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BookTalk November 2011
BookTalk: Art and history colleagues' book group recommends "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn
Barbara O'Sullivan's book group recommends "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn.

Barbara O'Sullivan's book group started 32 years ago with a group of women who worked at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The following year women colleagues from the Minnesota Historical Society were invited to join. Most members have belonged around 30 years, with the newest member at five years. "We have been together through all kinds of life events: marriages, births, divorces, pets, career changes, retirements. Essentially we are growing old together," O'Sullivan said.

What book by a woman are you currently reading?
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery.

What book by a woman recently sparked a great discussion? "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver. Although the book has a historical setting, the themes reflect the current tensions of political extremism. Many of our book members have a background in art history and museum studies, so we resonated with the historical context of the main character's interactions with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and their houseguest, Leon Trotsky. Set in the late 1930s and early 1940s in the United States and Mexico, the story talks about the threat to art and artists under Hitler's influence and the impact of the McCarthy era.

What book by a woman would you recommend?
"Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn. Whenever we think back on this book, we do get squeamish. However, we regard this book as the most original of any book we have read to date. It illustrates the persuasiveness and power of mass behavior through a family of carnies.

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What makes your group work? What tips could you share?
We are all dedicated to literature. However, there is no shaming if someone has not read the book. We have very relaxed rules. Many times the discussions change our own opinions of the book and we discover perspectives we would have missed on our own.

Does your group have any traditions that you follow?
We meet at a different home every 4-6 weeks. We serve a full-course dinner with wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Meals are often related to the theme of the book. The host chooses the book for our next meeting since we have found that when hosting, it is difficult to serve food and participate as much in the discussion.

We formulate our book list for the year in January. Everyone brings suggestions, the list is distributed and the host chooses from the list. We rely heavily on books that are available through the library or in paperback. In December, we have a cookie and "white elephant" exchange.

Who are your group's favorite authors?
We read fiction and nonfiction books and enjoy memoirs. Our favorite authors: Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Ann Patchett, Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Tell us about your book group! 
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