Book groups

I’m completely new to book groups, and now I am participating in two of them! One of them is the Slaves of Golconda, an online book group, for which I’ll be reading Muriel Spark soon, and the other is a brand new group — what should I call it — in-person? face-to-face? the regular, old-fashioned kind? the kind where you meet in someone’s house and have coffee and dessert? We’re starting small with my husband and me and one other couple, and if it goes well, we might expand it later. The idea is to keep things low-key and without any showing-off or intellectual posturing. For that reason, we’re being careful about whom to ask — we want it to be fun, and one person with the wrong attitude could throw the discussion off.

So our first book is Anne Tyler’s new novel Digging to America. I’m about 100 pages into it right now, and it’s a good read. Tyler is so very skilled at capturing family dynamics — the “little” interactions that aren’t little at all, but are the things that make up much of the substance of our lives. So far, the narrative has been a series of parties to celebrate the two little Korean babies two families — both American but one white and the other of Iranian descent — have adopted.

Now that I think about it, this structure is remarkably similar to Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Line of Beauty (which I posted on here), in a funny kind of way, since the novels are in most cases very, very different. But Hollinghurst’s novel, too, was basically a series of parties one after the other, which offers an author a chance to bring a whole bunch of characters together and have them interact in ways that reveal who the characters are and move the plot along. And both novels chart the intersections between politics and family life. Tyler so far hasn’t given nearly as much political detail as Hollinghurst did, but it’s there for both of them — in Hollinghurst’s case, it’s Thatcherite Britain, and for Tyler, it’s the political and religious upheaval in Iran. And both novelists give exquisite detail about tone of voice, significant looks, hurt feelings, “friendly” competition and aggression, unexpected alliances.

And a bit of satire too — Tyler’s novel is funny in places, especially about Bitsy and Brad, the “all-American” couple, Bitsy a hippy type with very strong opinions about how children should be raised and no fear about sharing them. In an early scene Bitsy and Brad have a “raking party” where they invite the other family over to help them rake the lawn. Hmmm. Should I start holding “housecleaning parties”? Yeah, friends, come on over and help scrub the kitchen floor! If you’re lucky, you’ll get to clean the toilet! It’ll be great fun!!

Anyway, more on Tyler later.

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