Take your friends to the circus with our book club picks
The circus can be a dreamy, magical place or one filled with frightening clowns. Whether your book club members are interested in the history of animal treatment in traveling circuses or the more supernatural tone of magical dream worlds, circus-inspired books can be found for any group. Book club picks inspired by the circus make for a fun girls’ night in with friends. Read one of the recommended books and discuss it over colorful cocktails and circus-inspired snacks.
Use the circus as a backdrop
One of the fantastic things about using circus-themed books for a book club meeting is most people have thoughts and opinions about the circus. Whether people enjoy the animal shows or wish something different had been done in the past, the history of different circuses is fascinating. Every book club has a member — or two — who can never quite get around to finishing the book, and John Irving and Sarah Gruen have written two very different books where the circus itself is a character, and even readers who haven’t finished the book will be able to participate in the discussions.
A Son of the Circus by John Irving is a dense, complicated book that involves a circus in India — among other complicated character arcs and story lines, as anyone who’s read a John Irving novel might guess (Amazon, $10). Filled with Irving’s typical outcasts and misfits, this book deals with a serial murderer with a connection to the circus.
Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants is a story told in flashback, the ninety year old Joseph weaving a tale of life in a traveling circus (Amazon, $10). From veterinary student to circus animal doctor, Joseph comes of age in a world with its own laws and its own lawmakers, two charming and cruel men, one of whom happens to be married to the woman Joseph loves.
Young adult literature works for busy moms
Young adult books might feel like an easy path, but they’re actually genius choices for a book club filled with busy moms. YA novels tend to be quick reads and have lessons and themes that open doors to book club discussions. Moms with older kids can read the books concurrently with their children and get an entirely different perspective on the novels.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate won a Newbery Medal in 2013 (Amazon, $8). Ivan is based on an actual gorilla raised in captivity, but the novel stretches the imagination to tell the story from his point of view. Treated so much like a domesticated animal, Ivan forgets what it’s like to be a gorilla, until he meets a baby gorilla and questions his enclosed existence and the nature of art, animal nature and friendship.
Erin Morgenstern weaves a dreamlike tale set against the magical landscape of The Night Circus (Amazon, $5). The mysterious traveling circus is the magical battleground of competing magicians Celia and Marco — though they don’t fully understand the game they’ve been destined to play their entire lives. Morgenstern’s descriptive prose paints a gorgeous picture of a circus framed in a black and white visual playground.
Circus-inspired books that aren’t for the faint of heart
Circus imagery isn’t only about magical landscapes and performing animals. A layer of fear and horror accompanied circuses of the past, when side shows involved “circus freaks.”
Stephen King’s It isn’t truly a circus-inspired book, but the terrifying clown at the center of the story is the stuff of circus nightmares (Amazon, $8). Stephen King can be a hit or miss for book clubs, but the king of storytelling keeps readers turning pages — even if it’s only because they’re too scared to turn off their lights.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is an award-winning, twisted, grotesque tale (Amazon, $11). The Binewskis are a family of — literal — freaks, self-created by an ambitious father and a mother who was more than willing to engage in a wide variety of radioactive treatments and drug exposure to create their own freak show. Their machinations work, and Dunn’s novel explores the ethical issue of genetic manipulation, the power of cults and the strange nature of family bonds. The book is intriguing but can be repulsive. If your book club is looking forward to the latest incarnation of American Horror Story — AHS: Freak Show — this might be the book to try.