Tonight marked one of my favorite nights of the year: choosing books for next year’s book club reading. This September will be eleven years since our first meeting, when we discussed Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. There are four members from that first meeting that still come: Barrie, Charlie, Lynn, and me. Others have come and gone over the years, and right now we’ve got a great combo of 6-8 people who make it really fun while providing great conversation. We mostly read classics, but we mix it up with philosophy, history, religion, biography, science, political theory, and psychology.
Tonight we discussed Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. How have I missed this treasure for so many years? I suppose after reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles (my #1 I-wish-I-could-change-the-ending book), I was wary of Hardy’s fatalism and reluctant to read another of his tragedies. On the other hand, Tess prepared me for Hardy’s unblinking examination of the human condition as he saw it, so I was better prepared to step into Jude’s world of shattered ambitions and rigid social and moral codes. I could enjoy and ponder the characters’ critique of societal conventions even as those conventions destroyed their lives. I also enjoyed what I consider Jude’s feminism, in that the two main female characters, Arabella and Sue, not only believe that they have choices, but insist on acting on those choices. While each of them had their faults (boy, did they ever!), I couldn’t help but applaud their dogged determination to make their way, in their own way. There were two attending tonight who didn’t like the book on the grounds of its dark themes and tragic story lines–I certainly understand that but I loved the book nevertheless.
After the discussion, everyone pulled out their lists of books to read next year. After two rounds of voting, we narrowed 31 prospectives down to twelve:
September: Gilead: A Novel Marilynne Robinson
October: Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe
November: The Historian Elizabeth Kostova
December: City of God St. Augustine
January: A New Atlantis Francis Bacon
February: Eleanor Roosevelt (choose any biography)
March: Let the Trumpet Sound Stephen B. Oates
April: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith
May: The Price of Motherhood Anne Crittenden
June: Far From the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
July: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig
August: Human Motivation Dale Drum
I’ve already read Gilead, Moll, Tree, and Zen, and look forward to discussing those. The rest will be new, several of which I’ve been wanting to read for some time.
I would love to see lists from your book clubs, if you care to share!