Echo Chambers—are we all reading the same books?

echo-chamberHello…ello…lo……..  Are book clubs like echo chambers—reading and talking about the same books?  Joshua Henkin (Matrimony) worries that we are: you know, books like Water for Elephants; Eat, Pray, LoveKite Runner. We’re all reading them and reviewing the same ones.

Here’s how Henkin puts it:

There are a lot of great books out there that people don’t know about . . . . [At the same time] fewer books have more and more readers. . . .  For that reason, it has become harder for all but a handful of books to get the attention they deserve.   
                                        —Books on the Brain, 4/29/08 

Henkin makes a strong case. Pity new authors trying to get their books noticed. It’s got to be disheartening.

Nonetheless, there’s something delightful that so many of us are on the same page. The book club movement is like the city that promotes a single book for its residents to read. Meet someone at the water cooler, at the mall, on the bus…and a conversation gets started. “Hey, how do you like Eat, Pray, Love? Have you read such & such yet?” It’s suddenly easy to find commonality, even with total strangers.

And while Henkin is right—many more authors deserve our attention—perhaps book club lists have more variety than expected.

Take a look at the list below. It’s a sampling of titles that have cropped up recently on LitLovers website—some are mentioned by our featured book clubs, others come from people who email me to request a reader’s guide. It’s an interesting list.

Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie — Half of a Yellow Sun
Murray Bail — Eucalyptus
Lynne Cox — Grayson
Ivan Doig — Whistling Season; the McCaskill trilogy
Jennifer Cody Epstein — The Painter from Shanghai
Dorothea Benton Frank — Sullivan’s Island
Victor Fankl — Man’s Search for Meaning
Tana French — In the Woods
Beth Gutcheon — Good-bye and Amen; Leeway Cottage
Jim Harrison — Returning to Earth
Kent Haruf — Plainsong; Eventide   
Robert Hicks — Widow of the South
Paulette Jiles — Enemy Women
Lesley Kagen — Whistling in the Dark
Aryn Kyle — The God of Animals
Sinclair Lewis — Main Street
J. Nozipo Maraire – Zenzele: Letter for My Daughter
Roland Merullo — Breakfast with Buddha
David Mitchell — Ghostwritten
John O’Hara — Appointment in Samarra
Tom Perotta —  Little Children; The Abstinence Teacher
Nancy Pickard — The Virgin of Small Plains
Anthony Powell — Dance to the Music of Time
Richard Powers — The Echo Maker
Reynolds Price — Kate Vaiden
Tatiana de Rosnay — Sarah’s Key
Mary Doria Russell — The Sparrow
Helen Santmyer — And Ladies of the Club
Carol Shields — Stone Diaries; Unless
Ahdaf Soueif — The Map of Love
Nancy Turner — These Is My Words
Larry Watson — Sundown, Yellow Moon; Montana 1948 

See all posts on Joshua Henkin’s book club essay.

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