My son Connor graduates from Harbour View in a couple weeks – and let’s not even talk about how freaky that is since he was only five about a minute ago. Although I don’t understand his taste in music we do have one common interest and it’s – you guessed it – books. A couple weeks ago we were out having dinner and chatting about university – he’s heading off to Mt A in the fall – and reading and we hatched this crazy plan to have a mother-son book club this summer. The rule was, though, that we had to shop from our own shelves.
As we sat there we came up with the rules: five categories (classics, re-reads, contemporary, non-fiction and wild card); we get to pick one book in each category; we have to read all ten over the summer. We also decided to allow ourselves one veto…but neither of us used it during the picking process, although we may decide to use it when we start reading.
When we got home from the restaurant we started shopping our shelves. When it comes to book buying, Con and I are kindred spirits. We’re usually at the book store once a week; the staff at Indigo know us by name. The highlight of our trip to NYC in March was The Strand – you get the idea.
Anyway, over the next couple hours we selected and discarded until we came up with our winners. (I apologize for the quality of the book pile pics – they were taken on my crappy phone.)
The contenders in the classics category included: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte; The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt and The Years by Virginia Woolf
Christie’s Pick: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I have always wanted to read it and although it’s been on my shelf for years – I just haven’t gotten around to it. This is the story of 17-year-old Cassandra who lives with her family in a crumbling English castle where she works – over the course of six months – to hone her writing skills. Oh, and she falls in love. I have a feeling the main character and I will have lots in common.
Connor’s Pick: The Years by Virgina Woolf – because of course it was.
To be fair, though, he did pick Woolf’s most popular novel – the story of a middle-class London family from the 1880’s until the 1930’s – it sounds a bit Downton Abby-ish to me, so maybe I won’t have to pull the veto card.
Connor said, “I’ve always been curious about Virginia Woolf. (Lately I’ve been interested internal focalization and stream of consciousness, which were all technical problems she tackled in her own work). I’d never heard of The Years: it’s the last novel she ever wrote and, I’m quite certain, the longest.”
This was a super hard category for me because there are a handful of books I really want to re-read and, you know, it’s hard to justify re-reading when you have 600 books on your to-be-read shelf.
The contenders in the re-reads category included: Magdalene by Carolyn Slaughter; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; Shadowland by Peter Straub; The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson; The Secret History by Donna Tartt; Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This was a hotly contested category – probably the most difficult to choose – because revisiting books is one of life’s pleasures. But – we had to make the tough choices anyway.
Christie’s pick: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I had to go back where it all started for me and that’s with this story of poor orphan Jane. I am so afraid to re-read this book because what if it’s not how I remember it?
Connor’s pick: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Connor chose this slightly creepy middle grade book about a girl who steps through a door into another house which is like her own – only better. Or maybe the grass is not always greener, after all. I’ve seen the movie, so I am looking forward to the book.
In this category we said the books had to be post 19th century.
The contenders in the contemporary category included: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien; The Girls by Emma Cline; Dark Matter by Blake Crouch; Split by Libby Creelman; Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; Crying of Lot by Thomas Pynchon; Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Christie’s pick: The Girls by Emma Cline.
This books had tons of buzz when it came out and I actually chose this from Connor’s shelf. We had to go buy it the day it was released – but it’s languished on his shelf ever since. It’s the story Evie, a young girl in 1960’s California who meets and becomes enchanted with an older girl and is soon drawn into the orbit of a cult and its charismatic leader a la Charles Manson. So – just some light reading.
Connor’s pick: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
Of course this is a famous book and Jackson is certainly well-known by English teachers everywhere because of her creepy short story, “The Lottery.” So this haunted house tale is one I will certainly look forward to reading.
The contenders in the non-fic category included: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath; Hold Still by Sally Mann; Just Kids by Patti Smith; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; The White Album by Joan Didion; The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy; A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger; The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe; and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Christie’s pick: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
Although I wouldn’t say that I am a Hemingway fan, I am fascinated by the period he lived in Paris and that’s the subject of this memoir which was published after he died.
Connor’s Pick: Just Kids by Patti Smith
The story of Smith and her boyfriend, Robert Mapplethorpe during the turbulent 60s in NYC – I am actually looking forward to reading this one.
“Patti Smith is one of my favourite musicians of all time. On a whim a year or so ago, I threw on a couple tracks from her seminal debut Horses (which is often credited as having invented punk rock) and had my mind blown. Her energy is inimitable, her poetry is incantatory, and the improvisational quality of her instrumentation lends her music an honesty that is unmatched to this day. I’m curious about her life and upbringing, and Just Kids also focuses intently on her relationship with the late and great Robert Mapplethorpe (the two were extremely close from what I gather),” Connor said.
I could have put a million books into this category. Seriously.
The contenders in the wild card category included: S by Doug Dorst & JJ Abrams; Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; Ada or Ardour by Vladimir Nabakov; How to Be Both by Ali Smith; Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gladdis
Christie’s pick: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
I chose this one because it won the Pulitzer in 2009 and that’s when I bought it. I’ll say no more. Except that it’s a series of interconnected stories about a retired school teacher in coastal Maine who attempts to make sense of her changing life. OMG – she could be me.
Connor’s pick: Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gladdis.
I was pretty proud of Connor up until this point. He’s got some whack-a-doodle books on his shelf and he managed to avoid most of them until we got here. First of all, I’ve never heard of Gladdis or this book. I’ll just quote New York Times Critic Cynthia Ozick who called the book “an unholy landmark of a novel.” Yep – I’m saving my veto for this thing because, no quotation marks always freaks me out.
This is what Connor had to say about this pick: “Lately, I’ve been chipping away at David Foster Wallace’s postmodern magnum opus, Infinite Jest, which piqued my interest in the genre. I chose Carpenter’s Gothic because it is an early incarnation of postmodernism, and I thought it might be a good foundation to leap from in the future.”
So, there you have it – our choices. We’ll read all summer and share our thoughts before Connor heads off to school at the end of August on my blog. Feel free to read along and share your thoughts, too!