Saturday, August 6, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 3

Day 3: What Your Book Group Should Read Next


Imagine that you are on a small commuter plane, a flight you have taken many times. Now imagine that shortly after take off you hear an explosion.  You look out your window and see a mangled propeller and engine dangling from the wing. The pilot must make an emergency landing. You know for over 9 minutes that your plane is going down. Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds to be exact. What do you do? [Help myself to the liquor?]

Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds by Gary M. Pomerantz is one of my favorite books. It is the unputdownable, completely riveting account of the 29 people on board flight 529 in 1995. On first glance you may think this is a book about a plane crash, but it is not. It is a portrait of everyday people and how they react in an extraordinary situation. [Wet myself?] When the pilot crash-lands the plane, all but one survive (Chances of surviving a plane crash are actually pretty good; 90% of plane crashes have survivors Here is where things get interesting – where our biology, our instincts take over. [Randomly punch another passenger?] The plane lands, but as you may know, the real danger of a plane crash is fire or explosion after landing; this is where things get dicey. Who are you? Do you help others? Do you trample others in order to save yourself? Are you paralyzed by fear and have to depend on someone else to save you? [Strip naked and sing showtunes?] And then…when all is said and done, how do you live with the consequences of your actions, or your inaction? What if you cost someone else his or her life? What if you don’t want to be a hero? I think of the reluctant hero Daniel Hernandez, 20 year-old intern for Gabrielle Giffords during the Tucson rampage. When Daniel heard the first gun shot ring out his instinct was to run toward it. Many others ran away – he ran toward it. You know his story and everything he did that day. He says he is not brave or a hero. But that day, he ran toward the gunfire. Would you stay inside a burning plane to help someone trapped in her seat or are you the first one out? [Well...someone has to open the door, right?] Oh…and that faulty propeller that caused the crash of Flight 529….they trace it to the inspector. Imagine being him. [Be fair.  Everyone slacks off on their jobs now and then.]

This book is incredibly moving and ultimately optimistic. I promise, it will lead to a lively and different kind book group discussion and you will forever be recommending Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds. And no, it won’t make you afraid to fly, but don’t read it on a plane.


Since she won the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad earlier this year, Jennifer Egan and her linked story collection have risen to the top of many a book group's list.  It's an amazing book and worthy of all the attention.  Egan didn't just pop up out of nowhere, though.  After your group reads Goon Squad, spend a little more time with Ms. Egan and select Look at Me, her earlier, National Book Award-nominated novel. 

Look at Me has ranked high on my list of top ten favorite books since the day I finished it.  The story revolves around a model, one on the verge of Heidi Klum-level notoriety, who is involved in a car crash.  She survives, but the accident alters her appearance.  She's still stunning, but she's not quite recognizable as the face she once was.  Along with model Charlotte, Egan layers her story with other characters grappling with their identities, including a mysterious  young man who changes names and appearances regularly.  There is plenty to discuss here, and it's a literary novel that is still accessible for less literary groups.  Also, for book groups with men, much chatter was made this time last year about how men are reluctant to read books by women.  That's a real shame, and so I challenge men to read Look at Me too.  It's not a "girl" book.  It is great literature.

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