How to Choose Your First Book

I have to admit here, that I wasn’t a life-long reader. I learned to read early in life, because one member of the Collins family who took care of me while Mom was at work, was a retired school teacher.  There were four Collins family members – two brothers and two sisters in their late 60’s to early 80’s who doted on me. Away from the Collins family however, my free time was spent playing insurance agent with my brother, Dennis or creating the perfect Barbie apartment underneath the built-in vanity between my closet and my sister Dodie’s.  My Barbie furniture was all hand-made — Mattel had yet to dream up the pink plastic. The furnishings were created out of bits of things I found around the house, (an activity I would relate to much later while reading The Borrowers among the hundreds of books that I read to/with my daughter.) In high school and college, I read what was assigned. When I started my first job in audiology, the mini-series Roots was on television and I spent what seemed like several painful years watching that and macrameing.   When I made the rash decision to leave audiology and go back to school in theatre, I read plays, plays and more plays. When I registered for Mrs Fox’s Reader’s Theatre class, I had to come up with literature not intended for the stage. A young man who played Bertram Cates in a community theatre production of Inherit the Wind I’d co-directed was married to an actual reader and she introduced me to Katherine Mansfield. The young woman loaned me a book of Mansfield’s short stories and I fell in love — I adapted “Bliss,” “The Doll’s House,” and “Miss Brill” for class and wrote a non-fiction piece about Katherine Mansfield for the Illinois Interpretation Workshop. Fast forward 27 years, I’ve invited six girls to join me in a book club and I have tons of plays, hundreds of children’s books and Katherine Mansfield short stories from which to choose.  It happened that while pursuing theatre in Chicago, something I left behind after my daughter was born, I was treated to a performance of Stories on Stage starring my best friend Harry Althaus reading David Sedaris.  I put David Sedaris and Katherine Mansfield together and came up with Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, a collection of stories edited by David Sedaris and including Mansfield’s “The Garden Party.”  We had our first book! Your first book choice may not require the life-long process outlined above.

David Sedaris is an exceptional reader. Alone in his apartment, he reads stories aloud to the point he has them memorized. Sometimes he fantasizes that he wrote them. Sometimes, when they’re his very favorite stories, he’ll fantasize about reading them in front of an audience and taking credit for them. The audience in these fantasies always loves him and gives him the respect he deserves.”

The main thing about book choice is to find a book with enough substance to promote discussion. In our eight years together, we’ve had a few books that were fine stories but left very little to examine.  It’s hard to go by the star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads because as we can guess, ratings get inflated to sell books, and there are enough people on Goodreads to follow and give 5-star ratings to books in any number of genres. Their genre may not be your genre.  I give very few 5-star ratings and the ones that earn that distinction can be found under the category Teacher’s Pets. My favorites may not be your favorites. But just as Goodreads is often able to recommend another book you’ll enjoy based on one you’ve read previously, if you happen to find any of your favorites on this site (and we’ve said good things about them) you might want to look into others.

My incredible niece, Beth, who has answered all my questions about web-sites, blogs and the meaning of life, had an idea that I get each of the girls to give me a list of their favorite books of all that we’ve read. Those lists would allow you to determine if you’re more of a Chris, a Sharon, or a Susan… you get the idea. I plan to work on that, but right now you’re hearing what a Teresa thinks or what she wrote down/remembers about the club’s reaction.