By December 28, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

The Eternal Question: to Re-Read or to Review?

Hands down, the most frustrating aspect of reading groups is the gradual dimming of memory. Specifically, mine!

In order to choose a book as the monthly pick, I need to read it at least a month in advance. The moment I sense I’m reading a book I may want to be discussing a couple months down the road, I begin taking detailed notes on character names and page references, key comments and quotes, the glimpses into the author’s mind that I’m going to want to reference.

But I don’t always know that early. Sometimes those notes don’t get taken. Then questions of authenticity begin to rear their heads. How can I discuss a book that’s growing foggy? Do I really need to re-read it before I can discuss it at the depth that makes book conversation worthwhile?

  I’ve got three book conversations coming up in the next two weeks, and I need to make some decisions. Monday evening I’ll be discussing The Soloist at University Book Store, the true story of L.A. Times’ columnist Steve Lopez’s friendship with homeless black musical genius Nathaniel Ayers. Through the grapevine I’m hearing that everyone who’s read it loves it. This isn’t always a good sign for a book club. That means the conversation could be over in the first ten minutes. “I loved it.” “Me, too.” “I loved it, too.” That will only get us so far. It means I’ve got to go into our meeting armed with some provocative questions. Gulp – it was one of those books I devoured without taking a single note. I’ll have to trust my heart and my memory, those two utterly flawed and untrustworthy organs.

  Wednesday, January 7th, will be the first meeting of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club, and the first of four discussions of Michael Downing’s Breakfast with Scot. Okay, for that one, I’ll have to do some re-reading. I’ve got to shine. I’ve got five pages of notes, but I need themes here, some overarching patterns, and those might come to me better from the text. I know the book will lend itself to discussing gender fears, and I know we’ll discuss parenting values, but what else? What are the best ways to use this novel to draw group members into discussing their own values and beliefs, their own particular reading experiences?

Then, bright and early the next day, I’ll be doing a morning presentation and discussion of new books at University House, a rather wonderful retirement home with an exceptionally bright group of residents, and I’ll be discussing Twenty-Five Meaty, Satisfying Books to Read in 2009. There’ll be no time to review. It will be a mad dash through the bookstore, gathering up my favorites. Here’s where the heart comes in. All I have to do is hold up Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl or Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between and the words come out of my mouth. Here I’ll have to trust my book joy more than I trust my memory.

I wish I could read every book twice. I wish I could bus into the University District tomorrow evening having just finished my second, fresh reading of The Soloist for our discussion. Won’t be happening. I’ll have time, after pulling together a couple tables in the Book Store Café by the fireside, and arranging the chairs around them, to sit down with my back to the windows and hold the book in my hands, and open it and read, and open it and read, a few times, maybe five minutes worth, before the first members start to arrive. I’ll have to hope that does the trick, summoning up the essence of the book and helping us launch a fair and lively investigation into what makes the book click. Fortunately my job is to provoke discussion rather than supply insights.

Here’s hoping some grump didn’t like it.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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