The Beginner’s Goodbye Discussion Journal

On Tuesday, the Whitney Book Bistro discussed The Beginner’s Goodbye. I had chosen BeginnersGoodbyeCoverthe book because Anne Tyler is a remarkable and well-liked writer. The book is a 2012 Booklist Editor’s Choice selection, was given a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal called it “essential reading.” Every book we read has some detractors, and Beginner’s Goodbye was no exception. The Kirkus reviewer called it “an uncharacteristically slight work by a major novelist.”

Although one member didn’t like the book and another found it to be an easy read but wondered at the end why he had read it, we found plenty to discuss – almost as if we were discussing friends and neighbors. One member found the first part of the book slow and said she would not have finished if it hadn’t been a book club book. But by the end, she liked it.

I wondered at the end of last month’s journal how our expectations would inform our reading, and I definitely sensed a fondness for Anne Tyler that superseded this particular work. One member felt the author wrote a male narrator convincingly, another remarked that it was no wonder since Tyler was the older sister of three brothers!

Nothing really extraordinary happens in the book, and that is perhaps its strength. We can so easily identify with the ordinariness. Even the narrator’s visits with his deceased wife are not the spectacular hauntings of a ghost but the subtle insistence of memory. Perhaps. One member wished that there was a companion book, telling the story from the wife’s viewpoint, and most of us seemed to agree.  We even joked that we should contact Anne Tyler to make the suggestion.

The Beginner’s Goodbye is a book about loss and regret, and I was moved by the members who were willing to share their own losses with the group – parents, children, spouses. When I choose a book for the group to read, looking at award winners, popular authors, well-regarded authors, diverse topics, I often worry about wasting our time or missing something great. The Beginner’s Goodbye made me think about missed opportunities, and I’m glad the book club isn’t one of them.

Other books mentioned:

  •             A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (2011 book club selection)
  •             Netherland by Jospeh O’neill (Sept. 2012 book club selection)
  •             The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
  •             Author Wally Lamb
  •             Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
  •             Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  •             Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh