Many of you are in book clubs, and many book clubs plan their reading selections around a theme. Popular themes might be: National Book Award winners, books that have been turned into movies, memoirs . . .
Why not choose your books based on a single author—like one of our greatest American novelists? Yep, that's right. In honor of his 193rd birthday (today!), I think you ought to plan a Herman Melville-themed book club.
While the centerpiece of any Herman Melville book club would have to be Moby-Dick, you could certainly start small, with one of my favorite short stories: "Bartleby the Scrivener." Even if you usually lean toward contemporary fiction, I'd still urge you to read this story, which is available online in its entirety. You'll especially appreciate the humor if you work with other people in an office. After you read it, I dare you to answer your supervisor with “I would prefer not to" when you're assigned a simple task.
Here are seven other books for your Melville-inspired book club. This smattering of contemporary fiction, historical fiction, history and literary analysis should give any group plenty to talk about. With such a variety of genres, there will surely be a book for every member to enjoy as you work your way up to Melville's 600+ page masterpiece.
In the Heart of the Sea
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Read this National Book Award-winner if you want to know the thrilling real-life story that provided Melville with the foundation for Moby-Dick. Think: a whaling ship, an enraged sperm whale, death, starvation, cannibalism. Whether you've read Moby-Dick or not, this is an exciting tale. Read more>>
Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
If Philbrick caught your attention with In the Heart of the Sea, you must read Why Read Moby-Dick, an argument on behalf of Melville's classic. As BookPage reviewer Julie Hale wrote in December 2011, "Facet by facet, Philbrick reveals what this vibrant novel has to tell us about the contemporary world." If you were on the fence about reading Moby-Dick before, this slim volume should convince you to dive right in. Read more>>
The Passages of H.M. by Jay Parini
Fiction based on real people seems to be all the rage these days. As Jennie Fields, author of The Age of Desire (based on the life of Edith Wharton), told us in an interview last week: Fiction lets us get into the hearts of real people in a more intimate way than straight biography ever could. Parini's novel imagines the marriage of Melville and his wife, Lizzie, who considered herself a "captive."
The Whale by Philip Hoare
This literary and cultural history of the whale is filled with quotes from Moby-Dick, not to mention scientific and historical information about the world's largest animal—which may also be the gentlest mammal known to man. Information on how humans have harmed these massive creatures will break your heart. Read more>>
The Secret of Lost Things
by Sheridan Hay
Sheridan Hay's debut novel centers on a young woman named Rosemary Savage. She moves from a small Tasmanian town to New York City with nothing more than $300 in her pocket and takes a job at a large used bookstore—becoming embroiled in a mystery surrounding a lost Melville manuscript. Read more>>
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
Herman Melville's great-great-great granddaughter's debut novel has nothing to with whaling, although it's still one of the most-anticipated books of summer 2012. The story spans more than 20 years and two generations, staring in 1945. Think: murder, friendship, marriage, heartbreak, Martha's Vineyard. Klaussmann's characters have drawn comparisons to those in The Great Gatsby. What more could you want? Read more>>
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My personal favorite novel of 2011 is packed with Melville allusions. The story takes place at a small fictional liberal arts college in Wisconsin, which is famous for a speech Melville gave on campus in 1880. The school has an obsession with the great author, going so far as to name their mascot the Harpooners, erect a Melville statue on campus and call their bar "Bartleby's." However, Melville is only part of the story of this coming-of-age tale about baseball, love and friendship. Read more>>
Do you have any good book club themes to suggest? Any recommendations to add to our Melville-inspired list?