Fractured Atlas Book Club: Pleasure Reading Edition
Earlier this year, the Fractured Atlas staff identified a problem that needed fixing. And no, it wasn't related to fundraising, insurance, selling tickets, or booking spaces. A few of us were sitting around bemoaning - probably after a sophisticated cocktail - how hard it is to motivate yourself to put down the Candy Crush and pick up a good book. What's more, we discovered that, when we did make time to read, many of us were coincidentally picking up the same titles: Cloud Atlas, Freedom, Zone One, and Gone Girl, to name a few, all highly recommended. We decided to do something to encourage our love of reading - a love that goes sadly neglected - and started a staff book club. Our one rule was that we wouldn't pick arts-admin-business books - you know, the kind we've been featuring on our blog the last few months - but focus on pleasure reading only. We've just completed our first year of book club meetings and I wanted to share the titles we picked with you because, while we may work for an arts-tech company with a largely online presence, we're human beings too and we love art of all kinds, including the written word.
- Child of God by Cormac McCarthy: Am I really prepared to disparage a work from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist? Why, yes, I am. Our first selection for book club was, shall we say, controversial and (almost) everyone in the club had a hard time getting through it. I would suggest reading The Road instead. This one really challenges how far you as a reader are prepared to identify with and care about what happens to a novel's hero.
- Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively: Perhaps my favorite book of the year - this selection was one of two historical fiction novels we read. Like Child of God, and many of the other selections on this list, Moon Tiger experiments with chronology as the elderly protagonist recollects growing up in England, her pioneering career as a journalist covering the British front in North Africa in WWII, and starting a family after losing the great love affair of her life. I don't usually go for "romance" novels and I'm not sure that this quite qualifies as one, but it's a touching tale of a dying woman plotting the curve of her life's arc and reconciling with her own shortfalls.
- The Book of Salt by Monique Truong: Another historical fiction novel, this one told from the point-of-view of the the fictional Vietnamese cook of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. I'm ashamed to report that one of my only points of reference for Gertrude Stein is Kathy Bates' amazing performance in Midnight in Paris. (This is actually true for most of our book club members; we're not as well-read as we'd like to be, hence, this book club.) The narrator explores the world in uniquely culinary terms, especially his experience with language and love.
- Blankets by Craig Thompson: Our one and only graphic novel of the year - Blankets is an autobiographical look at the formative years of artist Craig Thompson. He doesn't spare the reader on some of the more uncomfortable events of his childhood, including the violation he and his brother experienced at the hands of their babysitter. Thompson has a unique way of visually depicting the internal life of his characters which develops as his younger self in the narrative grows into his artistry and learns to use it as a way to grapple with the world around him.
- Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain: Our one and only collection of short stories, these tales are set around the globe about people being caught up in overwhelming third-world social/political situations. One might, fairly, find a lot of White Savior complex in the pages of these stories as the protagonists are often Americans trying to save the day in foreign countries, but there's a lot to love about this book. These are people who find themselves in over their heads in terrifying, yet realistic, scenarios that make the reader question if they would respond similarly.
- Taipei by Tao Lin: Our book club members found this book either hilarious or frustrating, depending on your point of view, and often both at the same time. Do you love an abundance of adverbs and endless, circular self-awareness? If so, then this book is probably for you. None of us had ever previously read work by Tao Lin. I will admit to being intrigued as he has a, in my opinion, droll Twitter feed, so I will probably read more from him in the future. I would like to note that there is so much drug usage in this book that you'll be wondering, perhaps constantly, if one of the characters is going to die, which creates its own layer of tension throughout the novel.
- The Autobiography of Red by Ann Carson: A novel entirely in verse, T.S. Eliot prizewinner Ann Carson's work is an updated retelling of the myth of Herakles and Geryon. It's a quick read, but I still had to go through it twice to see if I missed anything. The poetry is delicious, full of rich symbolism. Carson recasts this legend of violence into a love story of sorts with a bittersweet conclusion.
- This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz: Our final choice of the year was, I think, the overall book club favorite. Junot Díaz writes prose that's unpretentious and conversational while still full of dazzling gems. The main character of most of the loosely collected chapters that fill this book is Yunior, who just can't seem to stop ruining every one of the significant relationships in his life. He's super smart and yet falls back into a pattern of infidelity that makes it impossible for the women who love him to stay.
Phew - these year-end recaps are always pretty exhausting! I think our staff book club was successful in that we got to read a bunch of books that none of us would've read on our own. We're voting on our selections for the coming year, and we've got some titles that are more relevant to the arts nonprofit sector lined up for the next few months of book club blog posts. Currently, everyone on our staff is reading The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni, so I'm sure you'll be hearing all about that soon. I hope this post provided you with some last minute stocking stuffer recommendations for the book lover in your life. What have you been reading lately? Anything you'd care to share? Let us know - either via Facebook, Twitter, or email. May 2014 be full of good reading for you!