During the 2014 Writer Unboxed Unconference, Donald Maass riveted his workshop participants by describing one scene contained within a breakout novel. In it, a family physician—a man who swore the Hippocratic Oath and spent his life tending to the citizens of his small town—is brought the corpse of a probable murder victim. His response? Rather than begin a forensic exam or move to preserve evidence, he takes a golf club and swings it directly at the victim’s face.
What could drive a doctor to a deliberate act of mutilation? we wondered. Was this the first of many betrayals? Would the dead young woman ever receive justice?
Since Don’s teaching agenda didn’t involve answering of these questions, and since we writers require the flimsiest of excuses to purchase yet another book, that evening saw a small spike in sales for The Virgin of Small Plains. But that wasn’t the end of it. Days later, those of us who devoured its pages found ourselves craving a time and place to discuss our Weighty Thoughts.
Thus was born the Facebook page devoted to reading and dissecting breakout novels from a writerly perspective.
Please consider this post both a brief report on how we operate and an invitation to join us, if you are inclined.
After that first, spontaneous choice, we developed a selection process for our books.
We aim for a broad range of genres, but we’re also after breakout novels which are affordable and/or widely available through libraries and secondhand bookstores. We don’t want cost to become a barrier to participation.
Anyone can nominate a book for discussion, and the final selection is determined by a vote. In instances where we’ve had two clear leaders, we’ve chosen to tackle them sequentially.
Our goal is to analyze one book every two months. To that end, these are the books we’ve dissected:
- The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—under discussion at the time of this writing.
You’ll notice the last three books incorporate particularly heavy-duty themes, conflict, and settings, so our next book choice will likely serve as a “palate cleanser”.
Rabid Discussion Ensues
Based upon Donald Maass’ books and workshops, we’ve developed a number of core questions which we apply to each book. The discussion is spread out over a week, spanning a weekend to ensure those people working a 9-5 job still have a chance to chime in while the questions are fresh.
Not every question is germane to every book, obviously, but here’s a rough list of subjects we tackle: