I haven’t written about the book salon lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been meeting. Our schedule is more erratic now since many of us no longer work together. This also means that more of our meetings are taken up with catching up with each other—which is fine, but one thing I want to try to do as we move forward is get back to the focus we had in the early days. Among other things, this means coming up with topics that will lead to fruitful discussion, which is where you come in, dear readers (more on that below).
For those not familiar with this unusual book club concept, instead of reading and dissecting one book, as in a traditional book club, everyone selects whatever book they want that fits the theme of that session. We vote on topics, each of which is proposed with a list of 20-25 suggested books to give people an idea of what they might read for any given theme. Since most members are interested in the classics, or at least “serious” reading, lists tend toward a mix of classics and contemporary literary fiction.
For me, the salon concept solves many issues I have with traditional book clubs, most importantly, having a particular book imposed on you. After all, I barely finish the books I impose on myself! Plus, I’ve never loved picking apart what I read. With a theme, the discussion stays at a more generic level that I prefer. Other benefits are that if people don’t finish their book, they can still participate in the discussion, and no one has to worry about spoiling a book for someone else. (Rarely have members chosen the same book.) Finally, you hear about books that you might never have chosen for yourself, and learning more about them in a specific context piques your curiosity.
Some of our more successful topics have been “Quests” (our very first topic), “Cherchez la femme!”, and “Disturbing Dystopias”. You can see abbreviated versions of the book lists for all our topics here. Potential upcoming topics include “1 Picture = 1000 Words” (books revolving around art and artists) and “Out of Africa via a Passage to India” (books on colonialism and independence). We’ve just done books that take place in Paris (which is why my recent reading at Goodreads has included The Dud Avocado, Pure, Perfume, and Half Blood Blues), and I was thinking we might add London to the mix. This is where you come in, dear readers.
Here is the initial list I have come up with based on trolling Listopia at Goodreads and other sources. But I’d love to hear what books you feel are representative (or not) of the city and its neighborhoods. Most of these are not based on personal reading knowledge so please feel free to tell me if one doesn’t really fit here. Members are not limited to these books, but I like to keep the lists manageable, so for every book I add here I’ll probably take one away. For that reason, in addition to any suggestions you might have, I’d love to hear what you would replace and why.
Brick Lane (Monica Ali)
Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
Down and Out in Paris and London (George Orwell)
84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)
The End of the Affair (Graham Greene)
A Far Cry from Kensington (Muriel Spark)
The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy)
The Heat of the Day (Elizabeth Bowen)
High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)
The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst)
London Fields (Martin Amis)
Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
The Napoleon of Notting Hill (G.K. Chesterton)
Now You See Me (S.J. Bolton)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
One Day (David Nicholls)
Pygmalion (George Bernard Shaw)
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) (Ben Aaronovitch)
Saturday (Ian McEwan)
The Secret Agent (Joseph Conrad)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Tipping the Velvet (Sarah Waters)
Under the Net (Iris Murdoch)
White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
Also, if you have any great ideas for other salon topics, please suggest them (and possible books) in the comments below.
Thank you in advance!