Something for Everyone at the Crozet Library Book Club

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By Clover Carroll

Do you love to read? Do you enjoy a relaxed and friendly book discussion? Would you like to meet your neighbors while enjoying some warm Crozet camaraderie (not to mention cookies)? Then why not stop by the beautiful Crozet Library at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of any month to discuss a great book with about 15-20 like-minded souls? The Crozet Library Monday Night Book Group is a welcoming, open-minded bunch who don’t judge each other, are not literary snobs, and value all opinions. We just finalized our reading list for the 2015-2016 year with an outstanding group of selections ranging from classic to contemporary, so there is something for everyone! September is a great time to join, but you’re invited to pick up even one of these books and come when you can—drop-ins are always welcome, and no long-term commitment is required.

This year’s list (see inset) includes five classics, four nonfiction titles, and two contemporary literary novels, reflecting the serious interests of the current membership (no pulp fiction here!). We start with a bang by reading The Brothers Karamazov. Considered his masterpiece, Dostoevsky’s last novel is “a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the ‘wicked and sentimental’ Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons” (book jacket). Not to be overlooked, British and American Victorian classics are also represented. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy tells the story of a wealthy, independent woman courted by three suitors (the book is always better than the movie), while Mark Twain’s anti-slavery Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which will make you laugh and cry at the same time, seems especially relevant today. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers’ dark meditation on being a misfit in a small Southern town, is this year’s Big Read selection. Written when the author was only 23, it created a literary sensation when it was published in 1940. Capping off the classic portion of the list is John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, about the fall of an East Coast blue-blooded hero who succumbs to the temptations of wealth, power, and prestige. His last novel was published in 1961, just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

“Creative nonfiction” is a relatively new genre that has really come into its own, giving us wonderfully readable works by some of our best living authors that expand our knowledge of history and politics. Leading this category is The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans in the Epic Quest for Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel Brown, about a group of working-class boys from the University of Washington and their coaches who, against all odds, created a champion rowing team that stunned the world by beating even Hitler’s elite. Erik Larson’s (of Devil in the White City fame) latest, Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, dramatizes the story of the British ocean liner that set sail from New York in 1915 loaded with families and children, blithely ignoring Germany’s designation of the seas around Britain as a war zone. Explorations of the 1889 Johnstown Flood by David McCullough and the Mormon religion in Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer round out our nonfiction selections.

No contemporary book club reading list would be complete without the hauntingly beautiful All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, an intimate portrait of World War II as experienced by a blind French girl whose family becomes active in the Resistance and a gentle German boy who is drawn into the violence and cruelty of the Third Reich against his will as a result of his extraordinary gift working with radio technology. Finally, we celebrate the globe-trotting spirit with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the story of two young Nigerians and their experiences when they emigrate to the West.

The book selection process has been refined over the years into an efficient and fair system. Beginning in May, each member may nominate up to two titles, which are compiled by a volunteer into a working ballot of 30-40 choices including title, author, summary, publication date, and number of pages for each nominee. This list is entered on Survey Monkey by another volunteer, and the link is sent to all members (paper ballots are also available at the library circulation desk). With the goal of choosing ten titles, each of us is asked to rank our top ten choices on the Survey Monkey ballot. The book we would most like to read is ranked with a score of ten, while the least desirable of our choices is ranked as a one; those we don’t care to read at all are not ranked.

After all the ballots are in by a mid-June deadline, the scores are added up and the top ten scorers become our reading list for the following year. A third volunteer (or two) then looks at the length and relevance of each title and schedules them into the available months—not necessarily in order of which got the most votes (this is the most subjective part of the process). The longest book is usually slated for September, so it can be read over the summer. The result is then announced at our final, July meeting. The book group meets September through July, with the March discussion reserved for the Big Read selection; this year, the first runner up from the voting, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, was discussed by a hard-core “extra-calendar” group on August 3. The various tasks are generally passed around from year to year, but this year the list was compiled by Robin Miksad, entered on Survey Monkey and scored by Rob Haxter, and scheduled across the year by Laurie Keenan. Last but not least, various members volunteer to lead the discussion of a book that interests them (an entirely optional contribution), and Teri Kostiw keeps track of who is leading what when. Democracy personified, right?

Reading for pleasure expands the mind, increases vocabulary, and reduces stress. This year’s diverse and stimulating collection is sure to produce some lively discussions, and we do hope you’ll consider joining us for one or more of them. Most of us borrow our books from the library or download them as ebooks, but if you plan to buy a copy, visit Crozet’s own Over the Moon Bookstore where owner Anne DeVault will stock all the book club titles. I look forward to seeing you at a future Crozet Library Book Club meeting!

 

September 14, 2015    7 p.m.
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

October 5, 2015    7 p.m.
The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough

November 2, 2015    7 p.m.
Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

December 7, 2015    7 p.m.
Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer

January 4, 2016    7 p.m.
The Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck

February 1, 2016    7 p.m.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans in the Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel Brown

March 7, 2016    7 p.m.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

April 4, 2016    7 p.m.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

May 2, 2016    7 p.m.
Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

June 6, 2016    7 p.m.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

July 11, 2016    7 p.m.
Americanah: a Novel, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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