Skip to main content


September 3, 2008

Misjudging a Book Club Selection

Posted by carol
Contributor Shannon McKenna Schmidt admits to prematurely misjudging some of her book club selections --- and what she ultimately thought about them...

Have you ever passed judgment on a book club selection before you've even read the first page? I'm guilty of doing just that.

In my group, members take turns picking a book each month. There's no group consensus, which means that you either read the book that has been chosen or...claim your schedule is crazy and you can't make that meeting. Also, it's rather unusual for my reading group to have back-to-back nonfiction selections, as we tend to lean more towards fiction with the occasional biography or memoir sprinkled in between.

So what were the two books I judged by their covers? The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw and Julie & Julia by Julie Powell.

Now don't get me wrong --- or pass judgment on me before I have a chance to explain. I love nonfiction, and, in fact, I've wanted to read more books about World War II specifically. (I'm still trying to persuade my husband to read and discuss Franklin and Winston in our own two-person book club.) But when a fellow book clubber declared that her pick was The Greatest Generation --- she had always wanted to read it but never quite got around to it --- my immediate reaction was that it might not be a great pick for the group. It was July, a time of year when we could indulge in lighter reading, and instead we were going to tackle a historical tome?

But I was thoroughly engrossed by The Greatest Generation. One aspect of the book did make it difficult to discuss in a group setting. It's made up of vignettes about people both obscure and famous who served during World War II, and it was nearly impossible to remember specific names (further hampered by the meeting being postponed for a month).

What I recall most are vivid moments, such as the military doctor taken captive by German forces; he and fellow prisoners spelled out "USA POWS" with their bodies to prevent Allied airmen from mistakenly firing on them. And the African American soldier denied access to a U.S. officers' club while German POWs were made welcome.

We also discussed our impressions of the time period --- how the war advanced the women's movement; whether the current generation would be capable of the same acts of heroism and bravery; and relatives we each have who fought in World War II. Overall, it turned out to be an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

Next up was our August selection, which I was excited to read --- Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. So how did I (mis)judge this one? I took the title and subtitle too literally. I assumed the book would be a linear narrative of the author's year-long culinary odyssey, in which she works her way through all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a detailed account of measuring, chopping, baking, and sauteing. That plays a part, sure, but from the first chapter it's clear that Julie Powell's story --- told in a sassy style that is entertaining, engaging and funny --- is about so much more: friendship, marriage, family, career, and sense of self. In other words, it's about life.

Now fess up. What book club picks have you judged before reading them?

---Shannon McKenna Schmidt