In the Garden of Beasts

My Book Club’s Reading List

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One question that readers often ask me (and the inmates often asked me too when I was taking part in the prison book club) is how my women’s book club in Toronto selects its books for the year. Usually we choose a theme, everyone recommends several titles that fit that category and then we vote. One year we read books by Chinese authors, for example. Another year, African writers. I’d like to propose Australian books for next year. I’ve read a lot of Patrick White and Robert Hughes and want to try some of Australia’s more recent Miles Franklin Literary Award winners. But for the 2015/16 reading year we are focusing on books about or set during the first half of the 20th century. So far, we’ve discussed Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day (an absolute pleasure to read…the voice!); Boris Johnson’s amusingly argued The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History; and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson about U.S. Ambassador William Dodd and his flirtatious daughter Martha in 1930s Germany. Of course, as I reread Larson’s book, I recalled what some of the inmates in the Beaver Creek Book Club had said about it. Frank described Martha as a “tramp” and Graham joked about William Dodd’s frugality: “Fritz, count the cutlery”.