Wednesday, August 8, 2012


What I really like about book clubs are the lists. I belong to two clubs and I get lists for several more. These lists provide me with a jumping off point to decide what to read. I go online to look at the reviews and then download whichever one strikes my fancy.

Book clubs themselves vary as greatly as their members. Some are an excuse for a get-together with the members paying only perfunctory attention to the book. Others have each member choose a book, do appropriate research and lead the discussion. A third charge members to attend and hire an ‘expert’ to discuss the book.

I like the ones that provide refreshments but not all do.

Recently I checked out next year’s list for one of the ‘pay to hear the experts’ clubs and went through the list. At the moment I’m not keen on coming of age novels, maybe since it’s so long since I came of age so I relegated two to the ‘maybe some day’ pile.

Instead, I chose Penelope Lively’s, How It All Began, in which events hinge on the repercussions in many people’s lives when a mugger knocks over an elderly woman and she breaks her leg. Occasionally the narrator inserts her own comments on events as they evolve. I found these interjections jarring and somewhat pretentious as if she was really pointing out how clever she was to do this but the novel gallops along and the characters are so engaging this wasn’t very important. Besides, when you’re a prolific author nearing eighty with a Booker prize to your credit you’re entitled to indulge yourself.

The set-up was interesting. Writers all do this - place characters in situations where something will happen that will lead to something else. In mysteries it is a challenge to make the events believable so your reader willingly suspends disbelief and accepts your premise.

Coincidence may play a role but introduce it too often and your credibility will be at stake. And, of course, there’s the ‘smoking gun’ bit. You can’t throw in an exciting event or idea and then not deal with it at some point.

Once you’ve read a book it’s challenging to consider the way in which the author introduced the ideas or events that moved the plot along. Perhaps not as brazenly as Lively does but all authors have to do it. The most skilled writers do it seamlessly and make it seem natural. Lively’s book provides insights into the process and we could all learn something from her.

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, will be published by Dundurn in November. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

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