Book Group Themes for August

Here are ten ideas for themes for an upcoming August meeting.

1. SISTERS

Sisters Day is August 1, and there are many great books with relationships between sisters at their center. In nonfiction, try The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Girls. In fiction, consider books by the Brontes; Allegra Goodman’s most recent title, The Cookbook Collector; Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry; or Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls.

2. IRAQ WARS

August 2nd is the 20th anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, an event that set off the most recent round of violence in one region of the Middle East. A plethora of strong nonfiction titles have been written and it would be interesting to sample several of them in one meeting. Consider David Finkel’s 2009 title The Good Soldiers as a starting point.

3. AMERICAN ARTISTS

August is American Artist Appreciation Month. Your group might focus on biographies of artists, or it might be fun to bring in stacks of art books and pass them around. One of the joys of book groups is learning each others preferences in different matters, and you might discover something interesting when you ask your book group friends to talk about their favorite art pieces.

4. HIROSHIMA

There are a trio of dark anniversaries this month. The second in this list is the 55th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing on August 6th. John Hersey’s Hiroshima is still a powerful starting point. Or you could broaden the subject to consider books about the makers of the bomb such as Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. There has also been attention on the War in the Pacific in general recently–try the companion book to the HBO series The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose.

5. NOIR CRIME

Does the summer heat drive us to dark deeds? It’s certainly a theme that runs through classic noir like Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind.

6. AUGUST BIRTHDAYS

If your group favors biographies, celebrate the August birthdays with books about folks such as Neil Armstrong, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Julia Child, Bill Clinton, Orville Wright, Mother Teresa, Jerry Garcia, Martha Stewart, Louis Armstrong, Percy or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Andy Warhol, Lucille Ball, Fidel Castro, Mata Hari, Alfred Hitchcock, Napoleon Bonaparte, Madonna, H. P. Lovecraft, Dorothy Parker, Goethe, LBJ, or Mae West.

7. THE RUSSIANS

August was also the birthday month for Tolstoy. As counterprogramming to outdoor summer heat, why not stay in an air-conditioned house and take on some of those big Russian novels set in frozen winters. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak, Chekhov, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov, and others produced classics that will always be high on my list of great titles for discussion.

8. AUDIOBOOK APPRECIATION MONTH

Here’s another August commemoration that would make a great change of pace for a book group. When you talk about audiobooks, make sure to address the question of how narration affects literature. Do some kinds of books work better than other in this format? Who are the best narrators? How much theatricality should readers use in their narration? Do authors read their own work well, or is it best left to professional readers?

9. NATIONAL DOG DAY

In the dog days of summer, this holiday is celebrated on August 26th. Bring canine titles to book group like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Art of Racing in the Rain, or The Unscratchables.

10. HURRICANE KATRINA

The 5th anniversary of Katrina falls this year. The levees broke on August 29th, 2005. I wrote more extensively about books related to this topic here.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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