Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Group Picks to Kick Off 2012

Now that we've shaken off the holiday season, it's time to grudgingly associate with acquaintances while pretending to care about their children and drinking lots and lots of wine, all under the pretense of reading the same books together.  I think if Gianna and I had a book group and I got to name it, I'd call it "Dear God I Resent You People."  In other news, yes, I'm still single.  Still, we love the idea of book groups because we love the idea of people buying and reading books.  We want to stay employed.  Here are some of our top book group picks, new or coming out soon in paperback, for the first three months of 2012.

Gianna's Picks:

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Random House
Paperback out now

For those keeping track, this is the 147th time that either Liz or I have blogged about this book. That is only one fewer than Let’s Take the Long Way Home (which is also an excellent book group choice). The Tiger’s Wife is textured, compelling, mystical, and multi-dimensional. It is a heartfelt work of serious literary fiction that only comes around once every few years. I’ve said this before, but Tiger’s Wife will be read for generations. I would say that if you are in a book group that truly cherishes literature, this is a must.

Open City by Teju Cole
Random House

This absolutely stunning work by Teju Cole has several built-in discussions/themes for book groups: the Holocaust, slavery, 9/11, genocide, and the invasion of Iraq are a few that will keep the discussion going late into the evening…so, you know, bring extra wine.

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House

Blood, Bones, and Butter is quite simply one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read, while officially it may actually be a food memoir. Memoirs can be very hit or miss for book clubs, but I would put this in the hit column. The writing is as fine as anything you will read. I would compare it to All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, or Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (a huge book club favorite).
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Random House

I wanted to include a really good yet more commercial book on my list and Lisa See immediately came to mind. She brings timeless themes to every book: belonging, love, family (particularly sisters and mothers and daughters), and what it means to belong. Dreams of Joy is an outstanding sequel to Shanghai Girl; I highly recommend both books for clubs.

Welcome to Utopia by Karen Valby
University of Texas Press

Oh, how I love this book. I’ve read it three times and each time I find something new, something meaningful, something to hold on to. While the story of a small town in Texas, this small marvel of a book could have been nearly anywhere in this country. Themes are numerous and include: race, war, gender, family, change, the impact of pop culture, and what it means to live in a small American town. Utopia is a mix of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Last Picture Show. That’s a big statement, I am standing by it, and you know where I live.  Okay, if you actually know where I live that’s sort of creepy, but you know what I mean. [I'll send you Gianna's address for cash.]

Liz's Picks

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Random House
Paperback available now

Who doesn't love a good, creepy ghost story that echoes classics like Rebecca?  Who doesn't want to see the Harry Potter kid's new movie?  The Woman in Black is a chilling read that has the added bonus of being Daniel Radcliffe's first starring film role since he went wizard.  Here's a great opportunity to read the book and then see the movie as a group.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Random House

The surprise Booker Prize finalist offers lots of discussion material for groups.  Modern Russia, dishonest women, the mob, the black market, bodies in the snow--this isn't your mama's book group pick.  It's a contemporary con novel and rumination on truth in a country where everything is relative.

House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard
Random House

I'm actually a fan of the idea of memoirs for book group picks.  The added reality of a true story adds another level to the conversation, and House of Prayer No. 2 offers lots.  Mark Richard grew up with physical problems that had him relegated to hospitals and special needs schools even though he was plenty smart.  He also was a wayward youth searching for purpose who spent time working as a fisherman, painting houses, and loafing.  How he became a writer's writer is a story worth reading.

Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell
Random House

I think I've mentioned this book almost as much as Gianna has written about The Tiger's Wife.  It's my favorite non-fiction book of 2011, a spellbinding, beautifully written memoir of growing up in a low income family in Houston in the 50's.  Crowell has the ability to bring humor and love to a story that's also full of hardship and violence and kooky religious fundamentalism.  He writes like a poet.  I love this book.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Random House

I've written previously about this slender novel as well.  The Buddha in the Attic was deservedly nominated for the National Book Award last year.  It's the story of the women who came to the US as mail order brides to Japanese immigrants.  It details culture shock, struggle, and perseverance in the years between the turn of the century and the start of World War II.  The writing is impeccable and because there is no one protagonist, the structure itself adds to a discussion.  And it's really, really good.  Trust me.


  1. I expect you to put your money where your mouth is! The Voyage Out Book Group will be discussing The Tiger's Wife at BookPeople Jan 29th at 7pm. All are welcome. Be there.

    This is a great list BTW. I'd add Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter.

  2. "Dreams of Joy" is Lisa See's sequel to her 2009 novel "Shanghai Girls". In this new book she chronicles the further adventures in China of sisters Pearl and May Chin and Pearl's daughter Joy. At the end of the first book Joy has been told some devastating family secrets, and the new book takes up immediately after, with Joy hopping a plane to return to her supposed roots in China and to fulfill her idealistic wish to help out with Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward. Joy's flight brings her into contact with people from her mother's past, and her so-called tiger nature - leaping into situations without thinking - takes her in a direction she never could have imagined when she arrived in China. The story is told in the alternating voices of Pearl and Joy, which I thought worked well.