did have a pretty good discussion of The Secret History though, even if everyone else was confused and suspicious. I still suggest that book to people all the time anyway.
I do like your recommendations, even if your sales pitch is a bit ... blunt.

Adam Turney said...

Thank you again for recommending In the Heart of the Sea, that book was amazing. I did try to read World War Z, but I couldn't get past about 70% in. I had a love hate relationship with the format. It was interesting to see the many different historical accounts of this event, but at the same time there wasn't a character to connect with so I found myself disinterested in the repetitive stories. I wish I was more like my wife and had the ability to push through books.

Ms. Giles said...

Loved Devil in the White City! Try the Poisonwood Bible set in the 1950's about a baptist preacher who decides to ake his family to Africa on a preaching mission to teach the "heathens" very good read each chapter is written from a different family members pov. King Leopold's Ghost is about the colonization of the Congo and the repercussions of decisions made.