Monday, December 5, 2016

The Long List

It happens every year and it's something I face with trepidation and disdain.

It's our annual book choosing evening for our book group.

It should be a simple process find two books to put up for book group. You have to champion them at book group. They have to be of literary fiction or very good popular fiction standard. Preferably under 500 pages. Easily accessible in bookshops, libraries and online (so the novella your cousin Alice self published won't cut it. It also can't be non-fiction, autobiography or biography - as the latter two are hard to talk about and there is a consensus that there are more than enough fiction books to talk about.

Then, on book group night, everybody champions their books - and we get to vote on which books to read. Everybody is given a bag of 25 lollies. You get to vote on the books you want to read (and you can't vote for your own) The top 12 books are chosen for the year and the reading order is discussed and set down. Everybody knows what is being read and when It's proved a great way of choosing books - and people have a book Christmas list sorted.

For me, what's most difficult is deciding on two books to put up.  There are so many to choose from - and we only have to put up two.

So as with every year, I make a long list and try and decide over the coming week which books I'm going to take with me next Tuesday night. Quite often, it's a bit of a last minute decision, as there are so many good books out there and I can only take two. The book group have to get their book choices in by Sunday - that way if anybody can't make the meeting they get a vote (also stops double ups).

Anyway, here are my long list of books to take along next Tuesday to book group. Suggestions are welcome.

1)  The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

Pluses:  Brilliant book. Unexpectedly and wonderfully researched historical drama about a woman botanist called Alma, who lived a most unexpected life. Lots to talk about. Gorgeously written - I drank in every word.

Minuses:  At just under 500 pages could be seen to be a bit of a house brick.

2) The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

Pluses: A mysterious woman comes to live with an old lady in her isolated beachside home. She's haunted by a tiger that keeps coming into the house (on a Queensland beach - go figure) What could go wrong? This won many prizes two years ago and it's poignant and relevant all at once. You keep reading as you need to know what is happening. Australian author.

Minuses:  Not many - might not be everybody's cup of tea. 

3) Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

Maude has dementia. She lives at home by herself, but she's at a point where independent living is almost beyond her - to be honest, she needs somebody keeping an eye on her full time. Maude doesn't live in the present - and the one thing she is adamant about is that her sister, Elizabeth, is missing. Elizabeth has not been seen for nearly 50 years. An unusual murder mystery that spans decades - and has a wonderful look into the life of a dementia sufferer.

Pluses:  A short, quick read. Very topical.

Minuses: might push a few buttons of the book group. Most of us have aging parents. Some of us are tackling / have tackled this sort of thing.

 4) What's Bred in the Bone - Robertson Davies

I adore this book. But I'm not sure other people will. The book follows the life of Francis Cornish, art historian, collector and international man of mystery. I really is the most perfect book. Second in a series (The Cornish Trilogy - The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus) it is perfect on its own - I know I read this before reading The Rebel Angels. It really is quite perfect in its own right. And Robertson Davies is a Canadian gem - up there with Atwood.

Pluses: A very intelligent read - entertaining yet challenging.

Minuses: A very intelligent read - challenging. May also be a little hard to track down, though the interwebs would be able to get it in there.

5)  Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleeve

 I loved this guy's first book. "The Other Hand" or "Little Bee" as it is known was one of the best book group books we've ever had. This is the author's third or fourth book and it looks really interesting. Set in World War II (and I am known as "war girl" it's allegedly set in London and that is about all I know. I just love the author and it's got reasonable write ups.

Pluses: Known author, popular topic.

Minuses: Only just under 500 pages, could be seen as a bit long.

6) Leap - Myfanwy Jones

I don't know much about this other than once again it is a prize winner and I know it has a bit of a local following. All I know about this is that it's main theme is grief and redemption.

Pluses: Easy to get, not too long (270 pages) Australian content

Minuses:  Can't really think of any.

7) Black Rock White City - A.S. Patric

Another book about death and grief. Set in Melbourne, a couple from Serbia try to make a new life for themselves in Melbourne. It's a debut novel and it won the Miles Franklin Award this year.

Pluses: It won the Miles Franklin. Not too long. Local content.

Minuses: Another book about grief. It won a prize - doesn't always mean it's good book club fodder.

8) Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood

This is an Atwood I haven't read. I know next to nothing about it, other than it is an Atwood. We've done Atwood before (The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake) and she always goes down well - saying this, I tried to read The Blind Assassin and got about thirty pages into it and threw it against the wall and picked it up a few weeks later when I was cleaning. Cat's Eye has had great reviews. It's Atwood. Atwood is God.

Pluses:  It's Atwood. Easily obtained. It's Atwood. Great reviews. It's Atwood.

Minuses: Nearing 500 pages, it's a little on the long side. Some of the book group might be over Atwood (how could you be over Atwood? It's like being over JK Rowling or Richard Flanagan.

9)  Swing Time - Zadie Smith

I've heard a lot about Zadie Smith's lastest novel. Most of it good. She wrote the incredible White Teeth, which I remember reading on a beach in Mykonos some sixteen years ago. Zadie Smith is about London stories and hyper-realisms. She's about families and every day truths. She's somebody I want to read once again.

Pluses:  She's Zadie Smith. It's all around. It's relevant.

Minuses: It's a bit on the long side of things. She can alienate some people.

So there lies my dilemma. What to choose. What to choose?

I also have to do the really hard part of things - buy the lollies and bag up the lollies. The group asked if they could get the lollies in. My response - "You buy 'em, you bag 'em!.  Strangely - I'm bagging lollies on Sunday night.

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