Book clubs: good and bad, virtual and local

book clubs

I miss my college literature classes. Sure, it’s great to read whatever I want instead of following a syllabus (although I’ve swapped that responsibility for reviewing secret assigned books for Kirkus Indie — my lips are sealed on those, sorry!), but I miss opening my mind to new styles, genres, and authors. As consumers, we don’t always do that. We have our preferences because books cost money. Unless you frequent libraries and don’t mind the waiting periods, chances are you stick to books you think are most interesting.

Of course, you might go off a friend’s recommendation, and that’s a good way to expand your reading palette.

girl readingI have to confess two things: I don’t much care for classics (being honest here), and I hate the reality of book clubs. First of all, it’s not that I don’t respect or like the classics — I do, and I studied them in college — but I think a lot of people are tricked into thinking they have to love all of them or that nobody on Earth is allowed to dislike them.

That’s why I have an aversion to book clubs. Everyone wants to read the classics, or they want to read a specific genre, or they don’t give members the choice to pick the selections. Or maybe there are just too many members and not enough turns to go around.

Reading old literature comes with benefits, of course. But I love exploring what’s new — what today’s writers are writing and how they’re making history. We can only conjecture at what life was truly like for people like for people back when, but we know more intimately what life is like for people today, and reading about it (in fiction or nonfiction, which both draw from modern experiences) can help us grow and better understand others and the hardships they face now.

Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to relate to.

I’ve never had a mind for history or math — facts and figures just don’t stick in my head. But I love reading about past cultures, so it’s not that I’m allergic to classics. Now that I’m free from my studies, I’d just rather read contemporary books most of the time.

book club smallThat’s why one of my best friends and I have started our own book club. We might be close, but we have vastly different tastes. I’m terrified she’s going to force me to read a Nicholas Sparks book, but that’s OK because she’s going to have to give the stuff I like a chance, too, in equal amounts. We both get to read exactly what we want, but we have to be willing to expand our repertoire a little.

I can feel a lot more genuine, too, talking about a book that was written in the last few decades while sitting in a coffee shop or bakery than I can pretending to identify with people who faced a lot worse than we’re used to, with a fraction of the conveniences. We can relate to characters, but we can’t say with honesty that we really relate to the times — not in most cases, even if we’re going through similar situations today. The conditions are different, and so is the world.

For those who don’t have local book clubs to join, plenty of online clubs do exist. Sony just launched a virtual book club for Sony Reader users, where they can chat with the author at the end of the month. But the Sony Reader Store picks the books, which doesn’t give members any control over how they spend that chunk of their time (and money). Is this agreeable to you, or should clubs offer more freedom?

Are you part of a book club? What do you think is a good set-up for them so everyone is happy? Do you like classic or contemporary books more, and why? Either is OK! :)

Awesome book cover Friday: American Science Fiction

This week’s cover is the hardcover of American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1953-56, edited by Gary K. Wolfe.

American Science Fiction by Gary K. Wolfe

Kirkus Reviews named it one of the 10 Must-Read September Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books. Here’s a description:

This bundled set from the Library of America, comprised of two volumes (Four Classic Novels 1953-56 and Five Classic Novels 1956-58), collects some of science fiction’s most classic and beloved novels, any one of which would make this list, including More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett, and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.

What do you think? I love how it looks classic and modern (to me, anyway) at the same time.

Find it on Amazon.

Awesome book cover Friday: Sense and Sensibility

This week’s pick was inspired by the wonderful blogger Tara, who featured a fantastic illustrated cover of Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility on her blog. I’m not sure where she found that version, but I did dig up a couple other good ones.

First, a blue cover illustrated by Cassandra Chouinard. And second, a more girly pink edition that’s sadly out of print.

Which one is your favorite? Do you have an awesome cover of Sense and Sensibility that I didn’t include? Please share!

Have you read this book? Let us know why you love it so much!

Awesome book cover Friday: Moby-Dick

Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s book cover is plain in the sense that it’s black and white, but I love the style to it. Check out this vintage edition cover for Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

Very tribal/ancient war scene, isn’t it?

What e-books have you downloaded free of charge?

Plenty of books whose copyrights have expired have entered public domain, so they’re free to download. Project Gutenberg was the first to make these available online, and now many other websites have joined in, offering a variety of formats.

Jacket Copy asked its readers what public domain e-books they’ve downloaded, and the list (see below) provides some great ideas for what to read next. What are your favorites? And what books in general have you found legally online for free? Lots of authors run daily or weekly sales on their books, marking them down in an effort to gain readership. I think it’s a fantastic tactic, one made easier without the costs of print.

“@paperhaus all of Jane Austen

“@paperhaus Cather, Conrad, Defoe, Hardy, Jack, London, Eliot, Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, Rebecca West, Wilkie Collins. To name just a few.

“Jane Eyre. Apparently 2 print copies weren’t enough. RT @latimesbooks What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus “Huckleberry Finn,” Sherlock Holmes stories, some Henry James (“Washington Square”)….

“@paperhaus lots of HG Wells, Byington’s Choctaw-english Dictionary, Conan Doyle, 19th C nonfiction where I can find it.

“@latimesbooks I have just read Omnilingual by H Beam Piper thru project Gutenberg

“@paperhaus Complete Shakespeare, Chekhov stories, Bartleby the Scrivener

“@paperhaus I love me some Chekhov short stories. Here’s a good primer:

“@paperhaus I got Frankenstein, Dracula, and a lot of other classic horror. Dracula was mind blowingly good — I hadn’t read it before.

“@latimesbooks mostly classics and the oddity “Alleged Haunting of B– House” by JP Crichton (probably no relation to Michael)

“Pride & Prejudice on my @nookBN RT @latimesbooks: What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to your iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus Twain, Dickens, yep, also Sabatini and Haggard, and old epics like Y Gododdin, various Annals.

“@latimesbooks I’ve downloaded too many to list but actually read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Journey to the Interior of the Earth

“@latimesbooks also the Well at the World’s End and Oliver Twist

“@paperhaus Anne of Green Gables and a couple of poetry anthologies.

“@latimesbooks First and favorite public domain ebook I’ve downloaded-Middlemarch. I’ll never tire of this wonderful book.

Awesome book cover Friday: Brave New World

I have absolutely no idea whether this is a legitimate cover or not, and I couldn’t find any evidence that it was, but it’s still damn cool. Found it on this blog. I think the article writer’s description is apt: It’s “frumpy” and it “screams ‘Acid rock'”!

Even searching for Penguin versions with an introduction by Margaret Atwood and David Bradshaw and a $7.99 UK (I think that says “UK”) cover price yielded no results. If anyone manages to figure this one out, let me know!

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Google and the book world are celebrating Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday today. Why not honor the literary great by reading one of his classics? He’s written fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and even a play (No Thoroughfare, a collaboration with detective novelist Wilkie Collins). And hey, many of them are free for Kindle (and priced low for Nook)!

English Victorian author Charles John Huffman Dickens lived from 1812–1870 and was born on February 7 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (now the Dickens Birthplace Museum). Often considered a spokesman for the poor, Dickens is famously remembered for his characters and his contemporary depictions of social classes, mores, and values. Critic and author Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who wrote several introductions for the author, described him as “the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything.”

His first book, a collection of stories, was titled Sketches by Boz (“Boz” was his pseudonym) and published in 1836. He and his wife Catherine Hogarth welcomed ten children to the family—that’s ten little Dickens running around. Charles was busy at the desk and in the bedroom.

He later left Catherine for actress Ellen Ternan, whom he met while performing in Collins’ The Frozen Deep. “The good, the gentle, high-gifted, ever-friendly, noble Dickens—every inch of him an honest man,” the Scottish historian and author Thomas Carlyle called him upon hearing of Dickens’ passing—but not so much for the marriage bonds.

For a full bibliography of Dickens’ works and a biography of the author, visit The Literature Network.

Cassie at the blog Books and Bowel Movements shared a link to an article about how college students who grew up reading Harry Potter are more prepared for classic literature, especially works by Dickens.

Blogger Caorthine wished Dickens a happy birthday today, too. And Literary Wonderland sent him a birthday letter.

Love Dickens? Feel free to drop a link to your happy birthday post or share a memory of reading his books in the comments.