Best Book Club in New York: The Park Avenue Literary and Potato Chip Society

Hello and welcome back, Guys and Gals. I hope your summer was filled with sunny days by the seaside or Adirondack evenings, the temperatures dropping with the sun as it slipped behind the mountains. Here in the city, it was hot and humid with long stretches of murky days in which not much happened—the sun didn’t shine, the rain didn’t fall, and the humidity never budged. It was like living in Mumbai, longing for the monsoon rains to arrive.

Addicted to the written word…

Addicted to the written word…

So it was that I happily turned the page to welcome a cooler September, as well as the members of my book club. I belong to what has to be the best book club in New York, one that’s been meeting for more than four years, if still lacking an official name. As an admirer of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I’ve dubbed ours The Park Avenue Literary and Potato Chip Society. For the time being.

Last week was my turn to host, and potato chips were nowhere to be found. Organic green tea and sustainably grown black coffee from Kenya were available, but everyone agreed that ‘Damn Good Rose’ from Monterrey, California lived up to its name. Once that was settled and before discussing The Pioneers, our ‘read’ for the month, we took the time to look back over the thirty-seven books we had read, each picking her favorite.

As a group, we read an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction, the former greatly outnumbering the latter 30 to 7 at last count. That said, the older I get the more interested I am in nonfiction, in reading about real-world issues, which could mean anything pertaining to the history of or the problems besetting our country. Or the world. Before the closing of Crawford Doyle Booksellers on Madison Avenue, our local book store, I recall having a conversation, ten or more years ago, with the longtime manager about an interest in nonfiction I found hard to account for.

‘You and everyone else,’ she said.

“Really? Why do you think that is?’ To which she replied: ‘It all changed overnight after 9-11.’ Given this predisposition of mine, I’m happy to be in a book club that keeps me up-to-date on reading fiction as well as nonfiction. See for yourself.

When it comes to nonfiction, we’ve read and profited from: The Wright Brothers and The Pioneers by David McCullough; Red Notice, Bill Browder; Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance; Dark Money, Jane Mayer; Educated, Tara Westover; Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, Sonia Purnell; and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. The hands-down nonfiction winner was Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, and One Man’s Fight for Justice—a political memoir that reads like a thriller—followed by Clementine: The Life of Mrs Winston Churchill, a political biography long overdue.

As for fiction, we read anything from literary classics to hot-off-the-press novels. What to date has not found favor with the group are mysteries and thrillers, sci-fi, books on spirituality or anything downright strange. Our selections run the gamut from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, whose intelligence and moral courage set her apart from the more malleable female characters of her day, to The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway; The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

Wish you were here…

Wish you were here…

But when it came time to choose a favorite, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles was the number one choice for best fiction, followed by Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. Other books receiving honorable mentions included Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance; A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson; and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. So there you have it: excellent fiction, excellent nonfiction. Take your pick; you can’t go wrong in reading any of them.

Next up is Willa Cather. I recall loving Cather’s My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop and look forward to The Song of the Lark. Perhaps you’d like to read along with us. Then we can chat.

That’s all for now mes amis. But before we go, I have a question: Have you read a book, fiction or nonfiction, that you would recommend? We’re always looking for interesting reads. So, drop me a line in the Comments box. It’s that easy.

In the meantime, may life be good to you. Next time around, I’ll have the coffee ready, be it Sumatran, Hawaiian or that old standard Maxwell House, good to the last drop. Thanks for stopping by. En attendant de nous revoir…until we meet again.