Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber
The Postscript series is a special peek “behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy little extra something to add to a book club’s discussion and a reader’s understanding of how the book came together.
What separates a good book discussion from a blah one? When you’ve left your book club feeling like you had a really good conversation, what is it that set it apart from previous conversations? Was it the depth or thoughtfulness of the comments? The sharing of ideas and personal reflections? Something you learned or that you thought about in a new way?
Book groups, actually, are one of the few places, outside of a classroom, where these kinds of conversations occur. They are, by nature, often a comfortable setting in which people are inspired to read and think, share ideas, respond to the ideas of others, and start new conversations – and they can be on any topic. So while book groups are fun and social, an informal place to sit back, take off your shoes, and pore over the contents of the book in your lap, they are also place of education and study.
So many books can inspire a great conversation, and sometimes completely unexpectedly. When many readers look for a book to read with their book clubs, it’s often a work of fiction or possibly narrative non-fiction in the form of a memoir, biography, or history. A good book from one of these genres is a wonderful catalyst to a lively, passionate, thoughtful conversation. However, books from other genres, many of which are not considered to be good “book club books”, can also provide an interesting reading experience and an engaging discussion.
Take a book like Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s Biblical Images: Men and Women of the Book. This is a book of scholarship and Jewish thought that explores and elaborates on characters in the Bible. Not a book that most book clubs choose on a regular week. But when you view it as a character study of figures with whom many people already have some familiarity, it can become the centerpiece of one of those thoughtful and interesting book group talks. If this kind of conversation sparks your interest, JBC Book Clubs developed a reader’s guide for Biblical Images for The Global Day of Jewish Learning (next Sunday, Nov. 16), both for a single chapter and for the entire book, which can be downloaded as part of the toolbox at www.theglobalday.org.
Another book that might get overlooked as “not a book club book” is Ruth Calderon’s A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales. This book, a collection of stories from the Talmud accompanied by MK Calderon’s own expansion of the narratives, reads like a short story collection that will raise questions and examination at every turn. For a book group looking for fascinating, thought-provoking stories (that also happen to have a basis in Jewish texts) to discuss, it’s a book to consider (and MK Calderon will be speaking as part of The Global Day’s 24×24 series, so you can watch her live!).
Of course, finding the right book for you or for your book group isn’t simple. And finding a book that will touch off a spirited conversation is never a given, no matter how interesting, thoughtful, or popular a book is. But when you find one that works, it can be an invigorating and enlightening hour or two.
Miri joined the JBC team in Winter, 2004 upon graduating from Brandeis University. Originally from Philadelphia, she has lived and studied in Israel and London. Prior to working with JBC, she interned for the Jewish Publication Society. After seven years as the director of the JBC Network program, Miri has shifted her focus to book clubs, working to develop resources to better serve book club readers.