Anxious People & Reading Books for 25 Years!

Image of the book, Anxious People on a bookshelf

“It’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is.”

~ Fredrik Backman, from Anxious People

My book club, the Novel Thinkers<, has been reading books for 25 years. The novel, Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, is the 251st book that we have enjoyed together.

Twenty-five years — it’s a milestone for sure. Since September 1996, the Novel Thinkers have met to read and talk about books! We’ve read the gamut of genres — from chick-lit to memoirs, self-help to mysteries, cookbooks to general fiction, literature to science fiction, fantasy to non-fiction. We’ve read them all!

Apart from reading great (and not-so-great) books, we have also ventured out of our reading circle to explore other ways to experience books. Our field trips are legendary. From a presentation of The Vagina Monologues to the movie The Time Traveller’s Wife, we had many fascinating book-related excursions.

We attended numerous reading events with enthralling authors. Authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Dunant, John Irving, Miriam Toews, Khaled Hosseini, and Madeleine Thien, to name a few.

We hosted several local authors at our meetings over the years. It was delightful to meet them and discuss their work face to face. Their elucidations added a deeper level of enjoyment to our reading. Some of our guest writers were Carmen Aguirre (Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter), Aislinn Hunter (The World Before Us), Anosh Irani (The Song of Kahunsha), and JJ Lee (The Measure of a Man). One month, we had the pleasure of a Skype book club with Richard Harvell, where we talked with him about his novel, The Bells.

An image of a stack of books. The titles create a poem
Book Spine Poetry

And then, there were our Christmas potlucks. Nearly 25 festive meals over the Novel Thinkers’ lifetime (so far)! We look forward to this event every year. This annual get-together is a true potluck, meaning that we all bring a dish to share, but we don’t have a sign-up list of what to bring. We go with the flow. I remember the year we had mostly rice dishes, and once, we had an all-dessert buffet! No matter, every year, the meal is delicious, and the company is beyond compare. Ask me about the year we tried Book Spine Poetry! It was a BIG hit!

A quarter of a century of reading (and eating) together with a bevy of intelligent and riotously fun bookworms! Of course, our club has gone through a few changes over the years. Although only one or two of the original members remain, our core group has been together for most of the time.

Our crew today is small, about half of the number we like to maintain, but we still manage to come together to talk about our lives, families and, naturally, about books. Like many clubs, the pandemic has hit our little circle hard. Virtual meetings, members moving/leaving, and the general busyness of everyday life have resulted in the decline of our membership.

Right now, we are all thinking of ways to grow the Novel Thinkers and wondering what any new changes might mean. How will we evolve? How can we grow — do we canvas for new members (how do you do that)? Or do we morph the group into something else while trying to keep the focus on reading? Does this spell the end of the Novel Thinkers? These are the questions we are pondering. More brainstorming is needed!

Well, for now, we are still a bonafide book club. We still enjoy reading books and discussing them! And this brings me to the actual point of this post — my thoughts on Anxious People, our October book choice.

I must point out; I didn’t attend the meeting this month even though I finished the book. So, this review reflects only my opinion — not that of the group. (Novel Thinkers, if you are reading this review, please share your thoughts about this book in the comments!)

An imageof a woman reading the novel, Anxious People

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman — A Review

In the opening paragraphs, the narration begins “A bank robbery. A hostage drama. A stairwell full of police officers on their way to storm an apartment. It was easy to get to this point, much easier than you might think. All it took was one single really bad idea. This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots…”

What would you expect, with a plot that involves a desperate, hapless bank robber, eight anxious strangers who become “the world’s worst hostages,” and a pair of local cops determined to resolve the crime before the “Stockholmers” arrives to take over the case?

If you said “hilarity, tragedy, compassion, love, anxiety and depression,” you would be right.

The tale revolves around a desperate character who hatches a scheme to rob a bank. After finding the bank impossible to burglarize (it’s cashless!), the would-be-robber flees the scene and crashes an open house at a nearby apartment building. The potential buyers assume that the criminal is holding them hostage. They soon bond together during the frightening event. The crime spree ends when the hostages are released, and the robber has vanished into thin air.

The story continues as the two policemen (a father and son) try to make sense of the perplexing situation by examining the scene and unravelling the exasperating interviews with the eight hostages.

Through police interviews and inner dialogues, the reader is offered a glimpse into the lives of these anxious people. Backman’s talent is evident as he tells the endearing back story of each character, painting captivating portraits of each strongly drawn individual. As the novel progresses, we learn about each person’s anxieties and recognize them as our own.

Backman’s ability to capture the humanity of his characters helps us readers feel akin to them.  They feel familiar to us. We know them — we could be them. Backman leads us to understand the human connection and the impact we have on each other. His whimsical writing style will have you contemplating the complex topics of suicide, anxiety and depression while easing the tension with his gentle humour.

“Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control, so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce about on its surface like so many lost socks.”

~ Fredrik Backman, Anxious People

Anxious People is winsome, heart-wrenching, and intriguing all at the same time.  It is a hopeful novel that invokes wonder, joy and compassion. Fredrik Backman’s superb writing and savvy insights illustrate the importance of acceptance, loyalty, love, and friendship.

The story started as a simple tale of a robbery gone wrong. It ended up as a commentary on the more important matters of life. How do we determine what is right or what is wrong?  — How do we measure courage? —  What does it mean to love someone? How do we deal with loss, grief and change? How can we reach out of our anxiety, our sadness and recognize our connections to our fellow human beings? 

Fredrik Backman’s novel, Anxious People, will warm your heart, make you laugh, and bring you to tears.  A perfect mix of comedy and tragedy, this book will inspire you to look beyond the absurdities of life and realize the importance of human connections.

Like this review? Click the links to read my book reviews of Alif, the Unseen and When Breath Becomes Air.

What are you reading? Share your favourites in the comments.

4 Comments on “Anxious People & Reading Books for 25 Years!

  1. I think I would love your club too. I really enjoyed Fight Night. Like A Complicated Kindness it is a slow simmering story but not as tragic. The Son Of The House is about two

    • …. Oops. About two African women and is quite an eye opener at times. It would be great for a book club. I will have yo check out Horizon.

  2. I love my book club — I am fortunate to be a part of this fabulous cohort of smart women! It’s too bad you live on the other side of the country. I think you would like our group. What did you think of Fight Night? We have read two of Toews’ novels — A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows. We all liked both books if memory serves me. I’ll have to check out The Son of the House and What Strange Paradise. I haven’t read any by those two authors. Our November book is Horizon by Barry Lopez. I am only a couple of chapters in, but I love his writing. It’s a BIG book, though, not sure if I can finish it in a month! Thank you for your comment!

  3. I am so jealous of your book club. I have tried two different ones in the past but neither worked out. I will admit that I skipped over your review because I want to read that book and didn’t want to see any giveaways. My current reads have been from The Giller Short list. Miriam Toews, Fight Night and Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, The Son of The House were both excellent. I have just started Omar El Akkad, What Strange Paradise; and my first impression is positive. Hope you club continues to thrive in some form.