Friday, August 12, 2011

Today's post comes from Melissa Hambrick, our book club contributor from our sister blog She Reads. This is the writer's opportunity to listen in on what is important to a book club, what gets readers hooked, keeps the reading, or turns them off. Enjoy!

A fine mist still blanketed the land in the early hours of that morning. A nearly palpable wave of bittersweet excitement passed over the group that had gathered, as last hugs and kisses were bestowed. Six women waved goodbye to their children, to their husbands, and climbed into the enormous vehicle that would take them away. The men exchanged uneasy laughter, the children running amongst them, still in pajamas. Four days. For some, those days would be long; for others, much too short. The doors closed, and an audible sigh escaped the lips of each of the six contained inside.

s. Absolute bliss. Six moms, one Suburban and four days on the Gulf in Florida. The only rule was no McDonald’s; the only decisions were pool or beach, white or red? T his was our first ever book club girls’ getaway, and specifically a dream I’d had since walking into Sundog Books in Seaside, FL , a little over a year ago. After walking into this wonderful little bookstore in May of last year, I looked at my husband and said, “This is what I want for my 40th birthday. No party. I just want to come back here with my book club.”

So we celebrated for four days. We read. And talked. And sunbathed. And ate dark chocolate covered almonds for breakfast. Sometimes dreams do come true, even if you aren’t a Disney princess.

This month we had two books on our docket. W e chose State of Wonder by Ann Patchett as our regular monthly pick, but since we had an extra half a month in there before our trip, we also selected Before I Go to Sleep by first-time novelist SJ Watson. Two very different, but equally exciting and enjoyable reads.
If you haven’t yet read Nashville-based author Ann Patchett, you’re missing out. Put her on your ‘to read’ list, especially this one and her accla imed work Bel Canto. Those of you near us here in Nashville may have heard that she is actually opening an independent bookstore here at the end of the year, dubbed Parnassus Books. The demise of Borders, as well as our favorite indie bookstore Davis-Kidd Booksellers, has left our area lacking, and there’s no doubt that Patchett will come through for us bibliophiles with flying colors.

te of Wonder actually owes some plot points to another well-known novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but Patchett’s literary talents give the tale a whole new dimension. She also adds a decidedly feminist slant to the story, as well as more than a few twists, turns and subplots that leave the reader in awe by the end of the book. One of our bookies hadn’t yet had the chance to read it, and another clubber attempted to describe the story. But there was just no simple way to tell the plot, and we realized how Patchett had managed to seamlessly tell an amazingly complex story.
Marina Singh is a doctor working for a pharmaceutical company which is doing research in the Amazon. But the doctor in charge of this research, the nearly mythological Dr. Annika Swenson, has ceased communication. A turn of events leads Marina to the jungle to find out what has happened to Dr. Swenson, colleague Anders Eckman, and the research that has been nearly a decade in the making with no results. We all agreed that the beginning of State of Wonder was a bit slow, but as soon as Marina arrives in this foreign land, the layered plot builds and builds into an intricate, thoughtful and suspenseful novel.

We were all fascinated by Dr. Swenson, an artful piece of writing that has created a stunning character, thought-provoking and memorable. Easter is another precious character, and a powerful thread who ties the story together. We loved this book—but past that, I can’t tell you much more because there would just be too many spoilers.
And for a change of pace, we read a thriller—a suspenseful novel where not only do we as readers not know what is going on, neither does the main character. What would you do if you woke up one morning and found out that you had lost 25 years of your life? You couldn’t trust your memories, and maybe not even your husband, who you don’t recognize. You don’t remember your own child. In fact, every day when you wake up, you don’t remember the day before. (Interestingly, the author did not know about the Drew Barrymore/ Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates, but the daily amnesia is really the only plot similarity.)

SJ Watson (who most of our club totally thought was a wom an until we went to his blog, has created a fascinating first novel with Before I Go to Sleep, which has landed in the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list and is finding international acclaim. Watson’s main character, Christine, wakes up every day with no memory of the last, and only the journal she is keeping (and keeping secret from her husband, Ben) to remind her of who she is. She is able to unravel her past bit by bit, but we are always left wondering who to trust. The opening words in her journal proclaim “Don’t trust Ben.” But can we trust Christine?

Before I Go to Sleep
kept us hanging on every page—a true testament to the author’s storytelling ability when you realize that with nearly every chapter, he has to retell Christine’s story, as she wakes up with no memory and has to rediscover it, yet again. As all of the details come together, it is surprising to find out exactly who she could trust—and in the end, the reader is left to decide: When Christine wakes up tomorrow, will she remember that this all happened?
As for us six ladies, we are thankful for our memories—especially those that we made together, sitting in the sun in Florida, and doubly so, now that school is starting, sport seasons are starting back up, and the “lazy” days of summer are drawing to a close. And you’d better bet that we’re already planning a trip back next year…if we can just hang on to our happy place until then!


Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

A book club getaway? Now you're singing my song! I can't imagine anything more fun than books, friends, and four days on the beach. Sign me up for the next one.

Anonymous said...

What fun that must have been, Melissa! I love the photo of the 6 of you in your beach chairs. I started a book club in 2009, so we've been together about 2 1/2 years. We're planning to go see The Help at our next regularly scheduled meeting. We loved the book, and hope the movie is as enjoyable.

Thank you for the book recommendations. I'm always looking for new titles for us to read.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and our bookclub planned a trip to Jack London's state park in Glen Ellen, about 2 hours from where we live. I've been there several times, and thought my group would love to go, since we'd just finished reading Sea Wolf by Jack London. We worked and worked to find a day where everyone could go -- and woke up to pouring rain. What a bummer. We still haven't managed to reschedule a visit there. However did you all manage the getaway?

Patti Hill said...

Thanks for the great suggestions for books to read. And the pile grows!

You know, Colorado isn't so far from Nashville. Need another member? I travel well and adore chocolate covered almonds...and just about anything else.

Thanks for stepping in. You're a wonderful guest.

Kathleen Popa said...

Me too! I want to go too!

Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Melissa. What wonderful ideas, and what wonderful books.

Bonnie Grove said...

Is it just me, or does BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP sound like MEMENTO? It's plot (as described in the post) sounds so much like the movie, it makes me wonder if it's a bit of a take off?

Melissa Hambrick said...

Bonnie, I think BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP shares a concept with several other works containing amnesiacs, but of course the brilliance of MEMENTO was that the story went backwards, which this one doesn't do, although she does have notes to herself in a journal. Interesting to us was the female slant on the concept--does she, or did she, have a child, and where is he? She discovers a lot about herself as we as readers discover it, and I think it was shrewd to have a female in that lead character for readers like ourselves who could put ourselves in her place. Interestingly, it seems like there's a new trend toward writing about amnesia or memory loss...and if it replaces vampire fiction for a bit, it is welcome relief. If you haven't read STILL ALICE, it is an amazing book, and I understand that WHAT ALICE FORGOT (different author, different Alice) is also very good...both also written in female voices.