30 Mar 2012

What We Talk About When
We Talk About Books

2 Comments Book Reviews

Smart women love to read, and our solitary reading experiences are enhanced when we discuss literature as a community. While we explore fundamentals such as character, theme, plot and style, our conversations really come to life when we examine an author’s attitude toward his or her subject.

In two powerful, incisive short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” Raymond Carver and Nathan Englander respectively give us startling, provocative views of love and marriage. These works expose a truth about the most intimate of relationships—that while they can be deeply satisfying, there are also unspoken, darker understandings that surface under certain circumstances (and these authors create the precise situations for these to unfold).

What we might suggest as a book club ‘assignment’ would be to read these two stories side by side and ask why Englander chooses to build a story upon Carver’s theme and structure. He follows Carver’s patterns quite closely with a clear intention. Your group can consider:

  • What are the similarities and differences between the two?
  • What are the authors saying, and what does Englander add to Carver’s classic story?
  • How do they present the ideas of love and marriage, and how are these emotions tied up with issues of power, control, and the ‘truth’?

What we think you might discover is that what we talk about when we talk about books is also much more complex than just what is on the page. As many women will attest, we learn so much about one another through our explorations of fiction that it is impossible to limit our discussion to the book even when we discipline ourselves to stay on the topic. Infused in every comment about a text is a smart woman’s point of view, which reveals who she is, what she believes, and where she stands. This is the heart and soul of a book club.

So, take a look at the Carver and Englander. See what you think about these couples sitting around a table draining bottles of gin and vodka (and in Englander’s story, smoking a fair amount of pot). What happens when they loosen their collars a bit and get into the hard facts of life and love? And ultimately, how are we transformed by our own talks about books?

Perhaps there’s a story here.


written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

2 Comments for“What We Talk About When
We Talk About Books”

  1. Reply madelyn lorber says:

    Some mighty heady stuff you’d have us reading, as if we hadn’t already been!
    That other Book Clubs digress in their discussions is encouraging; we can’t help ourselves.. Some part of every book resonates with the reader in an individual, personal way. Exposing that connection or disconnection or association makes the reading and discussions meaningful.
    Don’t know how to squeeze in all the books you suggest, all the ones we want, and the selections for the ‘club’ and then those we must, like Ethan Canin! But I keep trying.
    One in the kitchen, one in the bathroom, one on my Kindle, and one on CD in the car.
    Recommending Geronimo’s Skull by John Daniel. Don’t know if its available in
    hard copy.

  2. Reply Lisa says:

    Yes…that’s the beauty of reading as a group. We learn about the literature AND about each other. And you are right–books resonate with each reader in a different way, and we often see new things as we share our impressions.

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