277 books in 31 years… and counting!

In 1983 my wife and I, together with four other couples, started a book club. We are still meeting monthly, 10 months every year, to share our lives and our food and our experiences of reading stimulating books.

At 77, I’m the oldest. My wife, still in her sixties, is the youngest. We all still live in the same city and have no intention of slowing down.

Every book we’ve read over those 31 years is listed below. There are separate categories for fiction and nonfiction, plus an article I wrote while reflecting on what makes us work so well as a club.

These lists were last updated in February 2014. Please bookmark this page and come back any time for the newest version.

Enjoy, and feel free to contact me to learn more – or to suggest a book!

Intentionally, none of my own books have made it onto this list, but you may enjoy checking those out as well. See my practical autobiography, my travel writing, or my home page to learn more.

 

Author Title Genre Date discussed
Mitch Albom Tuesdays with Morrie biography Jul 2004
Ayaan Hirsi Ali Nomad autobiography May 2011
Alan Axelrod & Charles Phillips What Everyone Should Know about the 20th Century: 200 Events That Shaped the World modern history Dec 2002
Don Bailey & Bob Hinderley, eds. Best Canadian Christmas Stories Christmas Dec 2013
Robert Banks The Tyranny of Time: When 24 Hours Is Not Enough Christian life Feb 1988
Matthew Barrett et al. If You Love This Country: Fifteen Voices for a Unified Canada Canadian politics Jan 1996
Pierre Berton The National Dream and The Last Spike Canadian history Feb 2006
Reginald W. Bibby Fragmented Gods: The Poverty and Potential of Religion in Canada Canadian religious life Mar 1990
Neil Bissoondath Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada Canadian politics May 1995
Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson The One Minute Manager business Jan 1986
Christie Blatchford Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army military Sep 2011
Erma Bombeck If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? humour Apr 2001
Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity Christian life Sep 1997
Barry Broadfoot Years of Sorrow, Years of Shame: The Story of the Japanese Canadians in World War I Canadian history Nov 1988
Bill Bryson A Short History of Nearly Everything world history Apr 2008
Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill In the Presence of My Enemies missionary biography Oct 2003
Fox Butterfield China: Alive in the Bitter Sea Chinese history Nov 1987
Jack Canfield et al. Chicken Soup for the Father’s Soul: Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Fathers stories – family Dec 2001
Paul Chamberlain Can We Be Good Without God?: A Conversation About Truth, Morality, Culture, and a Few Other Things That Matter apologetics Aug 1996
Paul Chamberlain Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith apologetics Nov 2011
Noam Chomsky What Uncle Sam Really Wants political philosophy Dec 1997
Denise Chong The Concubine’s Children: Portrait of a Family Divided biography May 1997
Michael Clarke, ed. Canada: Portraits of Faith biography Nov 1998
Stephen R. Covey The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic success psychology Nov 1994
David Cruise The Great Adventure: How the Mounties Conquered the West Canadian history Dec 1998
Constance Cumbey The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism popular theology Mar 1984
Roald Dahl Going Solo autobiography May 1990
Romeo Dallaire with Major Brent Beardsley Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda African history Mar 2005
Bronwyn Drainie My Jerusalem: Secular Adventures in the Holy City travel/religion Jun 1996
Ken Dryden In School: Our Kids, Our Teachers, Our Classrooms education Feb 1998
Nancy Dubler & David Nimmons Ethics on Call: A Medical Ethicist Shows How to Take Charge of Life-and-Death Choices ethics Feb 1995
Freeman Dyson Disturbing the Universe autobiography May 2013
Howard Engel The Man Who Forgot to Read autobiography Oct 2009
Bruce Feiler Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion travel/religion Mar 2010
Will Ferguson Bastards and Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present Canadian history Mar 2002
Will Ferguson Why I Hate Canadians humour Jun 1999
David K. Foot with Daniel Stoffman Boom, Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift economic forecasting Oct 1997
Viktor E. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning success psychology Apr 2007
Brigette Gabriel Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America political philosophy Jun 2008
William D. Gairdner The Trouble with Canada Canadian politics Jan 1991
Joe Garner Never Fly Over an Eagle’s Nest Canadian history Apr 1988
Malcolm Gladwell Outliers: The Story of Success economic forecasting Apr 2009
Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference social values Jan 2007
Paul Goetze Never Alone! autobiography Nov 2009
George Grant The Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present social values Jun 1996
Michael Grant Jesus biography Sep 2005
Michel Gratton French Canadians: An Insider’s Outside Look at Quebec Canadian history Nov 1993
John Gray Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus psychology Oct 1996
Sean Griffin, ed. Fighting Heritage: Highlights of the 1930s Struggle for Jobs and Militant Unionism in British Columbia Canadian history Jul 1995
Jerome Groopman How Doctors Think medical ethics Dec 2007
James D. Gwartney & Richard L. Stroup What Everyone Should Know about Economics and Prosperity economics Oct 1994
Ron Hall & Denver Moore Same Kind of Different As Me memoir Jan 2013
Paul Hellyer The Evil Empire: Globalization’s Darker Side Canadian economic policy May 1998
Lawrence Hill Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada Canadian race relations Jun 2002
Laura Hillenbrand Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption history Jun 2012
Gertrude Himmelfarb The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values social values Feb 1997
Dilip Hiro Islamic Fundamentalism political philosophy Jan 1989
Richmond P. Hobson, Jr. Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent exploration Oct 1991
Dave Hunt & T. A. McMahon The Seduction of Christianity: Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days Christian life May 1986
Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs biographyy Sep 2012
Stuart Isacoff Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization music history Dec 2003
Grant R. Jeffrey The Millennium Meltdown: The Year 2000 Computer Crisis eschatology Mar 1999
Anneliese Jeske All Roads Lead to Home autobiography Apr 2012
Rhoda Janzen Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home memoir Dec 2010
Herant Katchadourian Midlife in Perspective: 50 lifestyle issues Sep 1995
Garrison Keillor Lake Wobegon Days autobiography May 1987
Elizabeth Suderman Klassen Trailblazer for the Brethren biography May 1991
Tim LaHaye How to Manage Pressure Before Pressure Manages You Christian life Feb 1986
Joyce Landorf Morning Song Christian life Oct 1984
Alfred Lansing Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage biography – adventure Mar 2011
Madeleine L’Engle The Summer of the Great-Grandmother biography Sep 1998
Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything economics Feb 2008
C. S. Lewis A Grief Observed memoir Jan 2001
Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett A House in the Sky memoir Nov 2013
Jonathan Lopez The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han Van Meegeren art history May 2010
Ervin Austin MacDonald The Rainbow Chasers autobiography Oct 1989
Lloyd Mackey Like Father, Like Son: Ernest & Preston Manning biography Jan 1998
Lloyd Mackey The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper biography Apr 2006
James & Rowena Mahar Too Many to Mourn: One Family’s Tragedy in the Halifax Explosion biography Dec 2000
Preston Manning The New Canada Canadian politics Jun 1992
Preston Manning Think Big Canadian politics Nov 2003
Sandra Martz If I Had My Life to Live Over I Would Pick More Daisies autobiography Apr 1999
Adrienne Mason West Coast Adventures: Shipwrecks, Lighthouses, and Rescues Along Canada’s West Coast Canadian history Mar 2009
Peter Mayle A Year in Provence travel memoir Mar 2000
Alan Loy McGinnis The Friendship Factor: How to Get Closer to the People You Care For human relationships Apr 1993
Frank McCourt Angela’s Ashes memoir Dec 1999
Michael Medved Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values popular culture / ethics Jun 1993
Elizabeth Mehren Born Too Soon: The Extraordinary True Story of One Infant’s Fight to Survive medical ethics Apr 1994
Orville J. & Dorothy R. Messenger Borrowed Time: A Surgeon’s Struggle with Transfusion-Induced AIDS biography Jun 1995
Joyce Milgaard with Peter Edwards A Mother’s Story: The Fight to Free My Son David Canadian jurisprudence Apr 2000
Keith Miller The Taste of New Wine Christian life May 1984
Virginia Mollencott Women, Men, and the Bible Christian thought Apr 1986
Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time education Apr 2010
Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran memoir May 2005
John Naisbitt Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives the future Jan 1985
Adam Nicolson God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible literary history ?
Eric Nicol Girdle Me a Globe humour Feb 2012
Carol S. North Welcome, Silence: My Triumph over Schizophrenia mental illness Dec 1989
Michael Ondaatje Running in the Family autobiography Jan 1995
Jimmy Pattison with Paul Grescoe Jimmy: An Autobiography autobiography Jun 1988
Orhan Pamuk Istanbul: Memories and the City memoir Jan 2012
Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow The Last Lecture autobiography Nov 2008
Jim Peron Exploding Population Myths popular culture / ethics Feb 1996
Tom Peters & Robert Waterman In Search of Excellence business Nov 1984
Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values popular culture / ethics Sep 1993
Pope John Paul II Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium Christian thought Jun 2005
John Powell Why Am I Afraid to Love human relationships Jan 1988
Dan Quayle Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir biography Mar 1996
Billy Romp with Wanda Urbanska Christmas on Jane Street memoir Dec 2006
Gretchen Rubin The Happiness Project memoir Dec 2011
Jeff Rubin Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization economics Dec 2009
Albert A. Runge A Brooklyn Jew Meets Jesus: The Life and Ministry of Albert Abram Runge autobiography Nov 2007
Oliver Sacks An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales neurology Jan 1997
Jean P. Sasson Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia biography Apr 1998
Ulrich Schaffer Greater Than Our Hearts: Prayers and Reflections poetry Jun 1984
Gail Sheehy Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life Christian life Sep 1989
Tom Sine The Mustard Seed Conspiracy Christian life May 1985
Melvin H. Smith Our Home or Native Land? What Governments’ Aboriginal Policy Is Doing to Canada Canadian government policy Nov 1995
Rodney Stark The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success political philosophy Nov 2006
Mark Steyn America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It political philosophy Oct 2008
Carsten Stroud Contempt of Court: The Betrayal of Justice in Canada Canadian criminal justice Oct 1993
Molyda Szymusiac The Stones Cry Out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975-80 autobiography May 2007
Scott Taylor & Brian Nolan Tarnished Brass: Crime and Corruption in the Canadian Military Canadian military history Nov 1997
John Marks Templeton Worldwide Laws of Life: 200 Eternal Spiritual Principles Christian life Jan 1999
Paul Tournier The Adventure of Living Christian life Dec 1986
Stefan Ulstein Growing Up Fundamentalist: Journeys in Legalism and Grace fundamentalism Sep 1996
Dennis Waitley Seeds of Greatness: The Ten Best-Kept Secrets of Total Success success psychology Apr 1985
David Warren Essays on Our Times: Church and Mosque and State; Wrestling with Islam; The War in Iraq current events May 2003
Jeanette Walls The Glass Castle memoir Feb 2013
Rudy Wiebe Of This Earth memoir Mar 2014
Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary biography Jan 2000
Peter Wright with Paul Greengrass Spy Catcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer autobiography Sep 1990
Ronald Wright A Short History of Progress history of civilization Jan 2005
Philip Yancey What’s So Amazing About Grace? Christian thought Oct 1999
Mosab Hassan Yousef Son of Hamas autobiography Jan 2011
Ravi Zacharias Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message Christian thought Sep 2001
Ravi Zacharias A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism Christian thought Feb 1991

 

Author Title Date discussed
Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart Mar 1986
Jeffrey Archer Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less Feb 2000
Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale Oct 1986
Jane Austen Persuasion May 1992
William Badke Saluso’s Game Nov 1996
Shauna Singh Baldwin What the Body Remembers May 2001
Joseph Bayly The Gospel Blimp Apr 1984
Joseph Bayly Winterflight Feb 1989
David Bergen The Time In Between Mar 2006
Maeve Binchy The Lilac Bus Mar 1993
Sandra Birdsell The Russlander Nov 2004
Max Braithwaite Never Sleep Three in a Bed Apr 1995
Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre Mar 2007
Dan Brown The Da Vinci Code Feb 2005
Christopher Buckley The White House Mess Dec 1994
Morley Callaghan A Time for Judas Mar 1987
Koonchung Chan The Fat Years May 2012
G. K. Chesterton Father Brown Feb 2001
G. K. Chesterton “Woman” and “The Mad Official” Dec 1993
Joan Clark Latitudes of Melt Feb 2009
Harlan Cobden Tell No One Apr 2002
Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness Dec 1987
Jill Ker Conway The Road from Coorain Apr 1992
Hugh Cook “Cracked Wheat” and Other Stories Oct 1990
Margaret Craven I Heard the Owl Call My Name Nov 1992
Michael Crummey River Thieves Nov 2005
Roald Dahl Charlie and the Chocolate Factory May 1990
Achmat Dangor Bitter Fruit Sep 2008
Robertson Davies The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks May 1989
Frank Parker Day Rockbound Apr 2005
Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment Mar 1994
Kim Edwards The Memory Keeper’s Daughter Jun 2007
George Eliot Silas Marner Jan 2002
Will Ferguson 419 Oct 2013
Timothy Findlay The Piano Man’s Daughter Jul 2003
Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary Nov 2002
Ken Follett Pillars of the Earth Jun 2009
E. M. Forster A Passage to India Dec 1985
John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman Jun 1989
Jonathan Franzen Freedom Feb 2011
Charles Frazier Cold Mountain Nov 2000
Kate Furnivall The Jewel of St. Petersburg Oct 2010
Diana Gabaldon Outlander Mar 1998
Lisa Genova Still Alice Apr 2011
Camilla Gibb Sweetness in the Belly Feb 2007
Arthur Golden Memoirs of a Geisha Jan 2006
Leona Gom Housebroken Apr 1989
Graham Greene The End of the Affair Sep 2000
Philippa Gregory The Red Queen Nov 2012
John Grisham The Brethren ?
John Grisham The Summons Apr 2003
John Grisham The Testament Jun 2000
Sara Gruen Water for Elephants May 2008
Jane Hamilton A Map of the World Jun 2001
John A. & Michael J. Haskett The Day B.C. Quit Canada Mar 2004
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter Sep 2007
Elizabeth Hay Late Nights on Air May 2009
Urgula Hegi Stones from the River Jan 2003
Ernest Hemingway “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Other Stories May 1988
Herman Hesse Siddhartha Apr 1987
Lawrence Hill The Book of Negroes Jan 2010
Alice Hoffman The Dovekeepers Feb 2014
Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner Oct 2005
Khaled Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns Jan 2008
Helen Humphreys The Lost Garden Oct 2002
John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany Oct 1995
P. D. James Death in Holy Orders Mar 2003
P. D. James Original Sin Jun 1998
Lloyd Jones Mister Pip Sep 2010
William Kennedy Ironweed Mar 1988
Philip Kerr Dark Matter May 2004
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible Nov 1999
Vincent Lam Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures Feb 2010
Margaret Laurence The Stone Angel Sep 1991
Mary Lawson Crow Lake Jan 2009
Stephen Leacock Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town Oct 1985
Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird Dec 1995
C. S. Lewis Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold Nov 1991
George MacDonald The Curate’s Awakening Nov 1985
Hugh MacLennan The Watch That Ends the Night Sep 1992
Alistair MacLeod No Great Mischief Oct 2001
Naguib Mahfouz The Beggar Jan 2004
Yann Martel Life of Pi ?
Stuart MacLean Extreme Vinyl Cafe Nov 2010
James A. Michener The Novel Jan 1994
Arthur Miller The Crucible Sep 1988
W. O. Mitchell Ladybug, Ladybug Feb 1990
W. O. Mitchell Who Has Seen the Wind? Feb 1987
Brian Moore The Luck of Ginger Coffey Dec 1988
Lisa Moore February Sep 2013
Toni Morrison Song of Solomon Mar 1997
Farley Mowat The Black Joke Mar 2012
John J. Nance Pandora’s Clock Apr 1997
Michael Ondaatje The Cat’s Table Oct 2011
Michael Ondaatje In the Skin of a Lion Feb 2003
George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-four Feb 1984
Alan Paton Cry, the Beloved Country Jan 1992
Richard North Patterson Protect and Defend Sep 2004
Frank E. Peretti This Present Darkness Jan 1990
Ellis Peters The Heretic’s Apprentice Oct 1992
Chaim Potok The Chosen Oct 1988
Kate Pullinger The Mistress of Nothing Jun 2011
Erich M. Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front Jan 1987
Mordecai Richler The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Mar 1995
Mordecai Richler Barney’s Version Sep 1999
Marilynne Robinson Gilead May 2006
J. K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Feb 2002
Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things May 2000
Edward Rutherfurd The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga Oct 2004
J. D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye Jun 1994
Dorothy L. Sayers Gaudy Night Dec 2005
Carol Shields The Stone Diaries Apr 1996
Carol Shields Unless Sep 2002
Anita Shreve The Pilot’s Wife Oct 2000
Graeme Simsion The Rosie Project Jan 2014
M.L. Stedman The Light Between Oceans Apr 2013
Paul St. Pierre Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse Nov 1986
Paul St. Pierre Smith and Other Events: Tales of the Chilcotin Sep 2009
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Nov 1990
John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath Feb 1992
Kathryn Stockett The Help Jun 2010
Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom’s Cabin Dec 1984
Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub Jun 1987
Amy Tan The Joy Luck Club Jan 1993
Reah Tannahill Fatal Majesty: The Drama of Mary Queen of Scots May 1999
Timothy Taylor Stanley Park Feb 2004
Miriam Toews A Complicated Kindness Oct 2006
Leo Tolstoy The Death of Ivan Ilych Feb 1993
Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Sep 2006
Barry Unsworth Morality Play Jun 2006
Leon Uris The Haj Sep 1986
Leon Uris Trinity Sep 1987
Jane Urquhart Away Feb 1999
Jane Urquhart The Stone Carvers Nov 2001
Guy Vanderhaeghe The Last Crossing Apr 2004
Various authors selected children’s books Mar 2013
Various authors selected Harlequin romances Dec 2012
Rudy Wiebe The Blue Mountains of China Feb 1985
Robert J. Wiersema Before I Wake Oct 2007
William P. Young et al. The Shack Dec 2008

The following piece was first published in November 2010. Thanks to my bookclub friends for critiquing an earlier version, and to Steve Rudy for the consequent revision.

Download or print this article

 

 

Guidelines for successful book clubs

Since 1983 my wife and I have been members of a book club. We are one of five couples who are currently reading our 243rd book together. In recent days I have had the opportunity to clarify my own understanding of our club’s success and longevity, and thought it could be useful to share some of my insights with others who may be thinking of starting reading groups of their own.

 

1. A working book club is BOTH literary and social. Don’t neglect either.

I’ve heard that some clubs run into trouble when some members expect to discuss the book in depth and others expect a free-ranging social evening instead. Neither expectation is wrong! But problems come when someone wants one OR the other, not the obvious combination of both.

Our club has found it most useful to alternate homes for our monthly meetings and to share some food together at the beginning of each meeting, either a potluck supper or a dessert (in alternating months). We are able to catch up on each other’s lives and enjoy each other’s excellent cooking. Then, once well fed and socially lubricated, we can launch into the book discussion with improved focus.

It’s generally worked best when the host couple doesn’t have to lead the discussion. That way the hosts can concentrate on food and hospitality without the distraction of planning the book discussion, and the discussion leaders can concentrate on inspiring ideas without worrying about cooking.

These people are not my oldest friends (I’m over 70 and still have friends from my childhood with whom I keep in touch), but of the local friends I interact with regularly, they’re by far the most consistent, reliable, and meaningful. We’ve brought this on ourselves with regular meetings and clear purpose. And as such, they’re there to help me, and I them, when there’s a need – like an illness, for example, when the rest of us quickly find out and pitch in with food and other support.

 

2. When picking books, get recommendations from others, but trust your instincts.

Last week, I selected the latest book of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café stories for our club’s next meeting – without even looking at the title. It turned out that McLean was signing books at my local Costco store that day, exactly the day I was hunting for a book, and both he and his producer turned out to be kind, gracious professionals, generous with their time and patient with my aging memory as I scoured my brain for one of the couples’ names – yes, despite having known them for 27 years. Did I mention my age? (The memory tip that finally worked, courtesy of S.McL., was: Picture the house they live in.) I walked away with a big smile and five* autographed books, each happily received at the next meeting.

It’s not worth pretending that moments like this just fall out of the sky, but I think we can make ourselves especially poised to recognize and act on them as much as possible. It may be a simple matter of paying close attention to our environments and keeping sufficiently open minds.

Generally, I like to work out my ideas with other people. My preference to collaborate may, significantly, have been a product of my engineering background, but it also partially explains why I enjoy book club so much and why I am so happy that all four of my well-educated children married readers and are raising a new generation of young readers. Book reviews are just a phone call or email away for me. My son-in-law in particular, who has taught university writing and is currently helping me with my writing, has the useful habit of suggesting books as he thinks of them, so even though his last few suggestions left me underwhelmed (and later grateful for the inspiration at Costco), I’m eager to hear what he comes up with next.

In summary: Find sources you trust and keep going to them. These could be friends or family who have similar tastes to yours, or book reviewers in print or on the web, or the staff and fellow shoppers at your favourite bookstore. You may find other book clubs to be an especially good source.

But keep in mind that the final decision is yours. Certain books just feel right. You’ll know. (And trust others to use their intuition as well when choosing books; this leads to stimulating variety.)

*Related advice: When it’s your turn to buy books, buy copies for everyone. Though we didn’t start out this way, the principle is self-explanatory, once you think about it.

 

3. Be willing to talk about yourself.

We recently read a book set in St. Petersburg, Russia, a city that two of the couples had visited this year. My wife and I hosted the meeting, for which she prepared Russian borscht and Polish bigos and I compiled a set of photos of Russia to be shown as an automatic slideshow on our living-room HDTV.

As usual, our discussion was stimulating, invigorating, and sometimes emotional. Soon after we examined the book’s literary context (it was the first part of a trilogy but written last), some of us contributed personal contexts as well – in my case, not just stories from recent travels in Russia but also my own father’s experience as a child when he was exiled to Saratov, Russia, and experienced there some of the suffering described in the novel we’d read. My wife had even more to say: three of her father’s siblings died in the freezing boxcars taking them to frozen Russia, and the dead children had to be hidden under the straw in the railroad car for fear the authorities would separate the surviving family.

The rest of the club members had not personally lived through such conflicts and migrations, and so stood to gain from the perspective we contributed. Likewise, the others’ lives have granted them perspectives that I don’t have on my own but am always grateful to borrow.

Everyone has something different to offer, and to hold back just because your own experience seems too subjective is to deny your companions the enlightening connections they might make between their own experiences and yours. Trust your friends to filter out your prejudice, your blindness, your limitations, and to find the general human truth in a well-told specific personal story or opinion.

There’s a related key point: respect the privacy of your fellow members; respect what is told to you in confidence; respect the right of others to control the audience for what they privately and personally share. I recently relearned this in a hard and surprising way, when I circulated a more personally revealing (and more specifically narrative) version of this piece to the rest of the club for advice. Expecting praise or at least encouragement for my sincere boasts about my friends, I received instead a unanimous rebuke questioning the “appropriateness” and even the very purpose of my passionate words. Without going into too much embarrassing detail, the lesson I relearned, which I’m now passing on to you, is that “What happens in book club, stays in book club” – these, the words of a friend whose name I’ve respectfully withheld.

 

4. Be willing to talk about the issues of the day, even if disagreement is inevitable.

In our first meeting in 1983 we (all ten of us, the same five couples as today) watched the film Gandhi, which had recently come out on video, at our home. My personal journal for that day records my reflections on the film’s complicated messages about the power of protest and the fragility of peace, inspired no doubt by the discussion with new friends.

On the same page of my diary I mention the general strike that was breaking out all across British Columbia that year in protest against the provincial government’s fiscally conservative “Restraint” policies. It was an interesting comparison to Gandhi’s practice of non-violent non-cooperation, and a reminder to me now that the free exchange of ideas that book clubs encourage can have simultaneously local and global relevance. Our club has never shied away from the topical, and has been enriched over and over again by close interaction with the significant issues of the day.

Over the decades that followed, continued labour disputes would pit two of our members against each other, but only once (the first time) was it necessary to cancel our regular monthly meeting. After that, our differences created a benefit, not a threat, to our shared reading and thinking together.

A “first-rate intelligence,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, is marked by “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” The same intellectual character may also identify book clubs likely to survive many years: the ability to function well despite, or in many cases because of, individual oppositions. A mature community of readers and thinkers need not take others’ agreement for granted; rather, even among friends, we strive to earn agreement – and when this is not possible, we give and receive respectful disagreement.

 

5. Look for ways to follow up with authors and texts.

The Stuart McLean book was an obvious choice for me: I enjoy his radio program, as do many of the other members, and I enjoyed meeting him and benefiting from his comparatively youthful memory. When there is a connection with an author or book that in some way goes beyond the words on the page, the experience is more valuable and memorable.

In the case of McLean’s Vinyl Café books, much of the enjoyment comes from imagining the stories read in his carefully trained radio voice – long vowels, soft consonants, pauses well timed for effect. I’m still thinking about how nice it would be if I could introduce him to some of the other book club members when his show is in town next month.

(FYI: We have only had two authors decline an invitation to join our club’s discussion of their books. One had already accepted an invitation to the White House for the same date in 1988, and the other, a dear friend, was homebound with a terminal illness last year when we were scheduled to discuss his book, and, I’m sad to say, died not long before our meeting.)

 

6. Make your meetings a high priority.

All five couples are travelling more than they used to, sometimes for extended periods. Most of the members are active in the community, with related responsibilities. There seems to be little difference in free time between the retired and employed members.

But, as I mentioned, we’ve only missed one monthly meeting in 27 years, and that was a deliberate political choice. We’ve tried each year to plan ahead for a series of dates everyone can agree to. (We also find it useful to avoid formal meetings in July and August, though there is usually an informal activity for those who are in town.) Whenever individual situations suggest a schedule change, we’ve made every effort to find a new date that works for everyone. Sometimes this is truly impossible and the rest of us will meet in someone’s absence, but we try to keep those occasions rare.

(By the way, this is also an argument for restricting a book club to a manageable size.)

In short: Everyone’s busy but finds a way. Usually we find a Saturday evening we all have free, but there wasn’t one next month, so we went for a weekday instead. It’ll be a nice mid-week treat, almost like a holiday.

 

7. Keep records.

Did I mention we’ve read over 200 books together already? I’ll also mention that I once tried to keep them together, on a specially dedicated shelf (or rather shelves), and I also make sure to write the date and discussion leader on the title page of each book. Keeping track of all this history is still an intimidating enterprise, though, and I find myself too quickly losing what I’d rather keep.

So consider appointing a secretary/archivist – either permanently or for rotating terms. Some people are particularly, enthusiastically skilled at this; look for those who demonstrate good organizational skills and some competence with spreadsheets or databases. Minimally, keep track of authors, titles, and dates – though hosts and discussion leaders are also useful to remember.

 

8. Have fun.

This isn’t school. There are no exams to write. You’re an independent adult (right?). These are your friends, good ones. You’re sharing some of the best experiences of your lives. So stop worrying, relax, and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow has enough problems of its own, and they won’t go away on their own, but your ability to confront them, to move forward with your own life and its challenges, will be enhanced immeasurably by the continued inspiration of your intellectual and emotional friendship.

Plus, if you’re lucky like I am, the food’s great.