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Superstar Books for Your Book Club

Some books are almost guaranteed to spark good discussion due to its themes, characters, subject matter, or all of the above. Below is a sampling of some sure bet suggestions that you can bring to your group!

Need book discussion questions? Browse through questions composed by MPPL staff, or email us at readers@mppl.org and we can assist you in finding questions for your group.

 

The-Round-House book coverThe Round House
by Louise Erdrich
The-Chaperone book coverThe Chaperone
by Laura Moriarty
A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson
The Circle book coverThe Circle
by Dave Eggers
Maine
by J. Courtney Sullivan

 

Stiff
by Mary Roach
Midwives
by Chris Bohjalian
Assassination Vacation
by Sarah Vowell
Daughter of Fortune
by Isabel Allende
Claire of the Sea Light
by Edwidge Danticat
Tipping the Velvet
by Sarah Waters

 

Fiction: Like Meg Cabot? Try Shane Bolks!

picture of cabot and bolks' books

Are you a fan of Meg Cabot’s humorous romances? If so, try Shane Bolks! Like Meg Cabot’s Queen of Babble and The Boy Next Door, Bolks mixes hi-jinks and pop culture references to create a romp of a read. Both also feature a hilarious woman narrator attempting to navigate work and romance with varying degrees of success!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Men I’ve Dated follows Star Wars mega-fan Rory Egglehoff’s attempts of trying to woo her old high school crush who has moved into the office right next door to hers. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Egglehoff is more successful than she thought she would be!

In Reality TV Bites, Allison Holloway is swept onto a reality television show when her boss enters their design team on an interior design face-off. Although Holloway is a reality-show addict it comes with its own issues she didn’t anticipate including a cute producer trying to seduce her and an outrageous design challenge.

 

New Audio Spotlight: The Best of Pop Culture Happy Hour

Best of Pop Culture Happy Hour audiobook coverAre you craving sparkling conversation about movies, books, music, TV, celebrity, and all things considered? Treat yourself to The Best of Pop Culture Happy Hour, a sampler set of the greatest moments of NPR’s entertainment podcast. Anchored by the smart, informed, articulate, witty people you wish you could hang out with at parties, these roundtable discussions take on fiascos, movie trailers, the art of the mixtape, media depictions of the White House, and (our favorite) public radio voices.

Topics are focused and well-prepped, but there’s no predicting what happens once the give-and-take gets rolling – especially when one host’s mother is present to talk about nudity. Listen in, laugh along, and raise your pop culture quotient. Perhaps you’ll even find topics to impress at the next mixer you attend.

Music- Three Ways to Start Listening to Hip Hop Using Hamilton: An American Musical

Jay-Z The Blueprint album coverThe Blueprint by Jay-Z
HamiltonHamilton: An American Musical
The Original Broadway Cast Recording
Notorious BIG Life After Death album coverLife After Death by Notorious B.I.G.

 

 

Like the hit musical Hamilton and want to listen to more hip-hop, but not sure where to start? Here are three different methods you can try to find hip hop artists or styles you might like! Just a reminder, like all music hip hop is a diverse genre and albums, artists, and songs mentioned below will have varying mature content.

1. Listen to the artists the characters were inspired by.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of Hamilton, was reading the biography that inspired the musical, Alexander Hamilton, he was quick to draw parallels between the men and women involved in the formation of our country and hip hop artists. Below is a taste of those parallels:

George Washington is…. a mix between Common (formerly known as Common Sense) and John Legend.

Hercules Mulligan is… inspired by Busta Rhymes

Hamilton is… modeled after Rakim, Big Pun, and Eminem

2. Listen to some of the inspirations for the songs.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has stated that the musical is a love story to hip hop. There are way more homages payed to hip hop songs (and other musicals) than what is listed below, but to start you off:

“My Shot” has a tribute to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali”

“Ten Duel Commandments” has a similar structure as Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”

The opening to “Cabinet Battle #1” references Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and contains parts of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash

“Meet Me Inside” has some of the same pieces as DMX’s “Party Up in Here (Up in Here)” (if you don’t hear it right away, keep listening!)

“Cabinet Battle #2” alludes to Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy (It’s All Good).”

3. Listen to other albums that have storytelling elements to them.

One of the appealing aspects of the Hamilton album is that listeners will get a whole story about Alexander Hamilton. While albums below may not all have the same storytelling chronology as the musical, they do tell stories either in the individual songs or by being a part of a larger narrative.

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly album cover To Pump a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Scarface Deeply Rooted album cover Deeply Rooted by Scarface

 

 

In the Heights album cover In the Heights  (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Outkast Atliens album cover ATLiens by Outkast

 

Have a suggestion of your own? Email us at readers@mppl.org to let us know!


 

Sources:
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commentary on his lyrics
Mental Floss’ “20 Things You Might Have Not Known About ‘Hamilton'”
Podcast interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda on Another Round

Fiction: HHhH by Laurent Binet

hhhh book coverLaurent Binet’s debut HHhH follows along two men as they escape from Czechoslovakia, are recruited by the British secret service as agents, and attempt an assassination on one of Adolf Hitler’ most feared lieutenants, Reinhard Heydrich, known as the “Butcher of Prague.”  Binet also manages to twist in an awareness of his hand as the writer of this historical fiction, a work resulting from the melding of fact, personal accounts, and his imagination, yet still retains his gripping pace.

Bonus: This novel received starred reviews from Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist AND Kirkus! An impressive feat!

 

Book Discussion Questions: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Story of Edgar Sawtelle book coverTitle:  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author:  David Wroblewski
Page Count: 566 pages
Genre: Literary, Coming-of-Age, Domestic Saga
Tone:  Atmospheric, Lyrical, Haunting

Summary:
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar leads an idyllic life with his parents on their dog breeding farm in remote Wisconsin. When Edgar is forced to flee after the sudden death of his father, he must fight for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. Would you consider this a sad book? Did you enjoy the experience of reading this book?

2. When asked why he chose an unhappy ending, the author responded by referencing Franz Kafka:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? … we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

     What do you think about this perspective? Does it resonate with you – either with this book or with others?

3. The selection of this title as an Oprah’s Book Club pick certainly raised its profile. In your opinion, would this book have found an audience otherwise?

4. What was the purpose of the prologue?

5. Why was Schultz (the original landowner) given both backstory and recurring mentions?

6. How did you react to the character of Ida Paine?

7. Edgar’s youth is presented in a quick succession of snapshot details. Why spend little time here?

8. How would you characterize Edgar’s relationship with each of his parents?

9. How early do you think Claude had been plotting?

10. A frequent complaint is the length of the story. Did that bother you? Why would the author make that choice? What might be lost in cutting the story down? In your opinion, are there too many ideas for one book?

11. One seeming digression from the main plot is Edgar’s discovery of (and the detailed presenting of) the letters form Fortunate Fields. What did these letters reveal? Do you think this was an effective way to introduce this background and these ideas?

12. Did you note the epigraph by Charles Darwin? How might this, as well as the exploration of evolution and natural selection, inform the greater story?

13 “So a dog’s value came from the training and the breeding” – almost a nature vs. nurture compromise. How might this be reflected in the brothers Claude and Gar?

14. On specific occasions, the author emphasizes the word story. For example, as Edgar is reflecting on the detailed records, “Because the files, with their photographs, measurements…told them the STORY of the dog – what a dog MEANT, as his father put it.” How does this reflect back on the title of the book?

15. There’s no getting around the Hamlet references. Were there ones that you especially liked or found inventive or powerful? Any that were stretches? Any that you weren’t sure about?

16. Aside from the allusions, the story of Hamlet is never directly mentioned. In contrast, another book is frequently mentioned and even excerpted. What relevance does The Jungle Book have to this story?

17. Were you OK with the slight fantasy element of Gar’s appearances/interactions with Edgar?

18. What was the purpose of the story of Hachiko?

19. What is gained by Trudy’s voice being introduced half-way through? Did this make her more sympathetic? Would you have preferred this earlier? Not at all?

20. How would you describe the importance of Almondine? Did you like having her “voice”?

21. What is the role of Forte – both the first and the second? Do you think the first Forte was Gar’s dog or Claude’s?

22. What is accomplished in making Edgar mute? Why not deaf, too?

23. Why are words and names especially important to Edgar?

24. What did you think of Edgar’s time with Henry Lamb? In what ways is it significant?

25. Is this a book for dog lovers? How would you compare it to other books which feature dogs, especially those which give voice to the dog’s perspective?

26. Author Stephen King wrote, “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In the end, this isn’t a novel about dogs or heartland America, it’s a novel about the human heart and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate…. I don’t re-read many books because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.” What do you think? Will you be re-reading this book?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

author David Wroblewski on the book that made him a reader
Hachiko and the Sawtelle Dogs
The New York Times interview with author
profile of Wroblewski in Bloom, a site featuring first books from authors over 40
video of Wroblewski presenting at The Chautauqua Institution
NPR podcast The Book Tour spotlights The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LitLovers discussion guide
Oprah’s reader’s guide, including book club webcasts

READALIKES:

Art of Racing in the Rain book coverAquarium book coverDead Fathers Club book cover
    

The Art of Racing in the Rain  by Garth Stein

Aquarium  by David Vann

The Dead Fathers Club  by Matt Haig

Staff Pick: The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Erich Origen

Joe from Research Services suggests The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Erich Origen

The Adventures of Unemployed Man book coverFollow the amazing adventures of Unemployed Man, formerly known as The Ultimatum until good intentions and a stand against The Man got him The Boot. Shrewd, witty commentary on the state of the economy and the roots of our nation’s fiscal woes inform the action in this cleverly written, beautifully illustrated graphic novel. The parody is ripped straight from today’s headlines—supervillains like Cobra (he’ll cover your insurance after being laid off, only $200 a month!) and Kollectus (he comes after outstanding debts and takes everything) show up alongside heroes such as perpetual grad student Master of Degrees, fix-it-with-tape Ducto, pain-shrinking therapist Good Grief, and Wonder Mother (she built her invisible jet from pieces of the glass ceiling), all presented in a dead-on tribute to many classic comic book styles.

The parody is not limited to the characters, however; the book itself is organized as a parody of a comic book, right down to the inclusion of phony ads for products and a wickedly funny section titled Fantastic Facts. This would be a good book for fans of graphic novels or superheroes with a twist, or anyone looking for an interesting presentation of basic socioeconomics in an easy to follow format.

Interested in more books about economics? Try…

The Big Squeeze book coverThe Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, by Steven Greenhouse

A bleak picture of the current environment for the American worker,with an  emphasis on the role corporations play.

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Other Interests book coverThe Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris

A Chicago ad exec suddenly loses his job, and with the help of assorted colorful new friends gains a new perspective on his life through a series of unfamiliar challenges.

 

 

 

Interested in the superhero elements? Try…

Superheroes book cover

 

Superheroes, edited by John Varley

A collection of superhero-themed stories with an ironic, antihero twist.

 

 

 

Inside Straight book cover

Inside Straight, edited by George R.R. Martin

From the classic Wild Cards series, this mosaic novel sometimes humorously, sometimes matter-of-factly presents a universe where extranormal abilities are an accepted fact, with characters competing to win a new reality show, American Hero.

Movies and TV: Meet the Patels and More Marriage-Minded Families

Meet the Patels DVD coverIn what has been celebrated as a real-life romantic comedy, a young actor rebounds from a break-up by deciding to let his Indian parents find him a prospective mate. Better yet, he invites his documentarian sister to film the entire process! Festival favorite Meet the Patels follows Ravi over the course of a year through “bio-date” matchmaking, wedding season, online connections, and even the Patel Matrimonial Convention.

Charming, funny, and informative, this true narrative illuminates pressures of a first-generation Indian-American family. Like Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, personal experiences are blended with societal observations, and the result is both thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.

“You know that girl in Eat, Pray, Love? She goes through a break up, goes on the existential journey to India to get over depression, find out what she really wanted in life? I was that girl. Except, my family was with me the entire time.” — Ravi

For more stories of love and marriage-minded families, try…

My Big Fat Greek Wedding DVD coverMy Big Fat Greek Wedding

With an official tagline “Love is here to stay…so is her family”, this top-grossing romantic comedy is all about the tension between cultural expectation and the life a thirty-year-old woman wants to create for herself. A riotous extended family is eager to tell her what she needs, and going out with a non-Greek named Ian isn’t exactly what they have in mind.

 

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice DVD cover

In Regency England, poor Mrs. Bennet has five daughters who need husbands to ensure their futures. Her methods may seem extreme (she sends her eldest out in the rain so she’ll need to stay at a prospective gentleman’s home), but her instincts aren’t completely wrong when it comes to eligible men.

 

While You Were Sleeping DVD coverWhile You Were Sleeping 

In a slight twist, our lovable heroine has no family, and in this case it is the hero’s relatives who are pushy in the best and most delightful way. Spoiler: it works! At one point, Lucy even confesses that it is the family that first wins her heart.

 

Fiddler on the Roof DVD coverFiddler on the Roof

“And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix, preparing her to marry whomever Papa picks?  The daughters!”  Another family of five young women who need future providers enlists the services of a matchmaker and confronts conflicting ideas about what makes an ideal husband. At its core, the story is one of generational differences, big social changes, and whether there is room for love in making practical life choices.

 

Bride & Prejudice DVD coverBride & Prejudice 

Though we already mentioned Austen’s classic of five sisters who are pressured to find husbands, this Bollywood-style take is worth its own mention. As a bonus, the spin of modern-day young adults in India and the emphasis on compatibility of culture echo themes in Meet the Patels — yet with even more vibrant colors, rich culture, and romantic comedy tropes.

 

Ask for more suggestions online or stop by the Fiction/AV/Teen Services desk on the second floor!

Start Poetry Month With Pop Sonnets by Erik Didriksen

Pop Sonnets book coverNational Poetry Month begins April 1st! Gear up for the month with poetry that might sound more familiar than you’d think. If you ever wondered what Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” or Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” would sound like written as a Shakespearean sonnet, look no further than Pop Sonnets by Erik Didriksen. Didriksen breaks down popular songs throughout the years into five categories, Sonnets of Love, Sonnets of Despair, Songs of Time and Mortality, Rogues, Rascals, and Wanton Woman, and Ballads of Heroes, ultimately adding up to be a humorous, yet profound collection!

“–And thus, the rest is silence, save to say
that such a life was mine, lived all my way.”
Frank Sinatra, “My Way”