Talking about Books

Janet Clapp

Although reading is usually a solitary activity, it can spark thoughts and feelings that readers want to share with others. Book discussion groups offer forums where people can reflect together on a book that everyone gathered has read. Sometimes groups focus on a category, like mysteries or classics; sometimes groups, like the one that assembles at the Rutland Free Library, read across a spectrum of genres. Some publishers include readers’ guides or discussion questions at the end of a book. Numerous websites offer suggested subjects to stimulate discourse. The Rutland Free Library ( subscribes to a database called NoveList that offers many discussion guides. Readers can create their own questions regarding themes, characters, or other aspects of the book to encourage conversation. Any book can be the starting point for a book group. Here is a sampling of books, including memoir, fiction and nonfiction.

Amy and Isabelle

by Elizabeth Strout

The relationship between daughters and mothers, as a frequent topic in reality, books and movies, can provide hours of fodder for talk among readers. “The real problem, of course, was that she and her mother were together all day. To Amy it seemed as though a black line connected them, nothing bigger than something drawn with a pencil, perhaps, but a line that was always there.” This novel was a New York Times Notable Book in 1999.

The Rule of Four

by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Like mother and daughter, father and son relationships offer much to talk about. Like Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code,” this thriller involves an historic text; Tom Sullivan’s father was obsessed with the “Hypnerotomachia.” “I never made much of his beliefs. A son is the promise that time makes to a man, the guarantee every father receives that whatever he holds dear will someday be considered foolish, and that the person he loves best in the world will misunderstand him.”

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

Race is a topic of much discourse in today’s society. The nameless black narrator of this novel relates his experiences coming from the south to New York City. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.” In 1953, this book won the National Book Award for fiction.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

by Erik Larson

History is not a black-and-white recitation of dates with no connection to the present. Larson tells the history of Nazi Germany’s first American ambassador and his daughter, Martha. “Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature. That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know — now — to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.” This memoir was a New York Times Notable Book in 2011.

Blue Nights

by Joan Didion

Facing the death of a loved one is inevitable. In this memoir, Didion reflects on life and the loss of her daughter, Quintana. “This book is called ‘Blue Nights’ because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness.” This was also a New York Times Notable Book in 2011.

Friendship, love, metaphors, settings, characters — there is so much to unearth and share about any book. The Rutland Free Library has the titles above and many others to enjoy in conversation.

Happy reading and discussing!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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