I’ve written many times before about reading on a theme instead of asking every reader to tackle the same book. It’s a format that works for many book groups–those where readers have divergent interests, genre-focused groups, groups in areas where multiple copies of the same book are hard to obtain, or any group that likes to survey many books. At the meeting, someone introduces the theme and then talk proceeds around the table, with each reader leading a short discussion about what she or he read. In support of this format, I’m going to start a recurring entry, suggesting a list of ten themes that would work well for each month. Here is a list of ten good themes for January book groups.
1. BEST BOOKS OF THE PREVIOUS YEAR
All those wonderful lists of the best books of 2009 are popping up and the awards are starting to be distributed. Why not spend your meeting on a survey of these great books? We just ended a decade as well, so you might ask readers to bring their favorite reads from the last 10 years instead.
2. IN MEMORIAM
As I wrote earlier this month, January is a great time to remember the authors we lost last year.
3. NEW WRITERS FOR A NEW YEAR
Encourage each of your readers to read and introduce the group to a new author, preferrably somebody who debuted in the last few years.
Ask your readers to survey books related to their new year’s resolution and share some of the best. If they don’t normally make resolutions, ask them to make some reading resolutions and pick a book that fulfills one of those.
A sad story is unfolding in the Caribbean, one that will certainly be the news story of the month. Readers can gain context by reading some of the island nation’s literature. Try the works of Edwidge Danticat, Tracy Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains, or some of Madison Smartt Bell’s historical fiction like All Souls Rising.
We’re in the middle of it, why not try a book set in the snow and cold? Conversely, if you’ve got the winter blahs, you might try warming up with a book set in summer’s heat.
7. CIVIL RIGHTS
Commemorate the Martin Luther King holiday with fiction or nonfiction related to the struggle for civil rights.
8. NATIONAL HOBBY MONTH
Share books about your hobbies, or if books are your main hobby, bring a book about the book life.
9. COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU
Whether your tastes run toward The Lovely Bones; Eat, Pray, Love; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Shutter Island; or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, now is the time to read the book BEFORE you go and see the movie.
10. PECULIAR PEOPLE DAY
You might have missed it, but the 10th was Peculiar People Day. There are certainly plenty of those in literature, in nonfiction, among the corps of authors, maybe even in your book group. Spend the month exploring how people are strange!
I’ll continue to provide a list of good book group themes for each month of reading, but in the future I’ll try to get a month ahead so you can prepare. Don’t hesitate to suggest more great themes for January in the comments below.