Before I let the first month of the new year get past me, I want to list the ten books that provided the best book group discussions last year. This is not as easy as it sounds since I facilitate three regular book groups and then work with book groups connected to The KCPL’s special events or reading initiatives.
In no particular order, these are the books that a wide array of readers talking in 2012. I’m sure many of them will be familiar.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. This author’s second novel was just as discussable as her first, Mudbound. The Women Who Dare book group enjoyed the politically charged plot of When She Woke and the dystopian setting.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick was a selection of The Kansas City Public Library/The Kansas City Star FYI Book Club. Selznick’s book is a seamless mix of text and illustration, the 1920s and 1970s, and the story of a young boy and an elderly woman. The readers were an equal mix of middle school students, retirees, teachers and teens.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson has been on book group’s favorites lists since its publication in 2003. The Common Grounds book group read this book as part of The KCPL’s 2012 Adult Winter Reading Program: Destination: Anywhere. It’s the book that brought new readers to KCPL’s book groups and had readers saying they were so glad they were given the opportunity to read this book. Most of the readers weren’t regular fans of nonfiction and talked primarily about the strong sense of place and the pacing of the narrative.
Cutting Season by Attica Locke had participants discussing how much of a person’s history can control a person’s future. Readers were also delighted with a Skype conversation with the author and gained far more to discuss.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was another KCPL/KCStar selection. Like Wonderstruck, this critically acclaimed young adult novel brought together an eclectic mix of readers. Attendees enjoyed Green’s dialogue and unsentimental look at teens dealing with impending tragedy.
Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen by Joe Draper. The Kansas Reads committee selected a title that was close to home for 2012. The Smith Center Redmen were the nation’s most winning high school football team at the time visiting sports journalist moved temporarily to small town from the big city. Draper wrote as much about Coach Roger Barta’s style and love for his team as well as his own family’s transition to a slower paced life.
Turn of the Screw by Henry James was the classic and the Read It/Watch It selection for the Downtowners Book Group. Readers admitted to struggling with James’ dense language, but found the point of view fascinating. The discussion of the movie, The Innocents, generated lively comparisons between the text and the film adaptation.
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard was a book that made the rounds of almost every book group in Kansas City. Millard is a local author and her historical nonfiction had intriguing characters, a breathless suspenseful pace, and compelling subject. Readers liked speculating on the “what if” elements of the book.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo had readers predicting big things for this powerful book. They were struck by the detached way Boo crafted the poignant portraits of residents of a slum outside Mumbai.
American Notes by Charles Dickens was the surprising hit title in a special event themed book group celebrating the 200th year of Dickens’ birth. Attendees were surprised by how much material in Dickens’ travelogue was still relevant today.
Reviewing the past year’s most successful titles makes me eager to see which books will stick with book group participants this year.