Brian Contine is a BookPeople employee and member of the Voyage Out Book Club. This is his first post for the BookPeople blog.
Book snobs are out there, and at BookPeople we have more than our share (both customers and employees). I don’t mind them; I even like them. This odd group spends a lot of time trying to find “important” books, and I like those types of books. So book snobs save me a little time. Get a snob started on the New Yorker, Dalkey Press, James Wood, or any number of things and you’re sure to come away with a new, challenging, and obscure novel that you would have overlooked. I can handle pretension, as long as I learn something. So, I talk to snobs about books. But one thing I never talk to them about is book clubs.
Seen as a conceit to drink wine and gossip, book clubs have been marred by the reputation of having very little to do with reading literature. I say, with an angry library whisper, this bigotry must end. I’ve been attending The Voyage Out Book Group at BookPeople since it started last November. More than a simple shared experience, the time we spend together has made me a better reader.
Most groups at the store have a hook. In my group, books are picked by region. We started in Texas, reading Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Oscar Casares. Leaving Texas and moving onto the Deep South, we ate green tomatoes, smoked some meat, and listened to the women, reading Flannery O’Conner, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty. Since then the group has left the country, and recently crossed an ocean. The theory being that history can teach us about objective facts, but if you want to know about people, read their stories.
Our current region is Africa. On Bookforum.com, James Gibbons writes about Africa’s literary boom (a term the Voyagers will remember from our South American romp). The article is wonderful. What most excites me is the mention of my new favorite writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We read Adichie’s first novel Purple Hibiscus for our September meeting. Other than the fact that she has been formally anointed as a genius, and her new collection of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck is perfect, I didn’t know much about her. That all changed when a motley crew of twelve opinionated readers taught me to appreciate Adichie in ways that never occurred to me. I left with a huge smile and a full brain, thankful. We didn’t drink wine (although we went out for a beer afterward), we didn’t gossip (that much), and we talked about literature in a curious, humorous, and at times, snobby way. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday night.
Come join us on the 25th of October to discuss Petals of Blood by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O. I don’t know much about Thiong’O—not yet. But I do know that after he published this book he was immediately taken to prison. Maybe we’ll find out why.