The subtitle of Good Books Lately says it all – it is truly a one-stop resource for any reader. Since authors Moore and Stevens are academics and book club consultants, they have successfully blended the two worlds, allowing for an emphasis on book groups but providing plenty of additional info for individuals who want more out of their reading.
Starting with a fascinating history of book clubs, from sewing circles to Oprah, Good Books moves on to important and mostly forgotten terms like “theme”, “plot”, “tone”, “setting”, and the ever-confusing “point-of-view” without being overly academic or condescending. Chapter Two (“Read Yourself Wise: The Art of Intrepid Analytical Reading”) provides an entire Literature 101 course in about thirty pages. Fortunately, Moore and Stevens don’t leave you stranded with an overload of information and continue in Chapter Three to provide insight into the different types of literature we read and how to break down each type.
Ultimately we get to the meat of the book, which is how to discuss literature and how to conduct a book group. Unlike other reading guides, (How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster comes to mind), Good Books is not academically focused or overly wordy and is geared so that non-English majors can easily understand how to dissect any bit of reading (fiction, nonfiction, classics, short stories, autobiographies, pop literature) and form it into an interesting discussion. With suggestions for how to take turns expressing opinions to playing devil’s advocate when everyone loves the book, Moore and Stevens view literature and book groups from every possible angle.
Chapter Seven: “’A Thousand Different Types’: An Assortment of Diverse Distinctive Book Groups” is a great chapter for the voyeuristic type. Comprised of “in their own words” missions, book group bombs and book group favorites from groups around the country, the chapter really gives a feel for what is going on in the world of readers. A great aside entitled “The Personalities in your Book Group: Understanding and Making the Most of Each Individual Reader” is both funny and informative, pigeonholing each member of the group with pseudo-psycho terms like “the idealistic perfectionist,” “the romantic individualist,” and “the playful hedonist,” and even adds a list of “famous” types at the end of each section so you know exactly who you are dealing with (“romantic individualists” include: Michael Jackson, Judy Garland, Virginia Woolf, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Cathy and Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, Blanche Dubois of "A Streetcar Named Desire"…get the picture?).
With a book group “troubleshooting” section, a list of suggested book club books, a glossary of literary terms and a selection of resources (including http://goodbookslately.com), Good Books wraps up the complete package with an invitation to participate in ongoing research.
The most wonderful thing about Good Books is the ease of use. While interesting enough to be read cover to cover, it easily lends itself to browsing and chapter reading. It is a great resource to take to a book group for guidance or reference, it is a wonderful gift for any English major who needs a cheat sheet and, best of all, you don’t need to read between the lines!