Books and book groups appearing in novels

Being a collector of trivia and the minutia of details that might not interest everyone, I began taking note when I noticed books and book discussion groups were being mentioned more and more in some of the popular fiction I’ve read over the past six months or so.

What does it mean?  Does it set a novel to a certain place in time?  Does it date the novel, and give it less appeal, or perhaps a quainter feeling, years in the future?  Is the author giving his/her contemporary novel more credence by tying it to another work?

Here are some of the bits I’ve noticed … Have you seen this too?  Will you notice it more, now that I’ve pointed it out?  What do you think of the trend?  Does it have to mean anything?

p. 218 of Tan Linesby J. J. Salem: “Nearby was Renee Zellwegger, eating alone and deeply engrossed in a book – David Halbertstam’s The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.”

Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down had a few mentions:

  • p 93 (Martin’s chapter) “A few years ago, Cindy joined one of those dreadful reading groups, where unhappy, repressed middle-class lesbians talk for five minutes about some novel they don’t understand, and then spend the rest of the evening moaning about how dreadful men are.”
  • p 29 (JJ) “I read the fuck out of every book I can get my hands on.  I like Faulkner and Dickens and Vonnegut and Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas.  Earlier that week – Christmas Day, to be precise – I’d finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which is a totally awesome novel.  I was actually going to jump with a copy, not only because it would have been kinda cool, and would’ve added a little mystique to my death, but because it might have been a good way of getting more people to read it.”
  • p 188 (Jess) – “You need confidence to go into small places with regular customers – small bookshops and small music shops and small restaurants and cafes.  I’m happiest in the Virgin Megastores and Borders and Starbucks and PizzaExpress, where no one gives a shit, and no one knows who you are.  My mum and dad are always going on about how soulless those places are, and I’m like, Der.  That’s the point.”
  • “The book group thing was JJ’s idea.  He said people do it a lot in America, read books and talk about them; Martin reckoned it was becoming fashionable here, too, but I’d never heard of it, so it can’t be that fashionable, or I’d have read about it in Dazed and Confused.”

Cheryl Jarvis’ The Necklace devoted several paragraphs to the group’s reaction to a reading list:

Jonell … gave the group a reading list and their first assignment: Affluenza by three men no one had heard of.  Jonell liked context.  “If we’re going to talk about the necklace … this book will give us a frame of reference, make us more knowledgeable and effective.”

Mary … was [an] avid reader of literary fiction.  She had no interest in self-help books.  If I’d wanted a book club … I would’ve joined one.  In fact, the group’s reaction to the reading assignment was like the greeting card headlined “Bad Girls Book Club,” where half the group doesn’t read the book and the other half doesn’t even show up.

Patti wasn’t in the habit of reading self-help books either.  She liked escape novels and crime fiction … she was a member of the Good Girls Book club; she read the book.

And I picked this out from Ann Patchett’s Run (p 153): “He had her suitcase, a quilted bag containing a toothbrush and a nightgown, underwear and extra sweaters, a copy of The Magic Mountain that she was reading for a course called Twentieth-Century Classics in Translation.”

Another Patchett novel, Bel Canto, had a scene involving two captives in a hostage situation:

…Gen stopped and spoke to Simon Thibault, who was stretched across a nearby sofa reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish.

“This will take me forever,” Thibault said to Gen in French.  “Maybe a hundred years.  At least I know I have the time.”

“Who knew that being kidnapped was so much like attending university?” Gen said.

Thibault laughed and turned a page. …

From Jennie Shortridge’s Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe:

Parker gave Mira a CD of Mozart sonatas, the new Andre Barrett book of short stories, delicate earrings made of sea glass, and the softest sweater she’d ever touched.

“How do you always know just what to get me?” she’d asked …

So, wondering about things like this is what keeps me busy … and gives me the patience to answer my kids when they ask “why is the sky blue?” or “where does the snow go when it melts?”

7 comments to Books and book groups appearing in novels

  • I don’t know what it means or if it means anything, but I liked reading your post & found it interesting. Keep thinking those deep thoughts!

  • I have noticed this in almost every book I have read. Also either the main character or some one close to the is an author, poet or a book lover. One mention of books I noticed recently is in the Twilight series, I think it was in Eclipse where there is numberous times that Wuthering Hieghts is discussed and even quoted. I believe one of the reasons why this is, is because many people write what they know and authors know books, generally.

  • sherry – thanks for the vote of confidence :) The trend has really struck me lately (there are many more examples that I didn’t include in the post). Now that I’ve mentioned it, maybe you’ll see it popping up in your reading, too.

    Trin – “authors know books, generally.” That’s true; there are probably plenty of authors who mention music in their writing, too, but I’m not as “in tune” (forgive me) with that, so it doesn’t jump out at me.

  • I have left you a award at Jewish Rantings. Check it out

  • I meant to let you know I have two blogs you can find it here

  • I’ll probably start noticing this more now lol. The one time I did notice (negatively) an author tying their book to someone else’s was in Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand written in 1987 where almost every page mentions some mystery or mystery author. It drove me nuts because I hadn’t even heard of half of the people :(

  • Dawn – thanks for linking me to this post. One thing you didn’t mention is my theory that authors are courting book clubs, trying to ingratiate themselves with clubs into order to get those clubs to read their books. I don’t think it is a bad thing, nor do I think all authors are doing it, but I do think that some are.

    (PS. About Boston, my brother in law lives there … if I ever come up to visit I’ll be sure to let you know! I *was* there for 4th of July this past year, but that was his wedding day so there was no extra time during that trip.)

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