Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Group Likes Classics


I don't write that many Top Ten Tuesday posts but I couldn't resist this one -- some of my happiest reading experiences have been with book groups and I've always found book groups to be the best ways to find kindred spirits. I've been in many book groups and it's always fun to throw in a classic every once in awhile. I've been pleasantly surprised by classics that I thought I would absolutely hate.

I actually couldn't narrow it down to ten, so there are two bonus choices. In no particular order:

1. Germinal by Emile Zola. By far, one of the classics that has had the greatest impact upon me as a reader. I'd read a couple of books by Zola but Amanda from The Zen Leaf suggested our real-life  classics book group read Germinal and I understood what all the fuss was about. It's amazing.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Even though true crime really creeps me out, the writing is just masterful.

3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This is short, but powerful, and it speaks to so many women. Some of it is in dialect but it's a really easy (and short) read.

4. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I think I've read this with three different book groups, and it's been a hit every time. Set in China between the wars, the themes about family dynamics are universal.


5. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. Another book set in China, but very different from The Good Earth.  Kitty Fane is the spoiled, self-centered wife of a doctor working in 1920s Hong Kong, and after her husband realizes she's been unfaithful, he takes her to the Chinese countryside so he can treat a cholera outbreak. It's tragic and beautiful, and one of Maugham's beat (also a great movie adaptation).

6. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. I finally finished this a couple of months ago and I so wish I could discuss it with a book group! Young and idealistic Carol Kennicott moves from Minneapolis to a small Minnesota town and thinks she can uplift and elevate the locals.

7. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. Not so much crime noir as you'd think, this is the story of a really twisted relationship between a working-class mother trying to pull herself up by her bootstraps to impress her ungrateful daughter. They put the fun in dysfunction! I chose it for a book group simply because the library had enough copies and it one of the group's top reads of the year, I can't stop recommending it.



8 & 9. Ethan Frome or House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome is shorter but House of Mirth has Lily Bart, one of literature's most tragic heroine. They have totally different settings but both of them are about the futility of loving the wrong person.

10. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I'd never had any desire to read this but it was for a book group. I was blown away by the beautiful writing and themes of this book about a group of misfits living in a boarding house in a small Southern town. This would be a great choice for a book group that's already discussed To Kill a Mockingbird.





11. West with the Night by Beryl Markham. An amazing memoir by an aviatrix raised in Africa, she was a contemporary of Isak Denisen, Denys Finch-Hatton, and Ernest Hemingway. The writing is just beautiful. There's also a beautiful illustrated edition with lovely photos.

12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was nearly done with the list and I realized how tragic most of them are! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has sad elements, but it's a beautiful and uplifting book. I didn't read it until I was grown up and I am so sorry I waited!

And I can't believed I left out Steinbeck, Dickens, and Hardy! If I don't stop now the list will be twice as long. Bloggers, which classics would you recommend for book groups? Please let me know in the comments.

17 comments:

  1. I would recommend Gone with the Wind! :)

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    1. One of my favorites! I think the length might put people off, though it's a really fast read.

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  2. I have to go with House of Mirth by Edith Wharton because Lily Bart is such a tragic heroine; I love her. Then maybe A Room With a View by Forster, An American Tragedy by Dreiser, and Middlemarch by Eliot. (Assuming everyone's already read all of Austen, of course.) Love your list.

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    1. I was thinking about including Middlemarch, which I loved. I haven't read it for a few years and I would love to reread it sometime when I've made some headway on my TBR piles. A Room with a View is also one of my favorites. Dreiser was tough for me but I do want to read Sister Carrie. And how could I leave out Jane Austen? I assume everyone's read all her books already, I guess.

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  3. These are great titles!!! I couldn't agree more. I once recommended Crime and Punishment to a group of friends, and they loved it. Russian lit may be intimidating, but this one is anything but intimidating.

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    1. I really want to read something Russian in 2017 because it's the 100th anniversary of the revolution. Crime & Punishment is my daughter's favorite book so that's my top choice for the Russians.

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  4. I need to check out Mildred Pierce... it's a new one for me!

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    1. The whole group loved it, and there was lots to discuss. I keep recommending it to people and I'm sorry I didn't blog about it.

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  5. Oh, I recall reading out loud A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with my mother when I was a about 12. I think I would enjoy reading it again. I suggest many of Anthony Trollope's books, maybe The Small House in Allington. Love stories, realistic, set in the 1860s.

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    1. I love Trollope but I couldn't decide which book to recommend!

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  6. When I wrote about Ethan Frome this year, I think it got the most comments ever for a single-book review on my blog. So I think it should be a great choice for a book club discussion.

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    1. It's such a great novella! I didn't read anything by Wharton until I was an adult. I'm glad I didn't read it in high school, I don't think I would have appreciated it.

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    2. The classics were almost totally wasted on me in high school. I'm finally revisiting some of them to do them more justice. (This was not one of them, fortunately -- I think it would have put me off Edith Wharton completely at that age.)

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  7. Thank you for this fantastic list! My book club only reads classics so we're always looking for new ones to try. I think I'll forward this link to all the members. :-)
    Our best discussions this year were about My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

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    1. Is it a real-life group? I know our IRL group at the library discussed Rebecca but I can't remember if we ever read anything by Anne Bronte. Agnes Grey would also be an excellent choice.

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  8. I have to thank you again for raving about Germinal--had I not read about it a few times on your blog, I might never have picked this incredible book to read.

    I thought The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to be a wonderful book as well and definitely one that would trigger a lot of book club discussion.

    Excellent set of classic for groups.

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