Tuesday, April 13, 2010

book club: Olive Kitteridge

The book club back story: After living in Albany for two years, I decided I had enough literary-minded friends and acquaintances to start a book club. We had our first meeting last night, and it was wonderful. Here is the delightful spread of wine and snacks.
The book choice: I chose Olive Kitteridge for our first book because I had been meaning to read it for a long time. Plus, it's relatively short, and I didn't want to scare people away.

The basics: Olive Kitteridge is a set of somewhat interconnected stories (some are more connected than others). Olive Kitteridge is an old, large curmudgeon of a woman who lives on the coast of Maine. She taught math before she retired.Some stories are about Olive, some she plays a supporting role in, and some her name is only mentioned in passing.

The verdict: The six of us were relatively split on the book, and it made for wonderful discussion. I admire Elizabeth Strout, but I didn't love Olive Kitteridge. I'm glad she won the Pulitzer Prize for it because I love the idea of the book, and I think it's an interesting departure for literature. I loved her writing. Her words have a simplicity and an elegance, and she uses sparse language to convey so much action, emotion and observation. I'm certainly glad I read it, and I would recommend it to bibliophiles, but I would not recommend it to irregular readers. It was not always an easy book to read. I am not a big fan of short stories in general, but I loved some stories, liked others and could have done without a few. What I loved most was Olive herself. She is such a dynamic character, and I missed her when the stories veered away from her. As some character names came up more than once, I found myself having trouble remembering if I had met these characters before. (Side note: I have never been more grateful for my Kindle's ability to search within a book. Also, the Wikipedia page on the novel has a wonderful listing of characters, but it does include spoilers.) Mostly it didn't matter, but when the stories started to feel more like a novel, I felt like I was missing something. Overall: it's brilliant, but I didn't love it.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 304
Publication: March 25, 2008 by Random House
Source: I bought it for my Kindle (it's only $5.50)

I do look forward to reading more of Elizabeth Strout's work. Have you read Olive Kitteridge? What did you think? Have you read other Strout books? Would you recommend Abide With Me or Amy and Isabelle?

Next month: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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  1. I didn't love it. This was up against Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri for the Pulitzer Prize and I was disappointed when Lahiri didn't win. I loved that book!! There is a lot to discuss about OK, though, so I can see where it would be a great book club selection.

  2. @ Mary I still haven't read any Jhumpa Lahiri. I must do so soon!

  3. I had a similar reaction to the book. I thought the structure was fascinating, but didn't feel connected to the characters. I would like to second Mary praise of Unaccustomed Earth. That book was fantastic and the perfect example of how a good book of short stories should be done.

  4. How excited to have started a book club! Congrats!

    I have this book on my shelf but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Someday!

  5. I think this is definitely a great choice for your first book club. I really liked this one and we had a great book club discussion on it. I did lend it to someone who is an irregular reader and she was not a fan, so I think your advice is pretty acurate. I will be curious to see what you think of Oscar. I didn't like it, but I kept feeling like I was missing something.

  6. people seem to be mixed on this book - I haven't read it yet. Congrats on the inaugural meeting of your book club!


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