Online Book Roundtable

9781616203160Would you like to participate in a book club that has no meetings . . . no expectations . . . no rules? Welcome to the Online Book Roundtable! I’m not calling it a book club, because the word “club” implies that there are members, requirements, and an organizational structure. The Roundtable will have none of those pesky things. What we’ll do is choose a book each month, and as we read, we’ll comment on the book online (using the “comments” section of Books on the Table). The comment section does NOT require you to provide your name or email address. If you don’t want to provide public comments, please email me at bksonthetable@gmail.com and I’ll incorporate your comments anonymously in the discussion. I’ll provide reviews and related information about the book, and supply some discussion questions as we go along. We will plan on about a 4-6 week period from the time the book is chosen until we finish our discussion and choose the next book.

Here are a couple of interesting links about online book clubs:

http://flavorwire.com/414409/the-new-golden-age-of-online-book-clubs/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/fashion/online-book-clubs-talk-that-stays-on-the-page.html?_r=0

The first book selection will be The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro:

Almost twenty-five years after the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s infamous art heist—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist named Claire Roth. Claire, whose reputation has been tarnished by scandal and who now makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer, has entered into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery.

As Claire searches for the truth about the painting’s origins, she finds herself in a desperate race through a labyrinth of trapdoors, dead ends, and deceit, where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can save her from incrimination. Blending art history with passions of the heart, B. A. Shapiro allows us to smell the oil paint, see the brush strokes, feel the artist’s ambition and the collector’s fanaticism. As she explores the ingenious techniques of forgery and reimagines historical relationships, she reveals both the beauty of the artist’s vision and the ugliness the desire for great art can unleash.

The Art Forger is a thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

B. A. Shapiro lives in Boston and teaches fiction writing at Northeastern University.

Please feel free to comment any time! Since we’re entering into the busy holiday season, let’s read and discuss The Art Forger through mid-December, and then start with a new book in early January.

If your book club has discussed The Art Forger, I’d love to hear about it. The Lake Forest Book Store book club will be talking about the book next Tuesday (11/19) and I’ll report on that meeting.

 

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Book Club Spotlight — The “No Regrets” Book Club

Actually, this book club isn’t called the “No Regrets” Book Club. I don’t think it has an official name, but I thought that should be its name because when I asked the members to tell me their favorite and least favorite selections,  I got variations on this response:

There has not been a single book that I have regretted reading and I have learned something from every book and everyone in the group through  our discussions, even involving books we haven’t liked very much.

cover-1I love this group’s attitude, energy, and enthusiasm — not to mention their longevity. They’ve been going strong for almost 20 years and have read about 180 books — classics, poetry, plays, memoirs, and of course, current fiction and nonfiction.  They are open to reading almost anything they think will inspire good conversation. Members of the group have come and gone throughout the years, but there is a core group of about 12 women — including two published authors!

The “No Regrets” readers have planned many creative book-related field trips. They have attended the Chicago Humanities Festival, where Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) was a speaker. They have gone to the Steppenwolf Theater to see The Book Thief adapted as a play and to the local multiplex to see the movie version of The Great Gatsby. When a book club selection is set in another country known for its cuisine (France, Japan, China . . .), of course they must meet in an appropriate restaurant. And they have attended events at Lake Forest College and local libraries.

Every September, the group chooses books to read for the next nine months. Each member brings book suggestions and presents them to the group. The selection is democratic — the books with the most votes win. They always make sure to include a classic and a nonfiction book. Here’s their reading list for this fall and winter:

  • Me Before You (Jojo Moyes) — contemporary fiction
  • The Heretic’s Daughter (Kathleen Kent) — historical fiction
  • Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence (Anne LeClaire) — spirituality
  • The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) — classic children’s fiction
  • The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) — YA
  • The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) — memoir

What an interesting and diverse list!  “A little something for everyone,” said a member.  I particularly loved The End of Your Life Book Club — I’ll be curious to hear about that discussion. The book is a tender, moving memoir of Will Schwalbe’s deep and abiding relationship with his mother, and how books brought them even closer together. It’s a celebration of the transformative power of books. Reading is a solitary activity — but, as all book club members know, there is joy in sharing the books that you love. J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, has this to say about The End of Your Life Book Club:

Will Schwalbe’s brave and soulful elegy to his remarkable mother, his recollection of their sparklingly literate conversations, is a timely reminder that one exceptional person, or one exceptional book, can be a torch coverin the darkness.

In November, the group meets at Lake Forest Book Store for a book review night to get a head start on Christmas shopping. (As Garrison Keillor said, “A book is a gift you can open again and again”.)  In December, the regular discussion is followed by a wrapped paperback grab bag: “It is great fun and everyone tries to bring interesting books to choose from,” according to a member.

The last meeting of the book club year takes place in June, when they meet at Ragdale, an artists’ community and retreat located on the country estate of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. The porch of the main house provides a beautiful place to enjoy dinner, and the library is a cozy and peaceful spot for a book discussion . . . and, I imagine, reflection on a wonderful year of reading and friendship.

cover-2In no particular order, here are 10 favorite book club picks from the “No Regrets” club:

  • Crossing to Safety (Wallace Stegner)
  • Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • The Samurai’s Garden (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
  • Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)
  • Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
  • The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
  • The Aviator’s Wife (Melanie Benjamin) paired with A Gift From the Sea (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

I’d love to feature more book clubs in Books on the Table — please tell me about your book club! Please fill out the contact form below, or email me at bksonthetable@gmail.com.

Special thanks to Leeni Ellis for telling me about her wonderful book club!