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Segullah’s New Book Club. Yes, It’s About Time!

By Angela Hallstrom

Ever since I joined Segullah three years ago (three whole years? seriously?) I’ve been wanting to form a book club with the articulate, intelligent, book-loving women who frequent this blog. Myself, I’m a book club person. Especially when my kids were small, I looked forward to my monthly book club outing with a little thrill in my heart. I also loved that being a part of a book club gave me an excuse to sit in my comfy chair and read for three hours straight. (“Don’t bug me kids—I’ve gotta finish this book by tomorrow!”)

Sadly, though, I’ve recently fallen off the book club wagon. My neighborhood book club was held on a night that was tough for me, and life with teenagers in the house has made evenings out even harder to pull off than when I had toddlers tugging on my jeans. I recently up and moved, too, and find myself without a group to even try and visit. So my dearth of book club options combined with my burning desire to talk to SOMEBODY about the final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, prompted me to get the ball rolling here at Segullah. It’s time, my friends! Let the awesome online book-clubbing begin.

After discussing things with my compatriots here at Segullah, here’s how we’ve decided to run things:

-The book club will run as an online discussion. Anyone and everyone is welcome to chime in, of course. I will post a handful of questions to get things started, but you are welcome to raise any point you’d like in the comments, as long as you abide by our commenting guidelines. And if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know what happened? Spoiler alert! Don’t read the post.

-This is a quarterly book club. We figured once a month would be too much, especially since many of our readers already belong to other book clubs. The discussions will take place on the third Thursday of November, February, May, and August.

-Segullah staff will choose the books, which we will post on the sidebar (take a look to the right). We will read one book from four different categories each year: contemporary fiction (e.g. a work of fiction written within the last year or two); classic fiction (something you should have read in college, or did but didn’t quite appreciate, or did and appreciated but would love to read again); young adult fiction (we Mormons love a good YA read, no?); and creative nonfiction (either memoir or a well-written nonfiction book a la Malcom Gladwell’s Blink).

-Our picks for 2010/2011:

Thurs., Nov 18th–Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Thurs., Feb. 17th–The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Thurs., May 19th–Room by Emma Donoghue

Thurs., Aug. 18th–The Year My Son and I Were Born by Kathryn Lynard Soper

-Speaking of book choices: We will do our best to choose books that are, broadly speaking, appropriate for our readership. However, it is important to understand that definitions of appropriateness vary and, ultimately, the choice as to whether or not you ought to read a book is up to you. What is gratuitous to you might not be gratuitous to others, and vice versa. Many of the books we choose will probably grapple with serious themes, since serious themes are the stuff of great literature. There might be instances of language, depictions of violence, or allusions to sex, but we’ll try not to go over the line. (But whose line? Argghh! I know!) Basically, we’re going to choose books that our literature-loving Mormon friends would probably read, but there’s a chance that some of these books would be deemed inappropriate for the shelves of Deseret Book.

As far as our current selections are concerned: Mockingjay is violent; The Age of Innocence deals with questions of adultery; Room is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy who’s lived his life in a garden shed where his mother’s kidnapper keeps them captive (harrowing subject matter, to be sure, but the 5-year-old point of view makes things much less explicit); The Year My Son and I Were Born is our own Kathy Soper’s story of doubt and despair—and faith and hope. These books don’t gloss over life’s difficulties, but each is compelling and honest and, in my opinion, worthwhile. Even moral. (Although I am really anxious to discuss the level of violence in Mockingjay and whether or not it works for its intended audience.) So, while it’s definitely okay to express yourself if a book makes you uncomfortable (after all, that’s part of the book club experience), it is never okay to cast aspersions on another reader’s morality or righteousness if he/she finds a book you disapprove of compelling or moving. In other words: have all the opinions you want on the book, but personal attacks are never allowed. And yes, statements such as, “I love all you guys, but if you liked this book then I suppose you can discuss it to your heart’s content in the telestial kingdom!” will be construed as a personal attack. Even if you put a smiley-face emoticon after it.

So, everybody, get reading! I’m really looking forward to our Mockingjay discussion next month, and I know many of you are just as itchy as I am to discuss this complicated, compelling, and kinda problematic novel. (Mockingjay is the third book in a trilogy, so while it would definitely help to have read the first two books in the series, it’s not entirely necessary.)

Are you excited about our book club? Do you think it will work as an online venture? And what has worked (or hasn’t worked) in book clubs you’ve been a part of that we should keep in mind here at Segullah?

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

30 thoughts on “Segullah’s New Book Club. Yes, It’s About Time!”

  1. I'm excited about the book club! I'm looking forward to the discussion of Room. I heard about it NPR and then ended up reading it in one sitting (or as close to one sitting as a pregnant bladder can handle). It has a lot of interesting questions to discuss.

    Thanks for getting this started!

  2. I'll be lurking for "Room." I've read the first few pages, and it's not descriptively explicit, but knowing what the innocent 5-year old doesn't know is harrowing.

    Its the same feeling I got from reading "The Road."

  3. book clubs haven't worked for me ever since my oldest hit young womens and junior high. evenings are just way too busy, and there always seems to be something conflicting with the hour of bookgroup. but at least since this one is online i can participate whenever!

    i had already requested "Room" from the library (thanks Shelah) so i'm waiting for that to come in. i have already read Mockingjay and the illustrious Ms. Soper's book, so I'll just have to get my hands on the Age of Innocence. nice choices!

  4. Some friends and I have a book club. 99% of us are LDS, but it's not an LDS bookclub (we had to point that out so that no one would be surprised). Our guidelines are much like yours, and now and again, one of us will bow out due to content. It's funny how different things will affect different people. When I picked Hunger Games, one woman looked at me with horror-filled eyes at the subject matter. She didn't come to book club that month. On the other hand, many were in attendance for a book that I couldn't read, "Left To Tell", about genocide in Rwanda. I physically/emotionally cannot hack anything violent or disturbing that has ever happened to a real live human being (mobs, war, holocaust, rape, torture, etc.). I feel everything. It's horrible. Many of the things that bother us are not "religious" issues; it's just who we are, and if you're going to be a part of a book club, you have to go with that. Anyway, what I LIKE about what you are proposing is that you gave just a snip of the book's subject matter which helps me discern whether it's for me or not. I think that is invaluable when you have a group of different folks participating. Thanks! I will give this a shot. I can't wait to talk about your first pick!

    ?? – Is Kathryn's book available at public libraries? If not, can you tell us where we can find it?

    Thanks!!! 😀

  5. Conveniently, I'm currently on page 40 of Mockingjay =D

    I've never much been one for book clubs. I like the idea of them. They've just never really worked out for me.

    Since this is convenient, I think I shall give it a try 🙂 I also like that it's quarterly. That should give me sufficient time to read a few pages here and a few pages there.

  6. You say it's not entirely necessary to read the first two Hunger Games books? I'm not sure I agree. I can't imagine anyone reading just Mockingjay and enjoying it.

  7. Yay!!

    I'm excited about the online bookclub! I'm there.

    I'm dying to talk about Mockingjay and I'm dying to read Kathryn Soper's book (…that my sister has read and everytime she mentions it her voice melts. I wanna melt, too!) Good selection!

  8. Jamie S and Sharlee, you're probably right that people need to read the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Technically, the book does have a beginning, middle and end of it's own, but the context would definitely be off if Mockingjay was read on its own. Still, though, a part of me would be interested to see how people would approach that book as a stand alone novel. Would the violence be even more jarring? Would the reader be able to connect with Katniss at all?

    I'm glad to hear that people are excited about the book club. I hope we get some good participation. And MelissaPete, thanks for sharing your perspective on the trials and tribulations of selecting books for appropriateness. It is indeed an individual matter.

  9. Oh, and I'm excited to discuss Room, too, but I wanted to wait until it came out in paperback before scheduling the discussion. The paperback version is set for January 2011.

  10. I started a book club 10 years ago in West Valley. Four years later we moved and leaving my book club was the saddest part of that move. They continue to meet monthly, and it warms my heart to think that I left a little legacy behind. I have even visited it a few times.

    Growing up, I knew my mom was hosting book club because she would have the carpets cleaned.:)

    I am excited about this book club for several reasons–the least of which is not having to deep clean my house… although I do like a clean house, but I like reading more.

  11. MelissaPete–

    Really, you need to read "Left to Tell". It is one of the most uplifting books I have ever read in my entire life, and our book group was in tears while discussing it. Not sad tears, though, tears you get when discussing sacred things, because this woman has sacred spiritual experiences that go beyond anything I've read, with the possible exception of "The Hiding Place". Yes, it is harrowing, but it is a life changing book. Honestly. You won't regret it.

  12. Ang, thank you for being our gracious book club host. I'm honored you chose my book as one of the selections, although now I'm beset by performance pressure (melting powers, etc.) Hopefully y'all will feel at liberty to have frank discussion when the time comes.

    MelissaPete, it is available in many libraries, but if not at yours, you can request that the library purchase it and they most likely will.

    Now, I'm off to buy the Hunger Games trilogy!

  13. Heather – At my book group's discussion for "Left To Tell" they all said, "I don't think Melissa would have liked this." 😀 I have to say that I am often bugged at my sensitivity, but I've come to accept that I'm quirky that way. I've dipped my toe in the water a few times trying to overcome my wierdness, and I usually regret it. I wish disturbing images didn't stay with me so long. 🙁 I'll give it some more thought.

    Angela…interesting thought about Mockingjay standing alone…I guess it could. I wonder if the story would be as intense by itself as it is when you know what the Captiol has capable of? We'll have to see if anyone reads it as a stand alone. 🙂

  14. MelissaPete, I echo Heather. Left to Tell was a life-changing book for me. I actually got to hear the author speak in person about her experiences, and I'll never forget it. One of the most ultimately uplifting, spiritual, inspiring books I've ever read.

  15. There are some amazing books out there, and Left to Tell is certainly one of them, but no book, no matter how great, is for everyone. I think it's entirely reasonable for MelissaPete to not choose to read it. There is always more than one way the lessons from a wonderful book can be learned.

  16. I'm excited too; I've read three of the books and I have Room on hold at the library so I'll probably read it before it comes up. I've been in several different book clubs and have been in one now for about a year. I think being in a book club is a good exercise in suspending judgement, really listening to other people's opinions, and learning to have an open mind. And sometimes, like Amira pointed out, that means accepting that every book is not the right book for every person.

    Can we read Persepolis and discuss it sometime? Pretty please? It's one of my most favorite memoirs ever 🙂

  17. I love my book group, but am excited to join you guys! I also haven't read any of the selections yet so I best get cracking.

    I loved Left to Tell too. Her faith and ability to forgive were astounding. But, such a sad reality. I've also read A Thousand Hills (I think that's the name, but it seems a word is off) that also addresses the history of Rwanda.

    Hope the violence isn't too bad in Mockingjay.

  18. I've been lurking at this site for some time, but I don't think I've ever left a comment. I love books, though, so I'm going to mark these dates and titles on my calendar and plan to participate. What a fun idea!

  19. Just popping back in to say that, first, I've really got to read Left to Tell. But I also understand that each of us have issues that are too painful to read about, and that's okay.

    Second, I just wanted to answer Sage about Mockingjay. The violence is actually pretty jarring–at least it was for me. If you're not familiar with the Hunger Games books, it might be a good idea to learn a little more about the plot before diving in. However, I felt like Mockingjay was a good choice for this group because not only have a lot of LDS women I know read this series, but it's also a series that many of our children and teens have read. It seems to me that a discussion about why and how violence is depicted in literature–especially literature intended for young audiences–is an important one to have.

    Oh, and Traci: you join by showing up and commenting on the day we discuss the books on the blog. Anybody is welcome!

  20. Oh, I've been missing book group since I moved over a year ago. Glad to have this one start, even though I don't post often, I love catching up on all the posts here. Can't wait to start discussing.

  21. I have been frowned at in my book club because I chose books that made us think, It was stated that some only wanted to be entertained. We did try to choose a variety of books, entertaining and thought provoking but to preserve harmony I pretended not to notice when they skipped me on the month I was to choose the book. The book club served the purpose of a social outing for somewhat isolated people though so that was good. I look forward to this club so I can enjoy, be entertained, and still be required to think and be exposed to others thoughts on the books.

  22. Amira, I agree that there is always more than one way the lessons from a wonderful book can be learned. I read the first in the Hunger Games series. Devoured the first half quickly, then put it aside, wondering if its value was worth the time. My daughter encouraged me to finish it and I did enjoy it and value that it made me think about uncomfortably complex issues. She thought I would also benefit from reading the second book but nixed Mockingjay for me, knowing that I don't like a lot of violence. She then retold the books, in great detail but leaving out the descriptions of the violence. That gave me the opportunity to ponder the deep questions without assaulting my sensitivity. I greatly appreciated her taking the time to do that as I needed to ponder these books. Some of you who are sensitive to violence may benefit from having someone do this for you with Mockingjay.

  23. […] A quick reminder to those interested in participating in our first ever book club discussion: we’ll be discussing Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins here on the blog next Thursday, Nov. 18th. You have less than a week to finish reading it, but there’s still time. Anyone who’s read the book is welcome to participate in the discussion by joining in the comment thread. (If you want to find out more info about our book club and missed our initial announcement, read this.) […]


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