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September 17, 2007

<< Non-Programming | Times on Times >>

Book Club Challenge

All right, Snarketeers, the gauntlet is thrown: Help me come up with a theme and some nominations for readings for my book club.

Every month, one of my fellow book-clubbers is assigned to nominate three or four books. When we meet to discuss the past month’s reading, we choose one of the nominees for the next month. Being something of an oddball, I like to organize my nominations around themes. The last time, for example, my theme was “Masters of Humankind.” The books I proposed were No god but God (God), The Year of Magical Thinking (Death), The Time-Traveler’s Wife (Time), and Moneyball (Money). (The club picked The Time-Traveler’s Wife. The actual selection doesn’t make much of a difference to me, because I plan to read all the books I propose, and I did.)

The theme can be oblique, clever, or straightforward. (In the straightforward camp, for example, I’ve been considering the four elements — Cloud Atlas (Air), Snow (Water), American Prometheus or Dante (Fire), Coal: A Human History or Salt: A World History (Earth).) They can be either a prominent theme of the book or just a play on its title. We prefer books that have been out in paperback, and a nomination almost always goes unpicked if one of us has already read it. I aim for variety in the selection — memoir, biography, journalistic non-fiction, literary fiction, magical realism, social history.

So, whaddya say? Help me out?

Posted September 17, 2007 at 5:28 | Comments (10) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted


You already probably know my suggestions, but I'll give 'em anyway:

Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought"
Taleb's "The Black Swan"
Gibson's "Spook Country"

All pretty new...

Perhaps because I spent yesterday at the Treasure Island Music Festival, perhaps because I just watched Klaus Kinski pull a steamboat over a mountain, I'll suggest a nautical theme (pick and choose as you like):

  • Youth by Joseph Conrad is excellent, also short and would make a good double-bill with...

  • The Old Man and the Sea

  • London's classic, The Sea Wolf

  • For the ambitious, To the Lighthouse

  • Of course, Melville offers many semi-literary options

  • For the classicists there is of course The Odyssey, or, more obscure, The Argonautica

  • Folkloric semi-non-fiction: The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend

  • Hardcore non-fiction: The Voyage of the Beagle or The Travels of Marco Polo

  • Not all that nautical: The Captain's Verses or Invisible Cities

  • Easily thrown in for fun: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Excellent, excellent, keep 'em coming.

How about this one? The theme being "Trinity":

  • E.L. Doctorow, either Billy Bathgate or The Book of Daniel (Father)

  • Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Son)

  • Philip K. Dick, either Voices from the Street or Confessions of a Crap Artist (Holy Ghost)

Hmm. . . you'd think that this would be a natural for me, but the request to mix-up the genres is throwing me for a bit of a loop, since fiction is just about all I read. Still, I'll give it a try.

1. "The White City"—work informed by the 1893 Chicago World's Fair:
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Spring Comes to Chicago by Campbell McGrath
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware

2. "Americans out of place"—Hemingway-informed contemporary expatriate lit:
A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
God Lives in St. Petersburg by Tom Bissell
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers (How We Are Hungry, particularly the story "Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly" would be a good choice as well)

3. "Around On the Road" (good for the 50th anniversary this year):
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Visions of Cody or the newly-released On the Road: the Original Scroll would be good complements.)
Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady
Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac (Kerouac's own version of the events surrounding the publication of On the Road)
Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson—Johnson's memoir, which includes her version of that time period

Offsetting, the nautical, here is a "sand" theme:

  • Wind, Sand and Stars (plus The Little Prince?) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

  • Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present by Michael Oren

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

  • Dune by Frank Herbert

Don't worry about any of my stipulations above, they're guidelines, not rules! So Gavin, if you've got a single-genre thematic list to propose, go for it! I'm already edified. Keep the ideas coming.

I always liked a good dreams/surrealism pack:

1) Andre Breton, Nadja and Manifestoes of Surrealism
2) Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
3) Luis Bunuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
4) Charles Simic, The World Doesn't End
5) Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio

anyone know a good contemp nonfic book on dreams?

More bookclubbing, again pick and choose.

  • Animal:

    • Crow by Ted Hughes

    • Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco

    • The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

    • Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior by Temple Grandin

  • Vegetable:

    • The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

    • The United States of Arugula by David Kamp

    • Diet for a Dead Planet by Christopher Cook

    • Red Sorghum: a Novel of China by Mo Yan

    • The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants by Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and Aristid Lindenmayer (not in print but available free online)

    • Mineral:

      • The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

    • Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral:

      • East of Eden by John Steinbeck

      • The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples by Tim Flannery

    • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick

    I love the 'vegetable' list. Were I involved in a theme-y book club I would choose it.

    Gavin's World's Fair list is awesome too. I love the idea of seeing a whole literary kaleidoscope around some event like that.

    I do not have a list to offer now. My brain is too tired.

    Ooops, I meant to include Do Androids Dream... in the "Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral" section. But I guess it does all right in a class of its own.

    I've only been able to come up with simple category lists. I like Matt's more whimsical "trinity" idea. Also the world fair list and dreams lists are awesome. A single year list could be really awesome, but very hard to put together.

    What about a style based list? 2nd person narrative: If on a winter's night a traveler... and... what else (choose your own adventure doesn't count)? Constrained writing: A Void, Alphabetical Africa...? These are somewhat painful to read though; I never made it too far!

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