Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
I guess you can teach an old reader’s advisory dog a new trick.
Last week I did something I have never experienced before. I sat through a book discussion in the afternoon led by someone else and then led a discussion that evening on the same title. It was an interesting day to say the least.
For my monthly crime fiction discussion at the library we had selected Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, her first book that she wrote way back in 2006, long before Gone Girl (see my discussion of that title in my August 22, 2012 post).
My staff also holds a monthly readers advisory training book discussion (each month on a different genre) and this month it just happened to be mysteries. Normally they are not on the same day but circumstances this month led to it being on the same day and a decision was made to read the same book. The discussion at the staff training would be led by our Librarian: Youth Services, Lisa. This made my life easier but also helped the former staff member and the Library Board member who join us for the staff training and also participate in the Crime Fiction discussion for the public.
I have mentioned this before but I regularly break one of the cardinal rules of leading a book discussion: I select titles I have not previewed or read for my group to discuss.
Look at me: I am a risk taker, I work without a net!
While I gravitate towards the hard-boiled and have developed a rather thick skin for whatever an author chooses to show me, I was not more than a few pages into Sharp Objects and I began to get worried. At one point, mid-book, I turned to my wife while reading on the couch and said to her, “They are going to kick my ass!”
The “they” I was worried about was the potential members of either my staff or the crime book discussion who were going to blame me for what the author wrote. No–wait, that is not fair. They were going to blame me for exposing them to the fiction that the author wrote.
In my defense I do need to point out that crime fiction is a rather rough and challenging genre that should carry a label that says, “Warning–beyond here lie dragons!” My feeling for a book discussion group is that a book should not be selected because of how it is displaying all the various ways that people can be cruel to each other but rather for showing us why. I have often quoted crime fiction author Barb D’Amato who once said that some crime fiction books are not whodunnits but rather whydunnits.
For me, the saving grace was that Sharp Objects is a very literary crime novel. One of the odd things about it is that it is relentless in presenting a disturbing, atmospheric story that reads like horror yet at times I could jot down compelling sentences to use as potential discussion topics in the discussion that I was to lead.
What struck terror in my heart as that not everyone would see the quality while getting lost in the plot. The story is told in the first person by a character who is a cutter. Camille is a reporter in the Chicago area whose editor decides it would be a good idea for her to go to Wind Gap, Missouri, her hometown, to write a story about a serial killer. To say that Camille has issues in Wind Gap would be a gross understatement and any more discussion of the plot will only spoil it for potential readers. Let us just say: think Stephen King / The Bad Seed / and Lizbeth Salander.
Chew on this fact: everyone in both the staff and public book discussion finished the book. Not necessarily like the book. But finished the book. To me, that is testimony to the skill of Gillian Flynn who created a world in which we do not want to reside except as a reader protected by the ability to close the book and look away when we need to.