Historical Fiction for You, and Your Book Club

This month we recommend half a dozen historical fiction selections from across the ages, all of which are recently released in paperback. It's an eclectic mix of critically-acclaimed novels covering a diverse range of time and subject matter. What does the past have to teach us about the present? What's changed and what's stayed the same? How do we relate to characters from such different times and places than ourselves? There are so many pressing questions to be explored within the pages of a good historical novel. Tiffany Blues, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and American Princess feature adventurous and unconventional female protagonists living in the early 20th century, while Washington Black, The Winter Soldier, and Unsheltered consider the social and political issues of the 19th to early 20th.

If you click to "more about the book", you'll find plentiful information to help you decide which of these books are right for you and/or your book club; including reviews, "beyond the book" articles, excerpts, reading guides, and more.

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The Many Benefits of Library Book Clubs

I used to think that participation in public library book groups would be somewhat transient--people would drop in for a few months while they decided if they liked the concept, at which point they'd go off and join a private group, or start their own.

How wrong I was!

One of the core findings of our recently released report on the dynamics of book groups: The Inner Lives of Book Clubs, is how much people love their library book groups and how loyal they are to them.

  • Statistically speaking, there is barely a difference between happiness in public groups compared to private ones: 95% of those in public book clubs (most of which meet in libraries) say they are happy in their group: 71% are very happy, 24% somewhat happy.
  • 69% of those in public groups say their book club is "very important" to them--the exact same percentage as in private groups.
  • 57% of respondents in public book clubs (most of which meet in libraries) have been with their group at least five years!

The research also shows that public library book clubs are a great fit for many who are looking to join a book group. For example:

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Distinguished Debuts: Introduce Your Book Club to Their New Favorite Author

Who doesn't love being on the cutting edge and discovering the next big thing? This month, we recommend debut novels by authors who are rising stars in the literary world and are already creating quite a buzz, snagging coveted literary awards and nominations, and spots on "best of" lists. All six books have recently been released in paperback and are recommended for book club discussion--and come with discussion guides.

Tommy Orange's There There (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Caleb Johnson's Treeborne both explore the intersections of place, history and personal identity. Zeyn Joukhadar's The Map of Salt and Stars offers an emotionally resonant look at the Syrian refugee crisis, while Fatima Farheen Mirza's A Place for Us (a New York Times bestseller) is centered around an Indian family navigating cultural and religious differences. Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter presents an inspiring and defiant narrator who summons the courage to flout familial and societal expectations. Similarly, Leah Franqui's America for Beginners narrates an Indian mother's transformation as she visits the United States in search of her son.

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BookBrowse on the BBC!

I was recently invited to speak with Winifred Robinson on BBC Radio's leading consumer affairs program "You and Yours" about men in book clubs. More specifically, on how men's book clubs can provide connection and companionship in ways that other social settings often do not, and why men's book clubs aren't as common as women's book clubs.

You can listen to the 7-minute segment here (starts at 10' 15"). And if you like what you hear, please do share with others!

-- Davina

The Importance of Diverse Fantasy Spaces in Books

"Children have a right to books that reflect their own images and books that open less familiar worlds to them…for those children who had historically been ignored – or worse, ridiculed – in children's books, seeing themselves portrayed visually and textually as realistically human was essential to letting them know that they are valued in the social context in which they are growing up…At the same time, the children whose images were reflected in most American children's literature were being deprived of books as windows into the realities of the multicultural world in which they are living, and were in danger of developing a false sense of their own importance in the world."

- Rudine Sims Bishop, from, "Reflections on the development of African American Children's Literature," Journal of Children's Literature, Vol. 38, Iss. 2 (Fall 2012): 5-13.

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The 13 Things Book Clubs Look For When Picking Books

When you look at the representation of book clubs in the media in general, they are often portrayed as social groups that drink wine and gossip and - if there's time - discuss rather unchallenging works of "women's fiction." This view is shared by many readers. In fact, when we asked people who read at least one book a month and who are not in a book club their reasons for not being in one, 33% said they thought book clubs are primarily social groups not engaged in serious book discussion!

While there is truth to the idea that many book clubs make time for social discussion and that some enjoy a glass of wine (more on these topics in future posts), data shows that book groups generally read high-quality, thought-provoking books that spur intellectual debate across a range of genres and topics.

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