On Monday evening, my alma mater hosted its annual alumnae event, Conversation with Books, which I attended with my friend-since-college Caryl and her mother. I have been anticipating this discussion since September, when the list of books was announced. A few weeks ago, as often happens, the panel added a book—The Love of Impermanent Things, by Mary Rose O'Reilley, which I copyedited for Milkweed way back in October 2005.
The panel consists of four women, alumnae-friends who love to read and have been meeting to talk about books for the past 42 years. The each share some comments about each of the books. Since the invitation only goes out to alumnae, it wasn’t until well after I had graduated that I knew about this event. Even then, I can’t say that I was very interested. But a few years ago Caryl told me she and her mother had been to a CWB the previous year and had a nice time. We vowed to attend the next. I had such a great time, I regretted my initial reluctance. Though it seemed odd to pay money to watch, but not participate in, a book group, I rue all the discussion I missed.
Just as Oprah tends to gravitate toward a particular kind of book, so does CWB. They group their selections into categories, one of which is Writers Familiar to Our Conversation. Some examples of repeat-authors include Anna Quindlen, Alice McDermott, Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch, Penelope Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, Jon Hassler, Madeleine L’Engle, and Barbara Kingsolver. Yes, heavy on women writers, but not surprising for their women's college background and venue. Yes, the group mostly reads fiction, but they do read memoirs and biographies with rich narratives that read as easily as fiction does.
Before the big night, I try to read at least one book because it’s fun to see how the opinions of the panelists compare to my impressions (and I managed to have a few more insights into one of the books I read this year). While I may achieve my reading goal, I find that my work is never done. At the end of each discussion, I inevitably add more titles to my insurmountable TBR list. And, the funny thing, the books I want to read coming out of the conversation are the books I was least interested in reading before I went in. Next year I just may start with those titles.
Here is 2007 list of books:
The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
Joe’s War: My Father Decoded by Annette Kobak
this recaptured story of a Czech soldier as told by his daughter received an amazing review; I'd like to read it
Small Island by Andrea Levy
class, race, culture told in intertwined stories with lovable characters; I’ve toyed with reading since it was published and may read it yet
Eudora Welty: A Biography by Suzanne Marrs
the only positive thing any of the panelists had to say about this dense bio is that it has a great index—and that it made them want to reread either Optimist's Daughter or the short stories; I don't think my life will be any less rich if I give Welty a pass
After This by Alice McDermott
No ringing endorsement here, except to read Charming Billy, an earlier McDermott novel
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Caryl read this and is letting me borrow her copy, which I'm eager to read
The Love of Impermanent Things: A Threshold Ecology by Mary Rose O’Reilley
Beautiful spiritual memoir with observations of the natural world
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
a light-hearted novel of two sisters; could be good vacation fare
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
a novel about adoption, with Tyler's trademark quirky characters
The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
classic Welty, classic novel