Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Great Book Club Picks

Focus for this List: It seems to me that there is a special flavor to books chosen by book clubs. They tend to be complex, depressing, and bogged down in reality. That said, I do understand that if the primary reaction to a book is, "Wow, what a fabulous book!  What else has the author written?" then there may not be much to discuss. Thus, this list is my take on books that provoke discussion, while also being good reads!  PS: I tend not to like depressing, thus, most of these books are a bit more upbeat!

1.  Children No More by Mark Van Name
Externally, this is about the partnership between a hero and his hyper-intelligent assault vehicle. (Yes, it's great science-fiction.) Internally, however, this is a heart-wrenching story about the rehabilitation of children who are forced to become soldiers. Another reason to read this with a book club? Mark is donating ALL the profits from ALL the sales of this book (regardless of format) to Falling Whistles, a charity that focuses on rehabilitating and reintegrating child soldiers. Look HERE for more details. Help save children while enjoying a good story.

I have almost every novel Jodi Picoult has written, and they've all kept me up late, and drained me of tears, many, many times. She has a knack for really exploring an ethical issue, from so many different perspectives. Thus, her novels are ideal for book clubs because there is so much to discuss. This particular book of hers is one that had me up late thinking hard about belief, and trying to decide who in the book I did believe. It's a fascinating book and I think you'll enjoy discussing it with friends.

I didn't think I was going to like this book, I really didn't. Then this memoir grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let go. The hype on this one is right -- go ahead and enjoy!  I just bought the sequel, and will let you know what I think!

After hearing so many of my book club's members rave about how wonderful this book is, I decided that hey, $4 for the Kindle version wasn't too much to pay. It was fabulous. 1930s circuses, romance, danger, intrigue, historical details, and the best elephant in fiction today. Surprisingly enough, it's also a moving examination of what it is to be old. So, I know this isn't a radically different suggestion for a book club read, but it is a good one! 

When word of this book first started circulating, I assumed it was about anorexia. Wow, was I wrong! Instead, it's my new favorite dystopia, which comments directly on our current culture of reality shows, and the wide divide between the haves and the have-nots. It's thought provoking, and each book in the trilogy kept me glued to the pages well into the morning hours.  There is a LOT to discuss here, and I find myself wandering around, wanting to talk to others who've read it -- a sure sign of a good book-club book! 


This fascinating and well-written book is a summation of all the crazy odd experiments that the author has written about in his articles and other books, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, and The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. This amusing book is particularly easy to read in chunks, and leads to some interesting discussions.

I've been raving about how amazing this book is for years now. What delights me is how many people come back from having read it, raving themselves about what an interesting and helpful book it is. Granted, there are some really technical bits, but then again, don't book clubs delight in books with difficult bits? That said, the author's journalistic background shows in the fabulous (and true) stories that he tells as ways of making his point. 

It's been a while since I read this one, but I do remember it being a very thoughtful examination of what makes up true hope, and how it can affect you. I gave a copy to a friend who is a minister, and she said it was just full of sermon illustrations. Give it a look!

9.  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (or Blink, or Outliers, if you've already read that one!)
Malcolm Gladwell has a very engaging way of writing about ideas by telling stories. Best of all, these books will change the way you think -- or the way you think about thinking -- and you'll find yourself quoting his stories at parties for years to come. 

I've decided that this fellow is one of my new favorite authors. His newest book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, was particularly thought provoking as my husband and I are both teachers.  Either of these books would make great book club choices. One focuses on telling stories from interviews with various people about what makes up their families. The answers will broaden your understanding of the possibilities and make you reexamine your own family relationships.  The other, NurtureShock, focuses on collating and summarizing all of the most recent discoveries in the field of child development. Most of the research I'd already heard of, as it was announced, but having it all put together in context was amazingly helpful, and helped me rethink teenage arguing, among other things! Check out nurtureshock.com for essays & other tidbits from the book. 

So, what's YOUR favorite book-club pick?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Focus for this List: our sweet Mama and Papa Bear (my in-laws), gave us a Kindle for Christmas. This is not something I'd ever contemplated buying. So, this list isn't so much a tech review (I've not done any comparisons) as it is simply a list of things I've noticed while reading on the Kindle. 

1.  You can get new books faster, (and for cheaper!)
This is, in fact, the thing that first got me excited about using the Kindle. I could pay $16 for the hardcover version of Lois McMaster Bujold's newest Vorkosigan book, Cryoburn, which wasn't in our bookstores yet, OR I could buy it from Baen Books, spending only $6, and begin reading immediately. Who could refuse?!

The immediate gratification factor is huge.  (HUGE!  I was thrilled when I realized I could get Mark Van Name's newest book NOW ... and its copyright date is next August!!!). 

Still, I'm glad that the first book I tried to read was Cryoburn. It's by an author whom I love, and it's fast-paced and absorbing. Had I tried to read something less . . . gripping . . . I'm not sure I would have pushed past the discomfort of first reading on a machine rather than a book. 

2.  I can carry a library in my purse!
That statement alone tells me that the future has arrived.  I've read books on computers before (Thanks, David Drake, and Baen.com!).  That tired me out just because it tied me to my computer for hours upon hours. Reading on a Kindle still allows you the freedom to wander around and read while you microwave a snack. Best of all?  In this era of reduced baggage allowances on airplanes, decisions on which book to take with me are MUCH easier.  

3.  It takes some effort to get used to reading on an electronic device and little things may throw you.
Getting a cover helps, but it still feels weird -- like you're only reading one side of the page. Also, I've found that it just doesn't feel right unless I tuck my first finger of my right hand between the Kindle and the back of the cover. I had no idea that was such a firmly ingrained habit of mine!

4.  I miss turning pages.
Just today, finishing up my 5th book on the Kindle, I swiped at the screen as if to turn the page.  Accidentally turning the pages is a frequent problem. Interestingly, what I had thought would be the biggest deterrant to reading comfortably on the device, the flip from black text to white text as you turn the page, now escapes my attention (for the most part). One thing that helped was reducing the text size so that I'm not constantly having to deal with all of this. The human brain is amazing, and I mark my new comfort with this up to my fascination with Vorkosigan's adventures!

5.  It may help you stay focused.
Having a cover means that frequently when I'm done reading for the moment I just close the book and put it up, without turning it off (it shuts off automatically). To my occasional dismay, however, when I turn it back on, it opens right back up to where I left off, thus capturing my attention. Mind you, this meant that I was MUCH faster in finishing my re-read of a nonfiction book than I expected I would be. I'm still not sure if this is a good or a bad thing!

6.  I don't like reading anthologies, or collections of short-stories on this machine.
I like bouncing around and reading stories out of order, and that's a LOT harder to do on a Kindle.  Either that, or I've missed some trick of the technology.

7.  You can't judge the book by the cover . . .
. . . but then again, it's harder to do a good preview.  I'm still deciding if I like the fact that the Kindle automatically starts a new book on the first page of the story, rather than on the cover page / dedication page / copyright page / table of contents.  For the most part, I don't like it. As a reading teacher who spends time teaching folks how to set themselves up properly for a book by previewing it before getting lost in the story, I REALLY don't like it.  For myself, well, I'm patient enough to click the back button 10 times in order to get to the beginning.

7.2  People don't judge ME by the cover.
There Will Be Dragons (The Council War)Think about it, that bland black cover means that I can be reading ANYTHING and no one will ever know.  Mind you, this may reduce the number of odd conversations I have on airplanes. (Thanks, John Ringo. . . )

8.  There are so many ways in which electronic books just make good sense.
From an environmental standpoint, ebooks make sense. From a practical home-storage standpoint, ebooks make sense, and now, with Baen's help, from a financial standpoint, ebooks make sense.

9.  The big issue:
You can't sell your boring ebooks at the used book store when you decide you'd rather read something else.  You also can't lend them to a friend. That's disheartening.  For the price you're paying, it's also disgusting.

10.  Will the characters survive?
The biggest shock to reading on the Kindle? You lose the subliminal sense of where you are in the book, and how much time the author has left to either get everything resolved, or to kill everyone off.  Again, I'm not sure if this is ultimately a good or a bad thing. I've hated reading with the pages clutched in my right hand ever diminishing and feeling like I was racing the author to the end. I've hated knowing that an enjoyed idyll on another world was drawing inevitably to a close. That said, I finished Jennifer Crusie's newest book, Maybe This Time, and found myself not believing it was all over.  I'd lost track of how much time I had left with the characters. 

So, what do YOU think???
Which device to you read on?
What do you like best?
What do you like least?
What would you like to see most as a feature?
Have you been to Baen.com yet?  :)