Category Archives: National Reading Group Month

National Reading Group Month

For the past several years I’ve chaired the reading committee that selects the titles for the Great Group Reads list that comes out in September in time for National Reading Group Month (October). There were 22 readers this year and we read like fiends all spring and summer. It was fun and exhausting at the same time and I really appreciate the readers’ their efforts. We put together a great list of books.

National Reading Group Month is sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association–the other WNBA–and to celebrate NRGM all the chapters around the country have author programs, highlighting the Great Group Reads books and other wonderful new books that will provoke lively discussions.

The New York WNBA chapter program is this Wednesday evening–October 17–at the Strand Book Store in their classy Rare Book Room and I’m moderating the panel of 5 authors. For me, this is the high that comes at the end of the hard work: the chance to talk to authors of novels and memoirs, to find out how they wrote those wonderful books, what they were thinking about when they wrote them, how they write, and maybe even why they write. If you’re in NYC, come to the Strand for the 7pm program–it’s only $10 and for that you’ll get a $10 Strand gift card–can it be possible that there’s a book you want to buy?

The authors on the panel are: Alix Kates Shulman whose current novel is Menage (Other Press), a wicked sendup of modern marriage. Shulman’s name ought to be familiar to you as the writer of the iconic feminist novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. 
Elizabeth Nunez will be there too, author of Boundaries (Akashic Press), a lovely cross-cultural story of a woman coping with competing demands of family and career.
David Maine, author of An Age of Madness (Red Hen Press), a devastating psychological study of a woman doctor whose family life has gone horribly wrong. I was delighted that this title made it onto the Great Group Reads list.
I’m eager to meet Ben Ryder Howe and hear  more about his hilarious and heartfelt memoir My Korean Deli: Risking it all for a Convenience Store (Picador). I listened to this one and laughed out loud often. It’s more than just humorous–it’s a great New York story with lots of food for thought about who we are and the choices we make for the ones we love.
Marisa de los Santos will be there to talk about Falling Together (Wm. Morrow Paperbacks), a novel about three college friends who find that despite their close  friendship, they’ve been blind to some important truths.

So, come to the Strand if you can and say hello. There will be time to ask questions of the authors and talk to them after the program.

National Reading Group Month Event

I’m moderating a panel in New York in celebration of National Reading Group Month this Thursday evening, Oct. 20th. This is my third year doing this and I love it. The five authors on the panel, in no particular order, are: Julie Otsuka (just nominated for the National Book Award for The Buddha in the Attic), Scott Spencer (Man in the Woods), Nayana Currimbhoy (Miss Timmins’ School for Girls), Annia Ciezadlo (Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War), and Aine Greaney (Dance Lessons). The program is sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association and it should be a lovely evening.

I’ve read all the books and enjoyed them–they’re very different from each other in style, language, setting, character, so I’m hoping to get some good discussions going among the authors that evening of the panel.  I’ve listened to podcasts and downloads of interviews with the authors where I could find them in preparation and now I’m really excited to meet them.

The titles above, with the exception of Scott Spencer’s Man in the Woods and Nayana Currimbhoy’s Miss Timmins’ School for Girls, are on the Great Group Reads list this year. They’d also work well for book groups–lots to talk about in both.

National Reading Group Month

October is National Reading Group Month, a good time to think about how much our lives are enriched by the discussions we have with friends–and even casual acquaintances–about books. I have to admit I have a special interest here; I chair the committee of readers who read and select the titles for the Great Group Reads list that comes out as part of National Reading Group Month.

I spend all spring and summer madly reading and (virtually) talking about the books that are candidates for that list. We vote in August and then the list is released in mid-September. I love the titles on this year’s list; they’re a more diverse group than we’ve had before (this year we picked more titles). It’s diverse in writing style, setting, plot, character–all the many ways that novels can differ from each other. And we have a few lovely memoirs.  I’ll write more about individual titles in later posts.

National Reading Group Month

I was at a program yesterday at Piscataway Public Library celebrating National Reading Group Month where I spoke about reading books that deal with issues–social, political, religious–challenging book groups to (maybe) read out of their comfort zone. I’ve attached the bibliography, Something to Talk About! so you can print it off.

I forgot to mention one title that my reading group enjoyed: Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel. Each chapter reviews the work of a different philosopher–Bentham, Mill, Kant, Rawls, Aristotle, and others–and uses their philosophies to examine current social, economic, and political issues. I think a group could have a great time focusing on a few chapters. My book group found it very interesting. There’s also material from Sandel’s Harvard course on the web that provides additional discussion points.

National Reading Group Program in New York

NRGM2I was lucky to be one of the moderators for this program last Wednesday–I love meeting authors and hearing them talk about their writing. In this case, since I had read and enjoyed all 5 books, I had a list of questions that I was burning to ask. The program was sponsored by the New York Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, a professional networking and educational organization for people in all aspects of the book industry. The event was held at the Mint Theater, a small venue–only 100 seats–so everyone was close enough to feel that the authors were speaking directly to them. We had a wonderful discussion about writing and the writer’s life.
I’ve listed the authors and described their books below. I’ve linked the authors’ names to their websites or their publishers’ information.

Roxana Robinson, Cost (Picador, 2009) A 2009 Great Group Reads Selection
CostA family gathered at their Maine vacation home is torn apart by the news of one son’s heroin addiction. Robinson is a master at using shifting viewpoints to reveal old resentments and hostilities as family members cope with Jack’s destructive behavior. Robinson’s depiction of the addict, Jack, is scarily realistic; I’m sure it comes extremely close to the truth of the experience. I was especially taken by the way Robinson described the emotions of the younger brother, a mix of guilt, responsibility, and anger, but all the characters step off the page as we listen in to their thoughts.

Christina Baker Kline, Bird in Hand (Morrow, 2009)
Driving home from her friend Claire’s book launch party, Alison is involved in a car accident. She’s not at fault, exactly, but a child is killed and her feelings of guilt are overwhelming. Bird in HandThis incident sets in motion the breakup of her marriage and Claire’s. The two couples, longtime friends, have a complicated emotional history, dating back to graduate school. The structure of the novel is fascinating: each chapter is written from the point of view of one of the four characters, but interspersed are short chapters which unwind in reverse chronological order, tracing the history of the relationships. The effect is like opening box after revealing box as we learn more about each character; at the conclusion they stand revealed.

Eva Hoffman, Appassionata (Other Press, 2009) A 2009 Great Group Reads Selection
AppassionataIsabel, a concert pianist, has an affair with a mysterious Chechnyan who is either a freedom fighter or a terrorist, depending on your point of view. The affair with Anzor forces her to re-examine her beliefs about passion, politics, and art. In gorgeous prose, Hoffman contemplates the violence of our age and issues of guilt and responsibility. I found echoes of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady in this novel (note the name of the protagonist) and heard echoes of Yeats’s Second Coming. This would be a great book for group discussion! I loved Eva Hoffman’s memoir, Lost in Translation, about her feelings of loss when she moved from Poland to Canada as a young teen. It’s a great coming of age memoir.

Julie Metz, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal (Voice, 2009) A 2009 Great Group Reads SelectionPerfection
When Metz’s husband dies unexpectedly, she uncovers a trail of infidelities, exposing years of manipulation and self-deception. Her anger and obsession to uncover the truth make this an unusually candid and courageous memoir. Metz really bares her soul–and her anger–in this account in a way not often found in memoirs about marriage.

C.M. Mayo, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009)
Last PrinceMayo has taken a little-known incident in the history of Mexico and fleshed out the characters and the times in a broad, lush style. We may remember learning in school about the Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, the (ultimately) mad Empress, who ruled Mexico for a short while after France’s misguided invasion. It all seemed a rather bizarre historical footnote; what we didn’t know is that Maximilian and Carlota were given a young Mexican child whom they designated as their heir. The story of this child, Agustin, and how his parents allowed him to be taken away by the royal couple, is quite a remarkable story. Mayo, a longtime resident of Mexico, researched this story for years, in archives in North and South America.

Good books for book groups–Great Group Reads Selections

If you haven’t heard about Great Group Reads, well, it’s the first year that this list of books selected for their discussability is making an appearance. I volunteered to coordinate the group of readers for this new National ggr_logoReading Group Month initiative. It was hectic but fun! We were ten readers from around the country; we all read a group of books, discussed them virtually and chose nine titles, fiction and nonfiction. The list is below, but here’s a link to the Great Group Reads website with links to information about each book, including links to discussion guides.

Appassionata by Eva Hoffman

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz

While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Cost by Roxana Robinson

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Nat’l Reading Group Month Celebration

National Reading Group Month is sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association, a networking and educational group founded in New York City in 1917 by a group of women booksellers when the all-male Bookseller’s League chose to remain all-male. There are chapters (not just for women) in NRGM_Logocities around the country. All the chapters hold programs in October and I am delighted to be co-moderating the New York program. If you live in the NY metro area, you can come and hear a great panel of authors at 6pm on Wed. Oct. 21st at the Mint Theater in midtown.

The authors are: Eva Hoffman (Appassionata), Christina Baker Kline (Bird in Hand), C.M. Mayo (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire), Julie Metz (Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal), and Roxana Robinson (Cost). They will speak about their books and answer questions from the moderators and the audience.

If you’re not a WNBA member, the cost is $20 (students, $10), which includes a tote bag of books and other goodies from publishers, great refreshments, and the opportunity to buy the authors’ books, get them signed, and chat. It’s a lovely, informal evening. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP to

A Good Month to Read

October is National Reading Group Month, a good time to think about books as tools for making connections among people. My mother was in a reading group for 40 years–a dozen women who met once a month in each other’s houses. They had a paid leader at the beginning, courtesy of a foundation that was promoting discussion groups in the 1930s, but they continued for many years without her, reading great books, eating (of course), and becoming fast friends. Book discussion groups do create community, there’s no doubt about that. They teach us to consider–even honor–other people’s points of view, something we could use more of in this world, right now.

I’m a member of a small nonfiction reading group–you can see our reading list. We struggle with how to pick our books, always wanting to find a great book that will promote meaningful discussion. But it turns out that even if the book doesn’t change our lives, the act of discussing it might. Getting together in someone’s kitchen or dining room and exchanging ideas, accommodating our very different approaches to literature, and our diverse life experiences turns out to be quite satisfying. Maybe it’s the particular group members, but I suspect it’s also the exchange of  ideas, even on the evenings when we don’t feel inspired or brilliant. Is that your experience too?