The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood is a story about a woman who is a member of a book group. I generally like stories about book groups, as I get to follow the character’s conversations about books I have read. Sometimes I get excited about a book which I haven’t read, and add that book to my To Be Read list.
In real life though, I was once a member of a book group, and that didn’t work out so well.
The first book my book group read was Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus. I was so worried about not being smart enough to take part in the discussions that I read the book twice in preparation for the first meeting.When my group met, we talked about the book for approximately thirty seconds before the conversation turned to husbands, children and recipes. I forget what the second book was, but that meeting’s book discussion was similar to the first. I dropped out. For all I know, my former book group still meet every month.
The main character in The Book that Matters Most is Ava, whose husband of 25 years recently left her for a yarn-bomber. I know I say this all the time when a book starts with a recently separated wife, but the loss of this particular husband was no great loss. Typical. Funny how when fictional husbands die they are a great loss, but if they leave the heroine for another woman, they are obviously not worth trying to keep. I once heard Rita Rudner, (an American comedian) tell a joke along the lines of; if my husband is late coming home and he’s either having an affair or dead, I always hope he’s dead. It’s funny to me because it’s true.
Anyway, Ava has two grown-up children, Will, who is off looking after chimpanzees or something in a remote jungle, (forget about Will, he’s not important to the story) and Maggie, who is troubled. (In this case, ‘troubled’ means that Maggie is a drug-addicted runaway, who has become the mistress of a sadist in Paris). Maggie is important to the story, so remember her.
The accidental death of Ava’s younger sister during their childhood and the subsequent suicide of Ava’s mother weave in and out of the present story, which swings between what is going on with Ava at the monthly book club meeting, and whatever stupid thing Maggie is doing in Paris at the same time.
At the beginning of the year, each member of the book club chose a book to be read and discussed at their meetings. This year’s theme was the book which mattered most to that member. One member choose Pride and Prejudice, another One Hundred Years of Solitude, (which I haven’t read, but have added to my own list), Slaughterhouse-Five, To Kill a Mockingbird, Anna Karenina, The Great Gatsby, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (I haven’t read this either), Catcher in the Rye, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and One Hundred Years of Solitude, (haven’t read the last two either, and have added them to my list).
The story of The Book that Matters Most is okay, light enough to read without concentrating too hard and the literary references made me feel as if I was reading something slightly worthier than ‘just a novel.’ However, as a heroine, Ava didn’t have much going for her. She was a French teacher at a University which I would have like to hear more about, but otherwise, she was fairly dull and I didn’t really care about her. Ava fell into an affair with a younger man, but only because he fancied her and she went along with him. I probably don’t have to tell you that this whole story is quite predictable. Read The Book that Matters Most if you like, or don’t, it’s completely up to you…
What I have been thinking about is the book club’s theme, which book has mattered most to me.
It’s really hard to pick just one book, as there have been so many favourites at different times of my life, starting with a Little Golden Book called The Happy Family, which Mum read to me, over and over again. Looking at the gorgeous pictures from this book still make me feel happy.
Next came a love for the Famous Five and then the Anne of Green Gables books. I also read Mum’s Schoolgirl’s Own Library stories over and over again, wishing desperately to be sent to boarding school where I would be certain to have an adventure of my own.
In my teens, favourite books included an abridged version of Pride and Prejudice, along with various Sweet Dreams romance novels, such as Ten Boy Summer and The Popularity Plan.
Then came The Australian Women’s Weekly Baby Book, which I referred to regularly when Honey-Bunny came along. (Obviously the Sweet Dreams novels did not serve me all that well…)
As an adult, how can I pick a favourite PG Wodehouse novel, or a single Georgette Heyer novel? I return to Jane Austen’s Persuasion over and over again, but am regularly coming across new-to-me stories which make me laugh and cry and think and hope. I can’t possibly choose just one book that matters most. They all matter to me, for many different reasons.
Let me know if you can choose a single book which has mattered most to you.