Book Club Unbound 2014 Reading List Revealed!

Remember that we were exchanging books for Christmas this year? And that the books we gifted are our choices for this coming year? Check out Holiday Gift Exchange–Book Club Style here.

We decided to spin a bottle to decide who got to open the next book. We also decided that we would read the books in the order that they were opened, and that the person who chose the book would host that month.

Okay, the books! We were all as excited as kids getting new toys. Really. Because books are so much better than toys!

And these are some really great books…

TheCuriosity by Stephen P Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P Kiernan – Dana

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – Koree

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett – Tonya

Open House by Elizabeth Berg

Open House by Elizabeth Berg – Allegra

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden – Lizette

The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe  – Rebecca

The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Erin

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – Rochelle

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – Leah

The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson

The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson – Maria

Which one are you most excited to read?

Holiday Gift Exchange–Book Club Style

When we get together next week, we will be bringing a wrapped book to exchange. Not just any book, though!. We are wrapping up our reading selections for the upcoming year, and exchanging them for gifts.

book club gift exchange idea


It’s Leah’s idea, and we all love it! What a fun way to reveal our reading list. I hope someone brings We Are Water by Wally Lamb. She’s Come Undone is one of my favourite books.

We will list our selections as soon as we unwrap them.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb



Mental spring cleaning

[This one was written by our esteemed Leah J. I’m just the humble poster — Erin]

I find myself taking stock in April – a little mental spring cleaning, if you like. So I’ve been thinking about our book club project – asking our favorite authors to suggest their desert island book choices.

I asked Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, to suggest a book that makes her happy. Her suggestion was an older book named Happy All the Time — a sketch about life in New York City in the early seventies. The book reminded me a bit of Jane Austen’s style of story writing, very character driven. And yet, as much as I loved and emulated many ideas from The Happiness Project, I didn’t love Happy All The Time. It was an interesting book, but not one I would have picked up in a bookstore. I just didn’t have a connection to any of the characters – upper class New Yorkers struggling with keeping up appearances.

But it really made me think that how we interact with books is such a unique experience. Asking authors for their favorite book almost leaves out half the story. What were they doing when they read the book? What does it remind them of? Is there a favorite passage they reread to take them back to a moment in time? Did their choice influence their writing?

We were lucky to have Hal Wake at a recent meeting, where we could share his memories of his book choice. Although I found the book Not Wanted on the Voyage difficult and cumbersome to read, I found his memories of discovering the book exciting, interesting and much more enlightening than the book itself.

Although I still hated the book, I grew to respect his choice.

So I look forward to reaching the end of this challenge and getting back to reading books recommended by our members and sharing their intimate and initial reactions to a fresh choice. It’s good to clean house once in awhile, but I will have a new appreciation for getting the whole story behind our book recommendations.

Celebrity Book Club, Part Deux: Ark Party

By Allegra M

Recently our book club voted to shake things up a bit. Each member agreed to approach someone in the literary community and ask them to choose our monthly book selection.

I invited Hal Wake to choose his desert island pick, and facilitate our discussion about Not Wanted on the Voyage, written by the late author and Canadian literary institution, Timothy Findley.

Why did I choose Hal? As many of you already know, Hal was the book producer for the iconic CBC’s Morningside with Peter Gzowski; host of the CBC’s The Early Edition, and is presently the Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival.

Yet despite his notable accomplishments and contributions to Canadian literary culture and broadcasting history, Hal is one of the most generous, down-to-earth and warm-hearted people I know.

Hal fastidiously prepared for our book club and put a tremendous amount of thought into making this a very special night for us. With unparalleled generosity and humility he shared his personal and professional experiences with the late author, and offered an insightful analysis of the literary, cultural and socio-political references that layer the story. We even held the original copy of the script Hal prepared for Gzowski’s interview with Findley. How cool is that!

In honor of our guest and in celebration of the biblical theme, we decorated Maria’s home with stuffed animals, in pairs when possible. We even managed to dig up a locust and two unicorns. The food was outstanding, as always, with a mouth-watering array of cheeses, dates with honey, roasted lamb with figs, various casseroles, breads, and angel food cake and rose water pudding for desert.

Of course, what would book club be without the wine? Although, we made every effort to secure Lebanese wines, we settled for Israeli Kocher wine; it was the only middle-eastern wine carried by our local Liquor Store. Perhaps your book club may have better luck in that department…

This evening was a highlight for me, and there are many book club highlights to choose from. Hal, thank you so much for your kindness; you made us feel so special. We ADORE you!

like Alice in Wonderland

Hi – well, I jumped in and committed to posting here because I love my book-club and am interested in this online version of us. I spent much of the past 4 years doing an online degree, and was surprised by how intimate the online format was. . .

And I forgot, until now, what a horror it can be for me to navigate a new online platform!

Trying to take the first step, to figure out how to find the WordPress site was a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole. If someone doesn’t supply me a link – thanks Erin for doing so! – I would stay lost in the virtual woods and possibly not even find the hole.

Luckily Erin supplied the go-go gadget link, and now I find myself down here in a Wonderland of the Blog world (i think that’s what this is – I know the word, but don’t really understand what it means in practical, applied terms. Alas, another collateral consequence of doing a theory degree – I can’t actually do anything : )

Anyway, my hope was to post something that somehow linked and connected to other posts by my dear fellow book-clubbers, but alas, when I try to find them and read them all I can access is a page listing  “Title, Author, Keywords”. I’m looking forward to learning what a Keyword is. . . and can see that the next learning curve on my horizon is to learn how to open existing posts so I can read them. Apparently the Blog world, like my degree, is full of an insider knowledge – in this case, how to use things like a blog site like this one. I would have thought the somewhat universal principles of posting and opening documents would apply (double click on the title and it opens), but that experiment resulted in failure.

Okay, so what’s the point of this ramble and winge about being a blog illiterate? Not much, but to say something rather than nothing, I guess I’m just fascinated how the best of intentions can be hi-jacked by simply not being in-the-know, and by the challenge that closing this knowledge gap can be. And grateful for the support offered by Erin to get us going by providing help finding this site and learning how to post. After all the whining, I did it : )

Book Club Suggestion: Choose Books Outside of Your “Comfort Zone”

Looking for book club suggestions on great novels to read?

… Here’s a friendly tip: don’t feel like you always need to pull your books out of the same literary hat.

For example, just because your book club has enjoyed reading and discussing literary novels that usually get nominated for the Booker, Giller, or Pulitzer prizes, that doesn’t mean you have to opt for contemporary high-brow literature every single month.

At Book Club Unbound, some of our most energetic and stimulating discussions have resulted when we’ve gone outside our “comfort zone” to choose books that are totally different than the books we would normally choose to read.

For example, some recent “outside of the box” book club suggestions  that have been generated great discussions have been…

  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel tells the powerful, funny, and heartbreaking story about a young Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution. This might seem like bleak subject matter for a graphic novel but Satrapi’s bold black and white illustrations often portray far more about the surreal dichotomy between Satrapi’s liberal home life and the increasingly brutal authoritarian regime cracking down on her nation than words could ever express.

  • The Dirt by Motley Crue. You might think that the whiskey-soaked tale of a boozing, whoring, drug-taking quartet of glam-rock stars who turned debauchery of epic proportions into an art form wouldn’t hold much attraction for a group of refined, erudite, and well-spoken ladies such as ourselves….

    You might think that, but you’d be wrong. This surprisingly well-written rock ‘n roll autobiography made for an interesting read and an even more compelling conversation as we related our own experiences with Motley Crue’s music and recounted the ways in which we too “shouted at the devil” during our salad days.

  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyers. Yes, you can argue that this story of Bella and her sparkly vampire love, Edward, is poorly written and features a hackneyed, predictable plot that does great injustice to the whole vampire genre. But the fact remains that the story has huge appeal for girls and women aged 11 and up, and has spawned one of the most successful book and movie franchises of the 21st century.

     Plus,  because many of us have “tweenaged” daughters we thought it would be a good idea to check out the book to see what all the fuss was about. And the resulting discussion was spirited and often hilarious (and of course devolved into a fierce debate over which type of monster made the best supernatural lover. Team Werewolf represent!).

… Those are just a few examples of the types of “outside of the box” book club suggestions that have resulted in spirited and memorable book club discussions. We have also read nonfiction books that represent different philosophical viewpoints across the whole “liberal/conservative” spectrum as well as books that fall squarely into genres that the majority of us don’t tend to read, such as science fiction. And while we don’t always *love* the book that was chosen, the discussion that results is almost always thought-provoking and fun.

So the next time it’s your turn to make the monthly book club suggestion, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and choose a a different kind of reading experience for your book club.

… Do you have any other suggestions for great book club choices? If so, please leave them in the comments. We’re always on the lookout for new books to read!

Book Club Tip: Bring Yummy Food!

Our book club spends equal time eating and discussing, and ever since our first meeting about five years ago, the food has been as diverse as our personalities. The person who hosts usually provides several dishes, but other members often bring something too…a former member was known for her big trays of homemade humous, roasted nuts, good dark  chocolate and fresh fruit. (We miss you, Suzanne. Come back!)

Some other highlights are the delectable baked goods made by our two French-food-loving members, local prawns with melted garlic butter, curries,  latkes, homemade truffles, dips and salsas of all kinds, every possible combination of cheese and crackers, homemade pizza…I could go on.

We have never been firm about sticking with themes but we always end up with at least one dish or drink that represents the country the book takes place in or a running theme. A few examples are:

Groaning cake, a special cake made for women in labour or right after the birth of a child, was brought to our meeting for Ami McKay’s The Birth House.

Licorice babies on skewers, courtesy of Dana W (still funny…you will be hearing a lot about these). Nobody else could really think of a theme for The Road. What do you bring to a post-apocalyptic, the-world-has-turned-to-ash-and-there-is-no-more-food kind of potluck? Maybe a few dented rusty cans of beans?

Slivovitz, a plum brandy common in Bosnia, was served when we did Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo. (It was kind of gross. Perhaps it is an acquired taste)

Jack Daniels (what else?) for Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, which Dana O fashioned into some lovely martinis.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some good ones…guys? What were your favourites?

Anyway, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cause stress. We don’t delegate food responsibilities or worry about who should bring what yet we have never, without fail, had a meeting that didn’t have a fantastic selection of amazing food.

Searching for Our Inner Mötley

Last spring, book club took a refreshing break from what had been a run of fairly heavy, serious books. It was Dana O’s pick and she kindly offered up Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt.

A few members weren’t so keen on reading about the squalid pasts of drunken, coked-out, aging rock stars. But, oh well. We have a policy that we’re expected to read whatever choice we’re given. That’s one of the joys of book club…if you hate the book you get to curse the person who chose it while you’re reading it and then curse her in person at the meeting.

As we started the book there was a small flurry of Mötley mentions on some of our Facebook statuses. The first one I saw was by Dana O herself. It just said “Boys are gross.” Sure, I thought. Everyone knows that. And then I started reading.

Gross doesn’t even begin to cover it. The narcissistic, sex-obsessed, drunken boys at the beginning of the story morphed into four men who were so driven to excess they had to actually work at thinking up new levels of debauchery. What do you do when you’ve had sex with countless women in every possible way? You…wait, no, I can’t say that on here. Let’s just say they got creative.

So rock and roll, drugs, alcohol, women who would do ANYTHING the band wanted (and they wanted weird stuff) and crazy clashing egos…what on earth would the theme be for our book club appetizers?

We decided that it would be fun to dress up like 80s groupies for the meeting, so we hauled out our old tight jeans and short skirts, scrunched up our hair and found the highest-heeled, pointiest shoes we could. Well, some of us did. A few (okay, one, but I’m not naming any names…Dana W ) opted to go for the classy, clean-cut 2010 version of a rock and roll groupie, in that she dressed pretty much exactly like she usually does.  But most of us went all out.

It was a great meeting, yet somehow we never really tapped into our own Mötley-ness. Maybe we should have trashed Dana O’s lovely house and danced in our stilettos on her coffee table. Instead we sat around in a fairly civilized manner, drank JD martinis, talked about the parts of the book we found particularly disgusting (mine was…never mind, I probably can’t say that on here. But for book clubbers, just think Nikki, morning, blood on face), tapped our feet to the Mötley Crüe soundtrack and discussed the merits of the book.

There were some, actually. It was a fast, interesting read, there were four distinct voices and the author—none of us bought that it was really written exclusively by the guys—managed to make us feel empathy for most of the band members despite their icky behaviour.

The wildest thing we did that night was go around and confess our own “Mötley” moments from the past…but sorry, I can’t tell you those either. Unfortunately, we’ve all been sworn to secrecy.

Book Club Tip: Set a Date and STICK TO IT

book club tip - stick with the dateIf you want to run an effective, vibrant book club, one of the most important pieces of advice we can give you is this:  pick a particular date or date each month — and then stick with it no matter what.

For example, choose the first Wednesday of every month, or the third Tuesday. Decide at your very first meeting which day works best for everyone, and then set that day in stone.

If one or two members can’t make it that day on a particular month, then that’s too bad, but that doesn’t mean you should try and reschedule. Not every member is going to be able to attend every book club meeting. That’s inevitable. And if you constantly change the date to accommodate everyone’s changing schedule, months could go by without any meetings taking place at all. And that’s no good.

So ladies… what day works best for you?

(Seriously, members of Book Club Unbound… What day DOES work best for you? Are we still going to be meeting the third Thursday of every month or did someone mention moving it forward during the last meeting?)