Not Oprah. Not Reese. Just Me: A Lifely Read & My Top 10 Book Club Picks

Sometimes I think of this blog as my own personal book club. I pick a book, read it, and then discuss it with – myself. That’s the writing part. What happens next, though, is I’ll receive a text from a friend who’s read a post and continue the “conversation” or someone will comment online about some aspect of a post with an interesting thought. So perhaps this blog is, in fact, kind of a “real life book club.” Readers and I “meet” outside of a regular gathering, but the jumping off point for discussion is – hey ho – right here. (Ironically, the very first thing I posted here was entitled Alone With My Books?)

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If this is what you want your book club to be, I can’t help you. ALTHOUGH, if these women are discussing books while dancing, I applaud their multitasking.

I’ve been in book clubs off and on since my early 20s, and I don’t mean to be a spoil sport, but I’m generally not a fan of the ones I’ve been in where people don’t actually read the book. I know, I know, that is the ultimate mommy/girls night out shtick: “No one ever reads the book! LOLOLOLOLOL….Pass the wine!” Call me a glutton for punishment (or maybe just antisocial), but if we’re meeting because of a book, let’s, I dunno, discuss it. We can go out for drinks or coffee to chat another time. (Maybe this is why I liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine so much. #superserious #superliteral)

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Are You a Story or a Novel? Thoughts on The Only Story by Julian Barnes and the Stories We (choose to) Believe

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The Only Story, by Julian Barnes

There are three nearby coffee shops I frequent to get some work done. I like them all equally for different reasons – one has superior coffee, one has a nice array of breakfast sandwiches, and one seems to have a lot of moms and/or grandparents with toddlers. One of the above also has a group from a community organization that meets often. They are kind of loud and judgmental – and I love it and I hate it. I love it because it’s entertaining and I just can’t turn away (even though it looks like I’m just tapping away at my laptop). I hate it because they are just. so. damn. smug.

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Me surreptitiously listening to the other table.

Here are some recent conversation topics (some details changed to protect the loud): Why do people think New Englanders think they’re so superior? We are not! (Followed by conversation that points to: Yes, they think Massachusetts residents are superior.) Group leader’s detailed description of his family in a non-New England state and his siblings’ beliefs. (Cue uproarious laughter.) Discussion about teenagers and poor food choices. (Followed by a description of group leader’s self-righteous child-and-food philosophy, which is interesting because I can’t imagine this young guy has teenagers. Oh, just you wait!)

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Come on Eileen: The Spooky in Me Honors the Spooky in You

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Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

My husband and I finished The Americans last week. If you are pensive and stew in your emotions a bit – not that I know this from experience or anything – you will probably need to stare off into space for a while, shed some tears, read all the spoiler-filled recaps online (now that there is nothing to spoil), discuss ad nauseam with anyone who has seen the finale, sit around basically going “hmmmmm” some more, and perhaps play The Americans FX playlist on Spotify so you can relive all the emotion. Just some examples. (You will feel better after two days of this, by the way.)

No spoilers here, but if you know anything at all about The Americans, you can deduce that “identity” is the centerpiece of this tale. “Identity” isn’t just a wee little theme – it’s the whole she-bang. The main course, not the after-dinner mint. On the macro level, you’ve got two Russians who have posed as Americans for over 20 years (and have two American-born kids): What “are” they? Can one still be Russian if living inside a culture diametrically at opposition with one’s homeland? Then on the micro level: Let’s take a look at some of the crazy disguises that Elizabeth and Philip have had to don:

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In Obvious News, Authors Want You to Read Their Books: Thoughts on The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

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The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Target bookshelves – they’re a bugaboo of mine. I won’t deny buying books at the bullseye bonanza and I also won’t deny that this quintessential American destination sometimes stocks good ones. But in a country that prides itself on individuality and choice, Target book sales promote just the opposite. Tell me: Where’s the fun in that?! (Well, it is indeed fun when you look for themes in the store’s offerings, as seen below…)

So, where do you get your books when you don’t want to read about what Target (or Reese or Oprah) wants you to read about?

The Real Housewives of Target

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Swaptions: When Target + Celebrities Infiltrate Your Library

 

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Are Reese and Target in cahoots? Which came first: the celebrity endorsement or the shelf space?

I recently read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. You know you know this book – it’s everywhere. Target shelf? Check. A selection for Reese Witherspoon’s new “book club” via her nascent media enterprise Hello Sunshine? Why, yes. Set to be made into a movie by same company? Hello (sunshine)! But not at your library because 150 people have holds on it before you? Of course.

Reading rule of thumb: If it’s on the shelf at Target, there’s a very good chance it’s going to be off the shelf at your local library, i.e. 150 holds before your turn. If Reese Witherspoon or Oprah endorses it? Perhaps double that library hold number.

My friend Ashley says that books like Eleanor Oliphant – a quick page-turner about a “quirky,” earnest, and unintentionally hilarious 30-something woman who learns to cope with the real world after a traumatic childhood – “scratch an itch.” These types of books are laugh-out-loud funny (or at least for me this one was) and easy, but nonetheless well-written and clever. Think Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) or a 20-years-on Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Let’s call it chick lit for the woman who normally avoids chick lit.

Regarding Eleanor Oliphant: I laughed, I cried (I really did, but it was while I was on a plane, so I had to hide it), and it was way, way better than what is sometimes on Target’s shelves. (I cheated and downloaded it to my Kindle.) At first glance, it seems that Eleanor is quite sheltered – she doesn’t “know how” to dance, and here is her initial dance-floor observation:

“During the next free-form jiggling section, I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Brontë novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender- and faith-based youth organization?”

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