What We’ve Read, and Would Recommend

August 2014: Open City, Teju Cole

Open City provided plenty to chat about – most people disliked the book, even though about half the group could find merit somewhere, be it the languid, soothing writing, the treatment of race and being “other”, the comparison of race relations vs male/female relations or the unique sense of stream of consciousness which came from the meandering nature of the book. Probably fair to describe this one as an acquired taste.

July 2014: The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer

Our meeting in July registered the longest chat ever about the book, which I’m taking as a good sign. There was an overwhelming (although not unanimous) love for The Interestings – a lot of people felt that they were able to relate to the characters in the book, whether they wanted to or not, although there were a few people in the room said the book was derivative, and Franzen’s The Corrections is a far superior example of the genre. Much discussion was had about loyalty and betrayal, and also sex (lots about that…), and Hannah S has written a very good piece here (although this topic wasn’t discussed) about whether it’s ok not to be interesting. One of the most popular books we’ve read in a long time.

June 2014: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Caged Bird went down a storm with the group, who discussed the powerful impact of the book, and that it was not like anything anyone had really been exposed to.  There was some debate about Momma and whether her brand of tough love was enough and whether Vivian was a fit mother. LBC-approved.

May 2014: Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves

Goodbye to All That ended up being a controversial choice, with plenty of LBC members finding it incredibly hard to get on with, but plenty more loving it as a keen portrayal of war and what that experience can do to a human.
We touched on the experience of war and the impact it has on a culture; how the First World War is a huge part of British history and culture (and less so elsewhere in the world); and again, the reliability of a narrator and how that impacts on a book. We also discussed the importance of first-hand accounts of war, whether or not there’s a fictionalised element.
Definitely one of the more divisive books we’ve read, but an excellent discussion nonetheless.

April 2014: The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

This was one of LBC’s most challenging reads yet, and sparked some of the most heated debate we’ve enjoyed. People were split between hating the book, wanting to like it and not quite managing, and completely loving it. The structure provided much to talk about, with those who found it adding weight and complexity, and those who found it detracted from the story. We agreed that the structure trumped the plot, with Alice asking whether the fact it’s not a plot-driven novel contributed to some people’s dislike, and whether we live in a time where we read short(er) books that centre around their stories, and don’t have the capacity for a book like this. Others argued that there was too much complexity which detracted from a beautifully written and clever novel, and there would have been a much bigger emotional payoff had there been fewer characters and story strands involved.

March 2014: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

The book was broadly enjoyed, with the extremes of some loving and hating it. There were so many themes in the book – abandonment, family, relationships, guilt, the oddity of childhood experience, the reliability of memory and the unreliability narrator to name just a few – that we felt it might have been a stronger read had there been fewer themes that were more extensively explored. The biggest discussion was around how the book was marketed, and whether knowing there was a ‘twist’ coming added or detracted from people’s enjoyment. A consensus was reached that it would be far better pushed as a snapshot of an unusual life and its psychological legacy than a thriller with a twist that everyone was waiting for.

February 2014: The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project was widely enjoyed, if not wholeheartedly loved. It was an easy and entertaining read, but insubstantial. It was noted that the characters fell a little flat, and while there were several story strands happening, none of them was particularly satisfying – and the book as a whole might have been more successful if Simsion had concentrated on fewer stories.

Everyone assumed that Don had Aspergers, although this was never confirmed in the book. However, it was agreed that sometimes this came across as a little clunky and patronising.

All that said, most people enjoyed it; several passed the book on to others; and at least one person fell in love with the love story.

January 2014: Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited received a mixed reception – most people broadly enjoyed it and were glad they’d read it, even if the characters were largely disliked. Themes of nostalgia; Catholicism; the decline of England’s heritage and great families; and the sudden loss of friendship were all picked up on. It was pointed out later on that we didn’t touch on the overwhelming abundance of alcohol throughout the book. Probably says something about LBC members, to be honest.

People broadly agreed that the separate acts of the book felt enormously different; that from its use as a cultural reference, we were expecting something different; and that it’s a very sad book. One the majority was glad to have read, even if it wasn’t widely loved.

November 2013: The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls wasn’t one of our finest choices, variously described as “gratuitous,” “gory,” and “bad,” and Scarlett pronounced it “not a book you can read naked.” Make of that what you will. The book kept most people’s attention, but even readers of crime novels didn’t think it was a good example of the genre. The violence was gratuitous and not well-handled, and the characters – particularly the other victims – weren’t well fleshed out enough for us to care about them. It was record short discussion about the book of just 22 minutes, which I think tells you everything about how little we thought of and had to say about it.

October 2013: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach

I think it’s safe to say that The Art of Fielding was a popular book, and one that the majority enjoyed and would recommend to a friend. “Fun”, “heartful” (I think we know what Gav means), “epic” and “all-American” were used to describe it. Some people completely loved it, although it noticeably provoked stronger feelings in those who were sports fans (although not necessarily baseball). We agreed that the relationships and character development was by far the strongest suit of the book, with Pella – as the only, but not token, woman – being one of the most interesting. Striving for perfection and the impossible was a clear theme, and I think most people found this something they could identify with in some way. All in all, a success – but one that would be improved by a one-page glossary on baseball terminology. I’m still not sure what a shortstop does.

September 2013: The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds was quite a divisive choice, it seems. Several people thoroughly enjoyed it; some didn’t like it at all; and I think the largest number yet couldn’t finish it – either through not being engaged, or because it was just too painful. The language was one of the main sticking points in the book, which was variously described as “a novel written by a poet” and “dreamlike”. It was agreed by the majority that it was at its best when the descriptions were stark, and the details small but enormously realistic. There was a discussion about the place of fiction within the narrative of war, and its importance in comparison to the work of reporters and photojournalists like Junger and Hetherington. Overall, it’s probably safe to say that even the people who didn’t love the book felt that it was something worth reading.

August 2013: Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behaviour was largely disliked, described variously as “stodgy”, “unlikeable”, and “unsatisfying”.  The group largely felt that it would have been a more successful book had Kingsolver tried to do less in it: there were too many plot strands, leading to clunky attempts at the end to wrap the story up. The butterflies were the most popular strand; and Preston was mentioned as being a likeable character. However, it was noted that some of the writing was elegant and affecting; and that the science was clearly written from a point of knowledge. The divisions in the rural South were noted – race, class, science vs religion, as was the poignancy of judging those less fortunate / worldly.  While Flight Behaviour had one vocal supporter, most felt underwhelmed and several people didn’t finish the book. Not an LBC favourite, it’s fair to say.

July 2013: May We Be Forgiven, AM Homes

Most people broadly enjoyed this book, with a few members enormously enthusiastic about it, and a few who found it quite hard-going in places. There were some very interesting thoughts about the sex of the author, and whether it felt like a book written by a woman – and whether she wrote men successfully. Her tributes to Don DeLillo were noted, in structure and language. It was interesting to note that the Americans in the room had quite a different reading to the rest of us, with the Nixon storyline providing a lens through which to see the story (most of us missed the ‘us and them’ references to China until Jessica pointed them out). We all agreed that the children, and Harry’s relationship with them, was the best part of the book (along with that opening), and the redemptive quality of love and family was the main message of the book. We’d say give it a whirl – and stick with it when it gets a bit tough: it’s worth it.

June 2013: The Universe vs. Alex Woods, Gavin Extence

The majority of the LBC really enjoyed this, with people variously describing it as “uplifting”, “endearing” and “Mark Haddon-esque”, as well as several members freely admitting to having cried in public at several points in the book. There were, however, a few who didn’t subscribe to that view, finding the book infantile, the characters unbelievable and the meteor plot device unnecessary. There wasn’t any general consensus about the book’s audience, either: some felt that it was very much a young adult book, with others feeling that the benefit of hindsight made the reading of the teenagers more sympathetic. If you’re after something that won’t challenge you, but will hopefully charm you, this is one for you.

May 2013: The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman

There was absolutely no consensus on this at all. Some people really enjoyed it, whilst other members couldn’t finish it. The language is quite dense – but some people enjoyed that, and found the metaphors hugely amusing. The plot was enormously convoluted – but some found it compelling, and needed to know what happened. Mordechai the lizard seemed to be the book’s most-enjoyed character, which in a book covering as much as this does (time travel, pre-Nazi Germany, pre-war Hollywood, physics, Lovecraftian elements, etc) isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement. If you like your books to challenge you, and you’re not afraid of a book that’s a bit nuts, go for it.

April 2013: No recommendation.

We wholeheartedly recommend NOT reading So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman. It’s not a good book.

March 2013: Elliot Allagash, Simon Rich

This provoked far more debate than last month’s book. The overwhelming consensus was that it’s an enjoyable read, clever and well-written (with a truly terrible UK cover), although the characterisation left some members of the group unsatisfied. There was a split between those who saw the book as a light ‘n’ fluffy holiday read, and those who saw a deeper good/evil allegory and a commentary on the disparity of wealth in society. On the whole, this is an LBC-recommended read, although this isn’t the strongest example of Rich’s work, and we’d suggest looking that out too.

February 2013: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood.

There seemed to be unanimous agreement that this was a great, chilling, sinister read. There was a lot of discussion about the parallels between themes in the books and issues that women are facing around the world today. This one gets the LBC stamp of approval.