Four Book Club Books I Enjoyed Recently

The book group I'm in didn't meet from March - August 2020, but we did start meeting again in the fall. For September and October we met outdoors, but for November and January we met online only. Here's what we've been reading.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I really liked this book. It started off as a family history reminiscence, but wound its way around into being a present day drama, connected of course to the family history. I liked that it was short and succinct. I liked that little tidbits were revealed. I loved little lines like "[Television] seems so two-dimensional after radio." And I loved the parallelisms for instance, the young Jack Boughton being mistaken for a preacher. The time that Lila comforted John Ames "you'll be just fine" and the time she comforted Jack "People can change." I liked how the book shifted from quoting the Old Testament to quoting more of the New Testament, reflecting changes in the spiritual life of the family. 

The book is a letter, or book of remembrance, that John Ames writes for his young son. John is in his seventies, and tells of his life growing up and marrying his childhood sweetheart, only to lose his wife and baby at the baby's birth. In a roundabout way he imparts the lessons of his widower life and the love story that surprised him late in life. Throughout the book John switches from remembering the past -- sometimes remembering stories of times before he was even born -- into the present moment. This switching and the little sections the book is written in work very well to convince the reader that the book was written over the course of a few months, here and there.

Touching moments and astute reflections abound in the book. Our book group discussed many of these! I was surprised by how many people had come with passages marked that they loved and wanted to talk about. 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

This one is a murder mystery (chosen for the month of October). I listened to it on audio, and the swearing bothered me a bit. There was plenty of sex, drugs and violence, too! The suspense was very well done though, and the plot was twisty and had lots of red herrings. It was a nail biter, right up until the big reveal.

The Silent Patient is narrated by a psychologist whose patient never speaks. She is a famous artist, institutionalized after being convicted of the murder of her husband. Did she really murder him? If so, why? If not, who did? 

The interplay between Greek and Christian names and symbols in this book was one of my favorite parts of it. 

We had a great time discussing all of our hairbrained theories about who had done the murder. I found it interesting that the two group members who read the book quickly both suspected the same person, while those of us who read the book over a longer time had various other theories. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I had heard of this book, but it wasn't until it was selected for book club that I realized its settings were closely tied to the settings of my own life. Paul Kalanithi, who wrote this memoir as a young doctor dying of cancer, moved to Kingman, Arizona when he was ten years old. About ten years later, I moved to Kingman, Arizona when I was nine years old. Eventually Paul moves to Connecticut to study at Yale. I currently live in Connecticut, about an hour from Yale. I really enjoyed connecting with the settings of Paul's life so strongly. 

I expected this book to be more about dying than it was. I expected it to be like The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, which I had read previously and enjoyed. When Breath Becomes Air is much more a descriptive memoir and less a prescriptive, well, lecture than The Last Lecture. I felt like I got to know Paul a little bit, and that was meaningful to me, knowing that we have some mutual friends. 

This was another book the people marked passages from and shared insights about. Discussing hypothetical situations about death, current medical situations and problems, and tender family moments was the meat of our book club conversation.   

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I listened to this one on audio, and the narration was excellent. I had never heard of The Good Earth before it was picked for book club, but Jacob had. 

The Good Earth reminded me of The Fiddler on the Roof -- it's a life story. The Good Earth follows Wang Lung from the  morning of his wedding day until his death. There's a lot that happens in between! I feel that I learned about Chinese culture in the late 19th and early 20th century, along with learning about these particular characters. 

I was reminded of Boxers & Saints, a pair of graphic novels that I love, since the books are set in the same time period. 

Our book group talked about Chinese culture, what we loved and hated about Wang Lung's choices, the strength of O-lan, the way nature grounds us, and more. 

For next month's book group I get to pick the book. I've chosen All Thirteen. It's really SO good. It's winning all the awards right now. My review here


  1. I went through a big Pearl Buck phase when my children were infants. Read my way through everything at the public library because they were easy to grab! Glad you enjoyed your book clubs, but to me, a book club sounds absolutely tortuous! Reading, yes. Talking about it for more than a minute when recommending a book to someone else, no!

  2. This one was a bit ‘earthy’ for me, ha ha!


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