Discussions Other

Bad book group choices?

When I was researching titles to add to my recent 101 Book Group Choices post I was forced to think hard about which books created good discussions. I found this article about writing for book groups by Amanda Ross (famous for choosing books for Richard and Judy and now The TV Book Club) but am not sure that this advice is different from that given to any author.  It sounds as though she is just describing a good book; one which is original and has a great plot.

Is there any difference between a good book and a good book club choice? 

Are there any fantastic books which make terrible book club choices?

Photo by Horia Varlan, Flickr

When I was compiling my list of books I was trying to include books which contained moral issues which are often thought provoking and in theory promote discussion, but in my book group discussion of the moral issues hasn’t occurred and I have a feeling that it could create argument rather than discussion in a lot of groups. I find talking about the characters more interesting than discussing the pros/cons of abortion, euthanasia or other hotly debated topics.

Should book group choices contain moral issues?



Every single one of my book group’s discussions has been enjoyable. Some have been slightly more successful than others, but I sometimes wonder if it really matters what book is chosen – I think we could talk about any book. That may be because half of us are book bloggers with an extreme passion for books, or perhaps we just haven’t come across a bad book group choice yet.

Is it possible to chose a bad book, or can people who are passionate about books create a good discussion whatever is chosen?

Which books didn’t work for your book club? Why?

2009 Other Prizes

Red Dog, Red Dog – Patrick Lane

 Long listed for the 2008 Giller Prize

Red Dog, Red Dog has intrigued me for a while. A few people were convinced it would make the 2009 Booker long list and so I almost picked it up last year. For some reason it never quite made it to the top of the TBR pile then, but almost a year on I finally got round to reading it.

Red Dog, Red Dog is set in a small town in British Columbia, Canada. The book centres on one troubled family: a violent husband, a depressed mother and her two troubled sons.  Much of the book is narrated by their dead baby sister, which sounds a bit weird but it actually worked very well. The book follows their lives over the course of one week in 1958. The short time scale meant that there wasn’t room for a complex plot, but their relationships and emotions were well explored.

My enjoyment of this book fluctuated massively as I read it. Some scenes captivated me, drawing me into the troubled world and creating a strong emotional bond between me and the boys; but then I’d read several chapters in a row without becoming involved at all. The writing became very passive and I began to lose interest. I think this was a deliberate plot devise as the writing kept switching between total engagement and boredom, but I found it very frustrating.

The tone of the book was quite dark:

The dead came crowding in, each with a story, what happened and when, who was there and why. Most faded into fragments, faint murmurs, the stories rising as if from narrow caves, the sounds distorted, vowels drawn out into echoes, consonants clipped and rattling like a snake’s tail whirring in the sagebrush, the same kind of warning, the dead telling me things that they thought I needed to know, tales from so far back they no longer had any meaning except to the ones who told them.

The whole book was quite emotionally draining so I recommend that you are in the right frame of mind before attempting it.

Overall, I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. It had moments of brilliance alongside some very dull sections. I think you’ll have to make up your own mind!


Have you read Red Dog, Red Dog?

1980s Novella Recommended books

When I Was Five I Killed Myself – Howard Buten

When I Was Five I Killed Myself is a fantastic little book! It was first brought to my attention by Scott from Me and My Big Mouth and I’d like to thank him, as I don’t think I’d ever have discovered this little gem without him.

The book has a very interesting history. It was originally published in the US in 1981 under the title Burt, but sadly failed to take off there. It then became hugely popular in France and ended up becoming a classic in the country; it is claimed that 1 in 10 French people have read this book. It is a real shame that When I Was Five I Killed Myself is virtually unknown in the English speaking world, as it is wonderful and deserves to become a classic in all languages.

The book begins with Burt letting us know he is in a Children’s Trust Residence Centre for the terrible thing he did to a girl called Jessica. The centre appears to be a cross between a mental hospital and a children’s home, but it is never made clear exactly what kind of institution it is. The entire book is narrated by 8-year-old Burt, who is clearly troubled and suffering from Asperger’s syndrome (as with the central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.)  The crime Burt committed is revealed gradually, but we know from the beginning that it was serious enough to leave Jessica in hospital.  

I loved every page of this emotional novella. In many ways the book reminded me of Flowers For Algernon, questioning they way in which we treat those in society who behave differently to everyone else. The child’s point of view was realistic and disturbing. I really empathised with Burt and found his confusion at the outside world insightful and traumatizing.

Dr Nevele shook his head slow, like my dad once did when he had to put our dog to sleep. “Please don’t put me to sleep,” I whispered. I looked at the floor but there weren’t any more buildings on it, just carpet. Dr Nevele shook his head.”Are you talking to me now, Burton?” he said. And I said “I don’t know.” Then I started to cry.

I should mention now that my oldest son is suspected of having Asperger’s Syndrome, so this book had an added depth of meaning for me. I don’t think I have ever found so much emotion in such a short book.

The ending surprised me, but also left me begging for the sequel, which unfortunately doesn’t exist.

I highly recommend you find a copy of this little book.

I’m planning to read Marcelo in the Real World soon. Have you read any other books which contain a character with Asperger’s Syndrome?


February Summary and Plans for March

I finished 11 books in February. The quality was surprisingly evenly distributed, with a range of fantastic books and a few I didn’t enjoy at all.

If you get the chance then I highly recommend you read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Rupture by Simon Lelic they are both fantastic!


Books reviewed in February

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese stars51

Rupture – Simon Lelic stars51

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee 

The Harlot’s Progress: Yorkshire Molly – Peter Mottley 

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni stars4

Brixton Beach – Roma Tearne stars3h

Blacklands – Belinda Bauer stars3h

After the Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld stars3h

The Girl with Glass Feet – Ali Shaw stars3

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger stars2

Dangerous Liaisons – Choderlos de Laclos stars1

Plans for March

I got a bit distracted by the TV Book Club in February, so didn’t manage to read many of the books I planned to at the beginning of the month. Most of my plans are identical to last month – sorry to all those who are waiting for me to read things from this list, I really do hope to get to them soon! 

Small Island – Andrea Levy

The Little Friend – Donna Tartt

The Woman in the Dunes – Kobo Abe

My Father’s Paradise – Ariel Sabar

The Native Hurricane – Chigozie John Obioma

The Hiding Place – Trezza Azzopardi

The Love We Share Without Knowing – Christopher Barzak

I’m going to finish reading:

Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Sex and Science – Mary Roach

July’s People – Nadine Gordimer

The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

I am also hoping to read some of these: 

So Much for That – Lionel Shriver

Pocket Notebook – Mike Thomas

Marcelo in the Real World – Francisco Stork

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano

My Driver – Maggie Gee

Have you enjoyed any of the books I plan to read in March?