NPR Picks for Book Groups
Posted by: Neil Hollands
Among their best of 2010 coverage, NPR includes this article identifying five books as good book group choices. As usual, they’ve made some thoughtful selections.
Peter Carey’s Parrot & Olivier in America would be interesting to read in combination with its inspiration, Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America, or perhaps Bernard Henri Levy’s nonfiction work, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville. Carey generates more quirks and humor than his inspiration, but the premise of an outsider trying to understand how America works is intriguing enough to support the approaches of many writers.
Groups that enjoyed The Help might also become enwrapt in Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Wench. It’s the story of four slave masters “vacationing” with four slave women mistresses at a resort in Ohio during the mid-19th century. What makes this book intriguing is that each of these four relationships is very different and your group will enjoy discussing the moral distinctions in this very complex situation.
I haven’t read anything by Tana French yet, but like all of her other crime novels so far, Faithful Place is receiving excellent reviews. Everything I’ve read indicates a gift for interesting characters that makes French’s writing well-suited for book groups, whether or not they like mystery plots.
In this list, I’m personally most intrigued by Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, a dark horse that is popping up on many of the best of the year lists I’ve been tracking. In connected stories it follows an English-language newspaper in Rome from its most robust days forward into a decline and fall. That strikes me as a premise guaranteed to generate Finally, there’s Paul Auster’s Sunset Park. I’ve loved much of Auster’s work, feelings in dedicated readers, and reviews indicate a powerful mix of humor and drama. This one definitely goes on my reading list.books like his New York Trilogy, The Music of Chance, Mr. Vertigo, and The Book of Illusions. However, he’s not a good choice for every book group. There’s just enough weirdness in most of his premises and plots to generate a divide between readers and groups that like postmodern games and those who find such tricks confusing or annoying. Sunset Park, however, seems to be a departure, with a central theme that follows several people through events caused by the contemporary American recession.
Kudos to Lynn Neary and NPR for five intriguing choices. I’d be interesting in hearing from groups that have tackled any of these titles.