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home : features : booktalk April 28, 2016

BookTalk July 2010
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog," by Muriel Barbery, sparked a great discussion for Jill Breckenridge's book club.

What would your book group recommend? Write to editor@womenspress.com


Twin Cities poet Jill Brecken-ridge organized a book club for women writers in 1984. A few years later the group expanded to include a photographer, a dancer/arts administrator 
and a librarian. There are currently 18 women in the group. Earlier this year, writers from the group gave a reading from their individual works at the Southdale Public Library.

What books by women are you currently reading?

"A Mercy" by Toni Morrison; "The Appointment" by Herta Muller; "A Natural History of the Senses" by Diane Ackerman; and "Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry," edited by Camille T. Dungy.

What book recently sparked a great discussion?

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery was one of the best. The complexity of social class and modern life are interwoven along with references to world literature, language and thought. It is a well-told story, too. Set in a grand Paris apartment building, two prickly female voices tell the tale-an 11-year-old child of privilege; and her building's brilliant and self-educated 54-year-old concierge. Their interior lives, astonishing actions and reflections pull you toward a surprising conclusion.

What questions have you discovered that incite the best discussion?

This group plunges into a discussion without formal questions. We debate the use of language, character development, story construction and ideas. We read passages from the book to reinforce our points of view. While we may not agree with each other, our discussions are held in a charged-but respectful-atmosphere.

Does your group have any rituals or traditions that you follow?

In October, we read our current writing. Members who are not working on a manuscript read from their journals. Hearing work read aloud, to trusted listeners, provides a powerful mirror for self-editing.

Each spring we have a poetry swap. Members bring copies of favorite poems to distribute. Poems are read aloud followed by a lively discussion, or silence as the words penetrate our consciousness.

Originally, we had potluck dinners, but we soon agreed that all that food preparation and the eating of it took away from our book and the discussion. Now, the host provides something to drink and some nibbles. We encourage everyone to attend even if she hasn't had time to read the book. Members often reread the book after the discussion.

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Who are your group's favorite authors?

Our long list of favorite authors and titles includes: "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion; "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson; "Poems of Lucille Clifton"; "The Street" by Ann Petry; "Something to Declare" by Julia Alvarez; "Open Secrets" by Alice Munro; "The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch.

In our 25 years we've had many other favorite authors: Ann Patchett, George Eliot, Nadine Gordimer, Barbara Kingsolver, Linda Hogan, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, and many more.

Tell us about your book group!

For a list of questions to answer go to www.womenspress.com, choose AboutUs from the menu, then Writers' Guidelines, and then write to editor@womenspress.com





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