Good Books for Book Groups: Andy Weir’s The Martian

The MartianLast month, the LIT book group read The Martian by Andy Weir. We’d had it on the shortlist for quite a while but decided that February offered perfect timing, with the Barrington Area Library celebrating Barrington Creates, a community-wide initiative that encourages everyone channel their inner maker. Things don’t get much more creative than they do in The Martian. A sandstorm on Mars leaves astronaut Mark Watney injured, and his crew members mistakenly leave him for dead. Then, while the folks back on earth scramble to save Mark, he ingeniously, and often hilariously, contrives to survive until they can return.

Why It’s Good for Book Groups

Science fiction can be a tough sell, especially for book groups, but this works for lots of different reasons. The science is smart (Weir had scientists, engineers, and other experts reading and critiquing his work as he wrote) but also accessible and fairly comprehensible. The characters are great, too. Mark is laugh-out-loud funny but vulnerable enough that the reader worries about him, while the crew and those on the ground include some standouts that help to make the story more than just a survival tale. The book was already popular, and it’s only become more so now that it’s a movie starring Matt Damon in the title role. The word of mouth and title recognition couldn’t be better, so even readers who normally wouldn’t be willing to read something like this are curious enough to give it a try.

Resources We Used

There aren’t many good book-discussion questions out there, but we did use several very useful interviews, such as this one from NPR, this feature from The Telegraph, and this interview from BookBrowse. If your group prefers traditional book-discussion questions, the LitLovers questions are also useful.

What We Talked About

Much of our conversation focused on the science of The Martian. We did have one reader who felt that the science was too dry and too involved. Nearly everyone else felt that Mark was funny enough to help the story transcend the too-technical parts. We talked quite a bit about Mark as a character, and what it must do to a person to be in a survival situation all alone. Several members also thought it was really interesting that we didn’t have much history for the characters. It wasn’t there, but was it needed?

Our group always discusses whether or not we can see a title as a movie, and if so, who we would cast. Quite a few people had already seen the movie, and agreed that Matt Damon was well cast, and that the adaption was well done.

What I Would Do Differently

I wish I had thought to show the movie trailer beforehand! There are also lots of interviews of Andy Weir on YouTube.

What’s Up Next

Next up, we’ll be reading Missoula, by Jon Krakauer. It’s a far different book from The Martian, and one that should spark some intense discussion.



About the Author:

Liz Kirchhoff is an adult services librarian at the Barrington Area Library in the Chicago suburbs. She is a longtime book reviewer and has read for the American Library Association's Notable Books Council. After her first book came out last year, Liz swore she'd never do that again (even though she probably will). Now she happily reviews books written by others.

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