Book Club Starter Basket

Chirped by Tina

After a long hiatus, we’re back with a new post! Our empty nests aren’t so empty these days, what with husbands and one of the nestlings back underfoot. Our routines are all akimbo, and it’s harder to meet up in person… But we’re zooming as I type, and we’re motivated, because this post is time sensitive! Hopefully this will jumpstart a return to a more regular schedule of blogging. We’ve got plenty of ideas starting to pile up from all our time at home!

Cass and I have put together a couple of “Book Club in a Basket” ¹ raffle items in the past for the Christopher Court Foundation. Those baskets revolved around food, drink and props related to the featured book – to add a little spice to a club meeting! For 2020, the challenge was to assemble a basket that’s more friendly to virtual gatherings. What better way to safely reconnect with friends and family than by hosting a video chat to discuss a terrific novel? We set to work creating a “Book Club Starter Basket” to benefit a local non-profit organization called the Penn Foundation.² It’s our attempt to take the pressure off selecting six months’ worth of great reading material for a new or existing club. The next hurdle will be teaching everyone how to use Zoom, lol…

Filling the Baskets…

Every year, at our annual book selection meeting, our club rates the past year’s books on a 5-star scale. Cass keeps a list (and book marks!) of all the titles, along with our ratings, going back to our first meeting in 2005. So many great works to choose from! We poured over the 4 and 5-star winners to pick six that represented different categories a club might want to sample. I also went through a shelf full of my kids’ old favorites for ideas for a “Read to Me” basket. Then I headed to Doylestown Bookshop with my list. The shop had generously set aside several books and a $10 gift card for our baskets, and the staff recommended replacements when they didn’t have our selections in stock. They even gave us the 20% book club discount! Here are the categories we decided on, and the books we included:

Relationships that Save Us

A popular theme in many of our best-loved books is the power of sometimes unexpected relationships to pull us out of our personal darkness. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, is a great example. It describes a family struggling to survive in the Alaskan wilderness, battling dangers both physical and psychological. Some alternates we considered for this category were A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, and A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. The latter also fits perfectly in our next category!

Historical Fiction

I never enjoyed memorizing history as a kid, but I absolutely love getting immersed in unfamiliar time periods and noteworthy events through a well-researched novel. Some historical fiction leans into the what-if universe, which can be fun, too. That’s the case with One Thousand White Women, by Jim Fergus. It paints a dramatic portrait of the clash of pioneers and Native Americans in the Midwest. The novel chronicles a covert, hypothetical trade of a thousand white brides to the Cheyenne Nation in exchange for horses. This was supposed to help assimilate Native Americans into the white man’s world. Apparently an Indian chief actually proposed a similar exchange to President Grant, but it was rejected – at least as far as we know… (-; Other favorite historical novels we’ve read include The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, and Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert.

World War II Era Dramas

There is such a wealth of great books that take place during the Second World War that we decided to make a separate category for them! Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan, is an amazing historical and biographical tale. It’s the story of an Italian teenager who became the driver for a Nazi general, and a spy for the Allies. It’s hard to believe that one young man could live through so many harrowing moments, but it’s based on actual events. I’m looking forward to the movie adaptation, starring Tom Holland. Also high on our list were: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. For another riveting biographical epic, check out Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.

Memoirs and Autobiographies

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. We see the evidence in some of the crazy memoirs we’ve read over the years! A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierly, tells the incredible true story of the author, who was irretrievably lost when he got on the wrong train in India at five years old. Long before the internet, all attempts to find his family failed, and he was eventually adopted by a couple in Australia. As an adult, he was able to use Google Earth and vivid memories of his hometown to find his way back! Other contenders in this category were The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls, and Educated, by Tara Westover. How any of these authors survived their childhoods and came out intact is a miracle worth pondering…

Books that Inspire

We love stories that make us want to be better, as a person and a human being. These are books that inspire us to “pay it forward”, or make a positive difference in someone else’s life. The titles I was armed with when I visited Doylestown Bookshop weren’t in stock, but staffer “Sue” recommended The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abram, that her own book club had enjoyed. I’m going to trust her judgment, because she approved of the other books on my list. (-: Sue says it’s totally relatable, and not specific to any one religious viewpoint. It describes a weeklong discussion between these two Nobel Peace Prize winning men about how we can find joy in the face of suffering. Our own inspirational picks include An Invisible Thread, by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, and A Secret Gift, by Ted Gup.

Thrillers and Mysteries

Sometimes you just want a good old, edge-of-your-seat, whodunit – especially around Halloween! Doylestown Bookshop donated The Shimmering Road, by Hester Young, as an entry for this heart-pounding category. It packs suspense, romance and mysticism into a thrilling tale of a pregnant woman with psychic visions solving the murder of her long-lost mother and step-sister. Cass and I chose The Dry, by Jane Harper, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides as favorite examples from our own clubs’ past reads.

Beyond the Books…

No Book Club Starter Basket would be complete without a few extra goodies! Our nod to virtual meetings consisted of six colorful “Hands Up!” sets. Keep one, and distribute the rest to the first five RSVPs? (We’ll tell you how to make your own in an upcoming post.) The idea is to have a flipbook of helpful cue cards for group chats. Avoid interrupting the speaker – but still get your point across! Things like “You’re on MUTE!”, “I agree!” and “Please Send Wine!”… lol. One hand is blank, so we also included some dry-erase markers to create your own message. “Cute Cat!” or “Potty Break…” perhaps? For the host, we supplied cozy wool socks and an herbal tea sampler. And, in anticipation of someday being able to meet again in person, we added a mask, wine charms, dessert plates and cocktail napkins to round out the collection! 

“Read to Me!” Basket

For all the parents, grandparents, and caregivers entertaining little ones, we assembled a second basket full of fun-to-read favorites. We filled it with award winning classics, and some you might not be familiar with – yet! Loosely themed around witches, monsters, black cats and creepy crawlies, kids will love the rhythms, rhymes and feel-good messaging. Our picks included: Lizard in a Blizzard, by Leslie Sims & David Semple, Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson, Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola, The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, and a pick from Doylestown Bookshop: Federico and All His Families, by Mili Hernández. We threw in a coordinating black cat, from Boyds Bears – because everyone loves a cuddle buddy during story time!

With baskets assembled, documented, and delivered to Penn Foundation, now we wait… Will they attract bids larger than what we spent filling them? No matter the return on investment, our baskets will be a fun addition to the auction. There is an amazing list of donations waiting to find new homes! If you care about the Penn Foundation ² and its mission, the bidding is now open! Our baskets are items #34 and #35… (-; Fingers crossed for a successful fall fundraiser!

¹ You can check out our previous baskets for At the Edge of the Orchard and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry at these links.

² Penn Foundation provides behavioral health services to kids and adults living with mental health and addiction challenges in our community. And it’s celebrating it’s 65th anniversary this year! The foundation’s services are more critical than ever during a global pandemic. Our “Book Club Starter Basket”, as well as our children’s “Read to Me!” basket, will be available in the Silent Auction that supplements Penn Foundation’s Autumn Hope-a-Thon. The bidding opened October 9th at 11am. It closes at 5:45pm on October 20, 2020, at the end of the Hope-a-Thon. If you’re local to the Bucks and Montgomery County areas of PA, we encourage you to tune in and check it out! 😀

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