Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book Club Meeting: Olive Kitteridge

Around the same time I was raving about Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout here, I was also singing its praises to my book club. As a result, it was chosen as our February selection and last Friday was meeting day. From spring through Christmas, we meet at member's homes, but in the dead of winter, when roads and driveways become difficult to navigate and available parking is diminished by mountains of snow, we move to the local coffee shop. After purchasing our coffee, lattes, or tea, we made our way upstairs to the meeting room.

There was a relatively small crowd - just 6 of us. One member got called to sub at the elementary school, another received a last minute phone call from her MIL requesting a ride to a doctor's appointment, and one more was home with a sick child. What was remarkable about this particular gathering, though, was that everyone had read the book. After a brief period to catch up with each others lives, we started with the standard "Did you like the book?" before quickly moving on to a more in-depth discussion.

Initially I was relieved that nobody disliked the book (I always seem to take it personally if a suggestion of mine is panned by the group). The first part of our discussion focused on Olive herself - not being a particularly likable character, reminding one member of her mother (!), and even drawing a few laughs as we recounted some of Olive's escapades. We agreed that the author had done an excellent job of showing how Olive's character was able to grow and adapt. We talked about Olive's family and characters that made a guest appearance in just one story. We cited out favorite/least favorite stories and several memorable passages.

A good amount of discussion was spent on the structure of the book...the fact that it was not just a collection of short stories, nor was it a true novel. This was what put a couple people off, but it was something that really stood out for me. The short stories were, in fact, related and occurred over a period of time showing Olive as a young wife, mother and math teacher and, eventually, as a retired widow. Events were not necessarily connected as a novel would be, rather the reader was given each story as a snapshot and left to piece them together and fill in the blanks for herself.

We did come to the conclusion that the reader of the audiobook greatly added to my personal enjoyment (her Maine accent was perfect). I only checked the book out of the library to go back and reread favorite passages. While I was disappointed that the others did not come to love the book as I did, I was also relieved there was no strong criticism.

This completes challenge #10 of the 2009 mini-challenges.


  1. Sounds as though you've had a good meeting. It's interesting to hear other peoples' views of books I think. The internet is my bookclub I can rake through loads of blogs and be in heaven!

  2. Your book club evening sounds so cozy! At the library where I work they have a book club called Books & Beans (that's because there's coffee). A couple of years ago a librarian had to tell a woman she was no longer welcome to join in as she criticized the other ladies comments. Your group sound like they're much more civilized!

  3. I have never been a part of a book club (not for lack of trying, mind you), but yours sounds like the quintessential group. Thanks for allowing me to join vicariously.

  4. Zetor - It was a good meeting! I have enjoyed internet bookclubs over the years, too, and I just love reading book blogs.

    Darlene - We've been very fortunate in our group. Even when there is disagreement, both sides are able to share their views without criticism.

    Molly - This group actually grew out of a playgroup. When our youngest children went to nursery school, the moms still wanted to keep meeting...so we re-invented ourselves as a bookclub! There are still a few original members left
    from 1997! Glad you enjoyed the meeting...I think you'd fit right in if you were here.

  5. How fun to meet at a coffee shop for a change! My book group (before moving here) went out to dinner over the holidays, but generally met at members' homes.

    Olive Kitteridge - I'm with you in really liking this book. Olive herself could be a bit cranky at times :), but I think it was a realistic portrayal of a woman her age, in her stage(s) of life, in her part of the country.

    I attended an author's breakfast this fall, at which Elizabeth Strout read from *Olive Kitteridge*. She (Strout) doesn't have a heavy Maine accent, but the slow deliberate way she spoke (pronouncing Kitteridge "kit-rige") added a lot to my own reading of the book.

    My review is here.

    She is Too Fond of Books

  6. Dawn,
    What a treat to hear Elizabeth Strout read from her work!! I enjoyed your review, and I'd forgotten all about the sunglasses. The coffee shop is a nice change of pace for our book group. We love the comfortable meeting room upstairs. Thanks for visiting!

  7. I enjoyed the audio version of Olive Kittridge a lot. Great Blog.

  8. Diane,
    Thanks for visiting! I thought the reader of Olive Kitteridge was fantastic, and was sad when the book ended.


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