The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe book club at my school, which I advise, elected to read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower for its first book. We plan to go see the movie after we finish the book. I had wanted to read the book for a long time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel about high school freshman Charlie’s adjustment to high school, including finding friends, his first crush, and dealing with some difficult issues. Early in the book, Charlie explains he is writing these letters to an anonymous reader because he heard the reader is a good person. Charlie has recently lost a good friend to suicide and is worried about high school, especially finding friends. At one of the first football games, he befriends Patrick, a boy in his shop class, and Patrick’s stepsister Sam, both of whom are seniors. As he grows closer to the two and becomes part of their circle, he learns how to stop standing on the fringes of life and “participate.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me was that it was set in 1991-1992, which was my sophomore year of college, and was particularly memorable. It was my favorite year of college, and consequently, one of my favorite years of life. I was 20 for most of that school year. What a great age to be. And over half my life ago, now. đŸ˜„Â  I spent a lot of time that year listening to some of the new music coming out of Seattle, as well as some older (but new to me) favorites from the Pretenders, the Replacements, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REM, and the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite parts of this book was the mixtape Charlie gave Patrick. I remember spending hours making mixtapes for my friends. You can make Spotify playlists in a matter of minutes. It’s not the same.

The book deals honestly with issues such as homosexuality, casual sex, drug use, suicide, abortion, and sexual abuse. In fact, if I have one criticism for the book, it’s that the entire kitchen sink of major teen issues was thrown at Charlie, and I’m not sure it’s common for most teens to experience every bad thing that can happen. However, I also admit I was sheltered. But still.

I can see why this book would appeal to teens, and I really enjoyed it myself. I found Charlie to be a likable character, though the book reminded me a great deal of The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie is not quite as friendless or annoying as Holden (though I admit I feel more empathy for Holden than annoyance with him). I have to admit I had trouble seeing him as a wallflower. It seemed to me as if he were a keen observer, but he participated plenty, in my opinion. Much more than I did as a teen—which could be why I had trouble seeing him on the sidelines of life.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie with the book club. I hope it’s good!

Rating: ★★★★☆
Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Book Club Books

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten books that would make great book club picks. Some of these books I have actually read with a book club; others I haven’t, but I think they might make for good discussion.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385341008″ target=”_blank” ]The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society[/amazon_link], Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer: It’s a book about book clubs! What could be better to read with a book club?
  2. [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link], Alan Brennert: This might be because I just chose it for my book club, but I think it would be great for discussion, especially because it’s a good story, but it has some flaws.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link], Paula McLain: I think this one would be great for literary book clubs who want to learn more about Hemingway and his circle.
  4. [amazon_link id=”1451648502″ target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link], Jael McHenry: It might be fun to bring the dishes described in the book to the meeting. I also think discussing adult Asperger’s would make for an interesting evening.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1594484465″ target=”_blank” ]The Little Stranger[/amazon_link], Sarah Waters: I picked this mostly because I would like to talk about the ending and see what everyone else thinks happened at the end.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link], Kathryn Stockett: I liked this one a lot and see it being a good book to talk about when you’re done with it. I could even see a good discussion about whether it’s another in the long line of “white people solve racism” books/movies.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1613821395″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins: Marian and Count Fosco are great characters. So was Frederick Fairlie. He’s hysterical, in fact. I think it might be interesting to talk about how Collins popularized some of those tropes we consider clichĂ©s.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0142001805″ target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde: There is so much bookish fun in this one. I think book nerds would really like reading and talking about it.
  9. [amazon_link id=”B005K5XQRY” target=”_blank” ]The Lace Reader[/amazon_link], Brunonia Barry: I am not sure it would appeal to everyone in the group, but it has a classic unreliable narrator, and those always make for juicy discussion. Plus you could try to brew up some “Difficul-tea” and try out lace reading (if you can figure it out).
  10. [amazon_link id=”0385338015″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Bovary’s Ovaries[/amazon_link], David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash: The premise of this book is that you can explain the behavior of some characters in great literature through evolutionary psychology. It’s an interesting read. It’s sure to generate some discussion; I can’t imagine you’d get a whole group to agree on whether or not the authors are right. It serves the dual purpose of making you interested in the literature they discuss, too. The Goodreads reviews on it are all over the place.

Honorable mentions: [amazon_link id=”0812979303″ target=”_blank” ]Reading Lolita in Tehran[/amazon_link], Azar Nafisi; [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link], John Berendt (only left out of top ten because everyone’s surely read it by now); and [amazon_link id=”014029628X” target=”_blank” ]Girl in Hyacinth Blue[/amazon_link], Susan Vreeland.

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday: Sharing Books

Booking Through ThursdayDo you have friends and family to share books with? Discuss them with? Does it matter to you?

My husband and I only occasionally read the same books, but we manage to talk about books all the same. Or rather, I make him listen to passages I’m reading, and I discuss. He listens well! We have a lot of books in our home, and we both enjoy reading.

I sometimes talk books with my daughters, but they don’t always really want to talk about books with me—I think because I’m an English teacher. All of my children love reading, and I’m grateful for it.

I sometimes talk about books with my sister, but we don’t read a lot of the same books, either. She often asks me about books.

I will never, ever recommend another book to my mother. She and I are apparently so different in our preferences that we have a strong dislike for each other’s favorites.

I talk about books with friends all the time. Being an English teacher has its perks in that you generally get to work with people who love books. We talk books frequently. I also discuss books with students. We have a faculty book club, too, which has been a lot of fun because some of our most voracious readers are in other departments.

I share books with students a lot, but I don’t often pass along my books. I have loaned out my Jasper Fforde books to a colleague this year, but books loaned to students sometimes don’t return. đŸ˜„ Now that I’m doing quite a lot of reading on my Kindle and my iPhone (audio books in iTunes), it’s harder to pass on a physical copy to someone else.

It does matter to me to have the ability to discuss books with someone. I was so glad when my dad began reading the Harry Potter books. Where our interests coincide, such as Harry Potter or Tolkien, he is perhaps the best person to discuss books with that I know.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

First, the good news is that I was able to generate quite a lot of interest in a book club among the teachers at my school.  They graciously allowed me to select our first book, and I chose Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  It’s a perfect book for book clubs, and I believe I had read as much somewhere, but I’m not sure where.  I was taken by the title.

The book is populated with memorable characters who tell their story through letters.  As this is one of only a handful of epistolary novels I’ve read, I’ll call it a unique storytelling device that works well to reveal the plot.  Much better, in fact, than I think a straight narrative would have because it allows for the otherwise risky device of multiple narrators to work much better.  The novel is the story of a writer named Juliet Ashton, who reminded me of Dorothy Parker.  I’ll be curious to see if my book club members thought of her, too.  By chance, Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer on the Channel Island of Guernsey comes upon one of her books in a used book store, and he enjoys it so much that he writes to her.  Over time, Juliet develops friendships with Dawsey and his friends, who formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society during Germany’s occupation of the island during World War II.

Any book focused on a setting ought to leave the reading feeling a desire to visit, and that’s precisely how I felt.  I have never thought even once in my life of going to Guernsey, but just like John Berendt’s characters in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil bring the city of Savannah to life and have caused a cottage industry around tourism related to the book, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn something similar happens to Guernsey; however, increased tourism will likely depend on how popular the book becomes.  My favorite books — the ones I couldn’t put down even if they were not literature with a capial L — were all populated with memorable, realistic characters I wish I could know in real life, and now I have one more book to add to that list.

Breaking Dawn: I Need Junk Food

The subtitle of my post refers to my current need to read something light and fun that I don’t have to think about too hard.  And Breaking Dawn has just been released.  One of my students has been after me to read it already, so I’m running out right now and buying it.  I still want to finish Persuasion and Who Murdered Chaucer? However, as I inferred, my brain is fried, and I need to take a break from the serious reading.

Speaking of Persuasion, it strikes me as I read that my favorite parts of Austen’s books often involve her most annoying characters: Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bates, the Thorpes, and now Mary (Anne Elliot’s whiny sister).  She just cracks me up.

I have had good response to a query about a book club at work, so perhaps my quest to find grown up with whom I can discuss literature may be fulfilled soon.

See you on the other side of the latest vampire romance.  Oh, and as usual, blogging will be light due to the fact that I return for my Master’s degree on Monday, and I’m already so busy with work that I’m wondering how that will work out.  Wish me luck and send good time management vibes in my direction.

Bookish News

The Mark Twain House and Museum Hartford, CT. may be forced to close.  The situation is dire — even after reducing staff from 49 to 17, the museum only has enough funds to operate for another few weeks. [Via The New York Times.]

LitLovers is a great site for book lovers with special focus on book clubs. Students and teachers would also find the site helpful. [Via Book Club Girl.]

Book Club Picks and Ideas for the Nightstand

The Book Club Girl shares the top ten book club picks for spring and summer. I read about The Uncommon Reader at Book Group Buzz and thought it sounded interesting, and as a fan of Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Life Studies: Stories, I had heard of her most recent work Luncheon of the Boating Party, but I hadn’t read it. I was lucky to be able to use Life Studies in a senior short story seminar course that I teach. This year’s class didn’t like Vreeland as much as last year’s class, interestingly enough. She was an English teacher for 30 years in San Diego, and her web site has handy information for teachers.

Stefanie at So Many Books mentions another book that looks interesting: Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon. This book is a reader’s guide to literary landmarks, from the courthouse that served as the inspiration for the Maycomb County Courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird to the moors captured so eloquently by the BrontĂ«s.

I am over 200 pages into The Book of Air and Shadows, and I suppose it is too much to hope at this late stage that any of the characters will turn out to be likable after all. However, the storyline does move. I can’t quite say it matches the dearth of characterization exhibited by Dan Brown, but one of my prerequisites for truly enjoying a book is liking a character or at least something about a character. Any character.

If you are a teacher, especially a teacher of writing, and interested in joining a professional development book club, I think we have something going. We are going to read Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle. Lisa Huff, no relation, put together a wiki where we can share our discussion. Consider yourself invited if this book looks like something that interests you.


GoodreadsMy daughter invited me to join Goodreads several months ago, but I haven’t been very active on the site. I already review what I read here at this blog, so I didn’t see much point in reviewing books at Goodreads, too. Goodreads is, however, growing as a social network of readers, complete with Facebook and MySpace apps.

If you are a regular reader of this blog and would like be my friend on Goodreads, you can find my profile here. I have now posted all the books I have read and included links to my reviews here.

Book Clubs

I have never truly been in a book club. Not because I don’t want to, but because the opportunity simply hasn’t presented itself. And I really want to be in a book club! I teach literature, and I love it, but sometimes I want to discuss books with grown ups. I love blogging about reading and books here, but the immediate interaction of a discussion is missing. I also enjoyed discussing professional development reading on a forum, but the conversation was sometimes stilted due to the course requirements. I would love to talk about books with a group of people who chose a book to read for pleasure instead of a course requirement.

Any suggestions on getting started?