My pick for book club

Susan Flanagan
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A novel you just have to read — before you see the movie

— Telegram illustration

“Cloud Atlas,” the movie, is due out tomorrow.                    As luck would have it, my book club, the Read Hots (pronounced like red hot pokers), also meets tomorrow. I say that not because I’m disappointed I’ll have to wait to see the movie. Au contraire, I want to wait a while before I see “Cloud Atlas” on the big screen.

Why, you ask?

Because I want my book club to read “Cloud Atlas,” the book by David Mitchell, before they ruin it by seeing the movie first.

I know this will be no easy feat. For over two years I have been doing my best to persuade my well-read friends that “Cloud Atlas” deserves to be on the top-100-books-you-must-read-before-you-die list.

So why don’t they want to read this masterpiece?

“Too cerebral,” said one member who was looking for a summer beach book at the time.

I admit “Cloud Atlas” is not an easy read. But one of the reasons I am in a book club is so I will read books I otherwise would not pick up. I know for a fact I would not have read “Seven Daughters of Eve” by Bryan Sykes or “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides if they had not been book club picks. But I am a better person for it.

I probably wouldn’t have read “The Post-Birthday World” either. This book, although not difficult to follow, has an interesting format. Author Lionel Shriver follows his first chapter with alternating stories every other chapter. After chapter one, you could essentially skip every second chapter or you could delve into the what-ifs. What if the protagonist had done this instead of that? What if she had just gone home to bed instead of …?

Both this book and “The Shack” by William P. Young are perhaps the two most debated books in the history of our club.

And rightly so, it is these books that people either love or hate that make for interesting debate. Although a book like “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was loved by every member of book club, we had nothing to discuss after the inevitable, “I didn’t know the Germans occupied those small islands off the south of England during the Second World War.”

“Cloud Atlas” is definitely a book that welcomes discussion and thus makes good book club fodder. David Mitchell jumps from the age of sail to futuristic science fiction where identical servers in a fast-food restaurant experience rebellion (not my favourite part, I have to admit).

Each story is sort of like a Russian nesting doll, unveiling layers of Mitchell’s master plan to have each section of the book somehow experienced by the main character in the next section. I had to take notes to keep up with how all the sections were connected and why. It’s like six degrees of separation on steroids.

So, tomorrow evening I will add “Cloud Atlas” to the list of potential reads that members submit each meeting. And for perhaps the 30th time, “Cloud Atlas” will get one vote, maybe two. The nine to 13 women present will undoubtedly choose something else.

So why do I keep trying?

Because “Cloud Atlas” is a book that you need to share with others. Once you finish it, you’ll feel the need not only to discuss it, but also to read it again.

Over the course of the decade we have discussed fiction, nonfiction and everything in between. We have done young adult books like “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. We have done poetry by Mary Dalton. We have invited Newfoundland authors like Lisa Moore, Michael Crummey, Francoise Enguehard and Bernice Morgan to meetings so they could read for us and answer questions about their works.

One evening, writer Chad Pelley found himself seated at the head of my dining room table surrounded by 13 well-read (read hot) women. He held his own and loved listening to our views of his brilliant debut novel, “Away from Everywhere.”

We have done difficult stories like “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold, “Room” by Emma Donahue and “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay.

There are some scenes which will stay with you, like the finger scene in “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave, the second section in “Room” and the entirety of “The Lovely Bones.”

We’ve also read some pretty fluffy novels in our time. I remember one, in particular, that we discussed when we hosted the club in the baths at Spa at the Monastery. Fluff was a good choice on that cold February evening almost 10 years ago because no one really wanted to spend a lot of time debating point of view or plot. But now, on the cusp of winter, before the rush of Christmas, we need a book we can really dig into.

Tomorrow evening we’ll discuss poetic novel “Ru” by Kim Thuy and “Beauty of Humanity Movement” by Camilla Gibb, in which both authors beautifully tell stories of Vietnam.

And hopefully, keep your fingers crossed, our next pick will be “Cloud Atlas.” Because the best things about book club are the camaraderie and choosing to read books that you otherwise wouldn’t. Hear that, ladies?

Long live “Cloud Atlas.”

Here’s are some of my favourite book club reads from my years with the Read Hots book club.

1. “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant

2. “The Best Laid Plans” by Terry Fallis

3. “Horn of a Lamb” by Robert Sedlack

4. “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

5. “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult

6. “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

7. “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo

8. “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova

9. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon

10. “No Great Mischief” by Alistair MacLeod

Susan Flanagan is an avid reader who is now devouring David Mitchell’s

“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.” She can be reached at

Ice cream feedback

Bev Welsh, who owns the Ice Cream Parlour in Bishop’s Falls, writes: “Just wanted to send you a quick note to thank you for the kind words you wrote in your recent article in The Telegram about our town and our ice cream parlour. The article has created a little bit of a buzz around town and I, personally, thought it was very well written. It’s nice to have such a well written article about our town. I feel blessed that our paths have crossed and sincerely hope you come to visit us again. Thank you so very much.”

Newfoundland crest plate feedback:

Elizabeth Winter writes: “Delightful story about your plate. In the ’60s and early ’70s, my husband Ernest and Sam Wilansky were very active with the Sixth St. John’s Boy Scouts. Sam’s wife Sylvia sat with me on the Ladies Auxiliary. The Sixth St. John’s received generous funding from the Wilansky family but I was not aware of the true source until your story. It is rewarding to hear such nice things about … old friends.”

Karen Lynch writes: “Very interesting article you have here in today’s edition of The Telegram 10-16-2012.

“I have a 12-piece place setting of NL tartan. It was given to me by late grandmother in 1982. What I have says Ridgeway Potteries Ltd. 1789 Royal Adderley.

“I’m wondering now if this was in fact designed by Mr. Samuel Wilansky. I always thought that 1789 was the date that it was manufactured. It does have a reg no. 166-23099.

“I’m very interested in finding out more information on my NL Tartan dishes.

“I did use the dishes from time to time, however haven’t in quite some time in fear that I would break a piece, and not being able to replace it would devastate me. They mean so much to me. It’s an heirloom.

“Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Doris writes: “I love those kinds of stories; also I must check my NL souvenirs packed away somewhere. Thanks for reminding me.”

Bishop’s Falls feedback

Gerald, who was responsible for the fireworks in Bishop’s Falls, writes: “I just read a copy of your experience to our little town (Bishop’s Falls) and was glad to hear you had such great time. Hope you will come back again. Thanks so much.”

Skerwink vs Spurwink feedback

Wayne Fowlow and Judy-Ann Watson-Fowlow write: “Wayne, my husband, has family and roots in Trinity East and after we read your article in The Telegram today, we wish to apprise you of a couple of errors we discovered.

“1. The Skerwink Trail starts and ends in Trinity East, not Port Rexton

“2. Look at the misspelling in the last line of your article … Skerwink is spelled ‘Sperwink.’

“We are very proud of our community of Trinity East and do not wish to see it ‘swallowed up’ by neighbouring communities.”

(Susan’s note: Although we started and ended our hike in Port Rexton, the official trail head is in Trinity East.)

Unknown phone caller says: “The best way to remember the difference between Skerwink and Spurwink is Spurwink has a u in it and so does Aquaforte.”

Jantje Van Houwelingen, volunteer and hiker, ECTA writes: “I enjoyed your article as I have enjoyed both of those trails myself. Great coverage of the Spurwink and I appreciate you pointing out the difficulty as well as the beauty of that path. The ECTA is currently addressing the post-Leslie blow-down and leaners on the trail — volunteers as well as crew — and it is a serious challenge. We are updating Trail Detail pages as individual paths are cleared …”

Judy Butler from Gander writes: “I enjoy all of your articles in The Telegram, however, I especially enjoyed your recent column Skerwink vs. Spurwink as my husband and I are avid hikers and have hiked the Spurwink Island trail three times and the Skerwink trail once. We are East Coast Trail members and have hiked 90 per cent of the East Coast Trail at least once and many trails two or three times. … We are actually set to do Wreck Path Hike this coming weekend with the East Coast Trail. I also emailed your recent article to my sister in Toronto as she has hiked both the Spurwink and the Skerwink trails with us and she also enjoyed your article.”

Organizations: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Ridgeway Potteries, Royal Adderley

Geographic location: Newfoundland, England, Trinity East Port Rexton Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Edwina
    October 23, 2012 - 13:32

    I really enjoyed your article on book club picks. I, too, am a member of a book of ladies and have read many of the choices you have listed. Very provocative list indeed, but noticibly you did not have the magnificent "Book of Negroes" on there. A must read for your club, Susan!

  • Anna
    October 23, 2012 - 11:25

    Our book club meets at The Arts and Culture Adult Library the first Wednesday of every month and everyone is welcomed. We have been meeting for at least fourteen years and have discussed a wide variety of books. Thanks for the book suggestions, I will definitely suggest Cloud Atlas for a future read.