Book Club Benefits

Last week my son (pictured above, showing me around San Diego) called from a bookstore, asking if I’d recommend a book. He loves Steinbeck but had read pretty much all of it. I suggested Alaskan author John Straley’s The Big Both Ways, comparable to Steinbeck in both setting and voice.

Several years ago I’d have been envious and maybe even skeptical if someone told me their son had called from a bookstore asking for book recommendations. When your son’s a teen, you can’t imagine him asking your advice about anything, much less a BOOK. He’d rather make a big tackle on the football field or a big save in the hockey net and in any case he’d rather do it as far from you as possible.

But teens grow (all too fast) into delightful adults. And thanks to Andromeda’s book club, I knew just the book to suggest. I love Straley’s work, and I’m sure I would have read his latest eventually, but I read it sooner because I wanted to be part of the 49 Writers discussion last November.

Book clubs can be a mixed blessing. I loved my Fairbanks group, but I didn’t rush to join one in Anchorage. The monthly obligation to run out, be social, and finish a book I maybe didn’t love gave me reason enough to drag my feet.

But the online venue suits me just fine. I get to read a book I might otherwise have missed, and I get to talk about it on my own terms, lounging around in my yoga pants if I’m so inclined, with no pressure to go somewhere and make small talk and figure out all the dynamics of the group.

So I hope you’re giving some thought to joining our next book club discussion. Start by taking the poll at right, weighing in on how often and in what manner you’d like to participate. Perhaps you’ll snag an unexpected perk as I did, being able to recommend just the right book for my son.

And thanks, by the way, for indulging me two personal photos in back-to-back posts. I don’t really mean to flaunt my face or show off how well I adapt to temperature extremes – although I do like to think I adapt rather nicely.

14 thoughts on “Book Club Benefits”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Let’s try that again.

    I love hearing stories about teens who mature into sensitive, responsible and even bookish adults. At a different generational level, I find that sharing book (and movie) suggestions with my own mother and other older family members is one of our easiest and best topics for discussion — much less of a minefield than politics, for example.

  2. All those survey ideas sound great, and I definitely look forward to online book discussions as well. On my list, for AK books, would be Ordinary Wolves and Firecracker Boys. Thanks to you two – I can’t imagine trying to run a blog at all, much less one that has so many great aspects to it, along with keeping up with the writing!

  3. Thanks, Karen. Those are two of my favorites as well. As for the blog – well, the trick is not letting it become yet another distraction from the tough work of writing. There’s a lot of joy in watching a community of writers and readers come together.

    I like what Andromeda says about how books build bridges among family. So often I forget to ask older family members about their own stories. I’ve already forgotten which authors talked about stories drawing us together around the campfire…

  4. andromeda (for kay)

    I’m posting this for Kay, who had trouble commenting due to some blogger glitch. (If a sign-in doesn’t work, you can always try anonymous or ‘name’ and try commenting that way.)

    Perfect choice of “Big Both Ways”–applause for you both!
    For the memory-challenged among us, it’d be great to remind of the title
    of book club selection when mentioning it. And please do announce the
    Alaska Professional Communicators’ Communications Contest, deadline
    February 5th.
    p.s. I am still engrossed in “And She Was” by Cindy Dyson and wonder
    what others think of it….

  5. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    P.S. I’ve never read the Cindy Dyson book, though I’ve heard great things about it.

  6. Thanks, Kay. I’ve got the APCC queued up for Friday’s round-up and our calendar, but it’s also good for it to get a mention here. Dyson’s book is one of my favorites, and not only b/c it was her “breakout” from nonfiction YA, the kind of success story I love. I’ve been squirreling up courage to request an interview. I think it would make a great book club selection (more on that process next week).

  7. Deb,

    Though I am aware that many writers / publishers see it that way, I consider the phrase “breakout from nonfiction into fiction” awkward (and I’m stepping lightly here). Perhaps this “evolution of writing genres” could be the topic of some future post. Similar hierarchies seem to rule the relationship between essay and book-length nonfiction and between short story and novel. (And I won’t even try to place poetry anywhere on this scale.)Even a “progression” from YA to adult writing appears ill suited for what we are trying to do: write for a particular group of readers in a genre that is our forte. (Lucky if you have more than one.)

    Regarding Dyson’s book: I see the danger of its too-bleak depiction of Aleut contemporary life (set against an idealized past)confirming stereotypes especially with out-of-state readers. Also, the participation of non-Native outsiders in quasi-religious rituals (as in the “communing” through mummy flesh)could offend. I actually heard comments to that affect in the Native community. As writers (and newcomers to this place), we should tread carefully on cultural ground that is not ours — which should not be confused with mindlessly following political correctness.

  8. With all the rambling about nonfiction and fiction, I forgot to pitch my own favorite Alaska book. “Being Caribou” chronicles Karsten Heuer’s (and his wife and documentary filmmaker Leanne’s) epic trek in the wake of the Porcupine herd. The writing is humble and non-flashy, yet competent, and I admire the boldness of the idea and their determination to follow it through to the inevitable but frustrating end in Washington D.C. The tone is never preachy but rather marked by a warm humanism that is likely to win this writer and his message many more friends. This is a book, written by a Canadian no less, that addresses one of the most challenging issues Alaskans face in the near future: how to keep essential parts of this state free from development and our own conscience clean.

  9. Great thoughts, Michael. You’ve got an excellent point (and no need to tread lightly) about the “breakout” concept and its (pereived, implied, or otherwise)corollary that some writing is superior to others – I’m making a note to continue that dialogue in a future post. For me vis-a-vis Dyson, it’s mostly a matter of admiration at switching up genres, which takes some courage.

    Likewise, your thoughts on treading carefully on cultural grounds is well-taken. Lots of us have wrestled with this – Seth Kantner, Carolyn Kremers, Rick Carey, and Ann Dixon come to mind, among others. Another great topic for a future post. Would love to see the discussion thread continue in the meantime.

  10. And I forgot to say thanks for the good word on Being Caribou. I’ve been intrigued by reviews but haven’t picked it up yet. Your praise for the prose and the bold range of the project make me even more eager to read it.

  11. Deb,

    You’re welcome. I love a good argument, especially in public. (I guess all writers are exhibitionists at heart.)

    Re: “Native sensibilities,” it would be great to get some input from Native writers in the state, who are too often absent from these discussions. Editing anthologies, I’ve often come up against these issues and also have had problems finding Native writers working in the essay format. It is worth considering, perhaps, how the genre / format you work in could be reflective of personal or cultural “preference.” I think it’s no coincidence that in classical traditions the novel reigns supreme (as a medieval, courtly form of literary entertainment), while Native writers are strongly influenced by oral tradition modes.

    Let’s get some of these folks and their perspectives on this blog.

  12. Yes, I’d thought as well that we’d want to seek out Native views on this topic. Willie Hensley, when the flurry of release activity is over, and Velma Wallis, among others.

    I agree on form being quite naturally a cultural preference. Linear and non-linear ways of viewing the world are also part of the mix.

    Of Native Americans who’ve chosen the novel as their genre, Sherman Alexie and his wildly successful True Confessions of a Part-time Indian come to mind (I haven’t read his books for adults). I hope it’s getting picked up and taught in Alaskan classrooms, especially in schools with a substantial Native population.

  13. I nominate “Raising Ourselves” by Velma Wallis for book club selection 2009.
    So far, this is my favorite memoir from Alaska and probably from the USA or the world (I’ve read dozens of memoirs in the last three years, thinking of writing one for me and deciding against it, mainly because my agent who is a hotshot told me they won’t be picked up unless you are a famous person, and I read in numerous articles that the NY presses are so saturated with memoirs you now have to be thoroughly weird and/or disgusting. Who wants to pander to that?) That being said, the famous Wallis wrote her memoir before the market was saturated and – not weird or disgusting – it a work of great beauty, pain, sorrow and pluck, rich in surprises.

  14. So glad you brought this one up, Lesley. I was thinking of Velma’s memoir myself, spinning off from the dialogue with Michael. I’m embarrassed to admit – like so many others on my “to read” list – it’s been there a long time, so long I’d forgotten about it. And I really, really want to read it, not in the least because my sense is that it took a great deal of courage to write.

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