Talking books — online, or among friends
by Judy Elliott
September 29, 2013 02:04 AM | 815 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Could this be the year of the book club? “The Today Show” has picked a novel to be read by its audience. And MSNBC’s, “Morning Joe,” an informal news panel offering, has its own book discussion going. “Five Days at Memorial” is a chilling look back at doctors and patients at New Orleans Memorial Hospital after Hurricane Katrina robbed them of electricity, food, staff and, if you decide, the Hippocratic Oath.

“Morning Joe,” choosing a book each month, offers viewers time to read it and an interview with the author. Meanwhile, opinions can be shared online.

Online book opining is the new answer to too busy to meet or too traveled to weigh in from one place. A group with women in mind has over 9,000 members and offers live-streamed book talks every month.

Folks chat online between “meetings.” Another group, “Booktalk,” has been in the online book club arena for 11 years and has garnered 8,000 members, who share enthusiasm or none for a book choice, hit “send” then check e-mails for responses from other members.

The argument for online book clubs is that more participating members offer better selections, while a flesh-and-blood monthly get-together has perhaps a dozen voices on hand for criticism or acclaim of a novel chosen.

Yet how much input can a reader absorb? My husband and I are in a mostly couples book club started 16 years ago. The most intentional reader among us died too soon, leaving an empty chair, a reminder of how much we miss him.

Luckily, his wife did not leave the group. Now, nine members pay attention to plots and characters, to separating literature from a good read, to planned meetings including suppers, tables set with the geography and time frame of the story in mind.

Our last meeting centered on a discussion of “The Beauty of Humanity Movement,” a love story of sorts between a man and his country, a daughter and a father, reduced to memory, and a cook and his “pho,” a traditional soup of Vietnam. The pho took on a pedigree when my husband and a friend, born in Vietnam, met at a small café, miles away, yet the only purveyor of noodles, beef, broth and herbs, considered authentic.

The book club spooned up the pho with a renewed sense of the healing power of the familiar, finding an answer to why an old man, pushing a cart, ladled out soup, devoting his days to sharing tastes from a former life, kept alive in his war-scarred homeland.

Our next book club meeting is in a couple of weeks. After a summer of reading “Killing Lincoln,” a journal of sorts, we will mull over the days before an assassination, and the obsession, the twisted thinking of John Wilkes Booth.

The meeting’s discussion will be overlaid with sadness and words on the writing itself, how research can be molded into a narrative and random events in a life can change its ending.

I sympathize with the discontent of book club members who find personalities taking over or conversation veering to personal interests, both frustrating and drivers of their meetings.

But even with the occasional glitch, it is hard to believe in-person book club get-togethers will be replaced by online discussions, though thousands of readers may prove me wrong.

Choosing a book club novel is a leap of faith. Every member will not cleave to the writing. One person’s “sheer poetry” is another’s boring chapter.

That pesky truth calls to mind Harper Lee’s father. A small town lawyer with a belief in justice, regardless of skin color, he was the inspiration for Nelle Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

After Miss Ernestine of the book store in Monroeville, Alabama, bought a hundred copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the publisher, lawyer Lee, fearing she would be stuck with them, promised to buy any books not sold. Even the near and dear do not always recognize a literary miracle.

Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.
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