Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hurrah for Book Clubs!

I belong to a neighborhood book club of ten or so women who meet once a month over wine and snacks to discuss a book we've all read. We tend to focus on literary and women's fiction, with an occasional nonfiction book thrown in. I decided to join the book club so I would be forced to read books outside of my default genre--mysteries. Being a member has caused me to read many books I never would have selected on my own, and most of them I've enjoyed.

We tend to pick books that address a controversial topic so we have something meaty to discuss. And my group has a diversity of opinions, so the discussions can get interesting, though they're always polite. For example, this month we read Zeitoun by Dave Eggars, our nonfiction book for the year. This book created a lively discussion, as it's about the horrible effects on one family of the inept, illegal, and irresponsible response of Homeland Security to Hurricane Katrina. Many of us couldn't believe that it happened in the USA, and many feared it would happen again. Pretty scary stuff!

Some other interesting books we discussed this year included Still Alice, a fictionalized account of a university professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer's, Mudbound, a story about prejudice and cruelty in the 1940s Mississippi Delta area, and Tallgrass, about the effects of a nearby World War II Japanese-American internment camp on a nearby small Colorado town. It's not all heavy reading, though. We usually try to pick a small, light book for December and one of the summer months. One was The Mighty Queens of Freeville by advice columnist Amy Dickinson.

What really focuses and deepens our discussions of many of the books we read are the discussion questions we obtain from Reading Group Guides or the book authors' websites. That's why I always provide discussion questions for my own books on my website (go here to see those for my upcoming March release, Deadly Currents). I try to make my discussion questions open-ended so they draw the members into talking about the issue as it relates to their own lives, not just the book.

Meeting with book clubs to discuss my own books is my favorite kind of event. I've visited with many book clubs in person in Colorado and via speakerphone for long-distance groups. The in-person visits have the added benefit of a glass of wine or coffee and food, but all of the group visits have been immensely fun. I always come away with a list of suggested books to read to take to my own book club. If you'd like me to visit your book club, contact me at my website.

How many of you Inkspot readers are in book clubs? How often do you meet and how do you select the books you're going to read and discuss together? Got any interesting stories of having an author visit your book club or if you're an author, of visiting a book club?


Anonymous said...

I've been going to book clubs for probably 20 years now. Many of the same faces have traveled along with me as the group has evolved and re-formed over the decades. One group focused on novels about immigrants to the American experience, and that really lead me to books I never would have picked up on my own (but that I am far richer and more empathetic because of). In another group we took two years of monthly meetings to work our way through Moby Dick and one year to get through Go Down, Moses (by Mr. Faulkner). Now we're on a Dostoyevsky rip, reading various novels and short stories as we build to Crime and Punishment for next fall's discussion.

The deep examination of novels (and other writing) can give an aspiring writer great insights into how the craft can be approached. Book discussion groups are just another tool available to writers to make their work even better.

Vicki Doudera said...

My book club is going on 15 years! A few times a year, we bring suggestions for future meetings and then choose four or five at a time. Our choices are eclectic, but all books we think will encourage good discussions.

When my daughter was 12 or 13, we started a mother-daughter book club. We read modern novels along with classics such as Little Women. It was great!

I've gone to several bookclubs that have read A HOUSE TO DIE FOR. I haven't created questions but it's something I've been planning to do. Thanks for the nudge.

Next time we are at a conference together, remind me to tell you about the bookclub I visited on Plum Island...

Lois Winston said...

Beth, I love speaking to book clubs. It's great fun because in my experience a book club invites an author only when everyone has read and loved the author's book. They don't bother with an invite if they didn't like the book.

I've done both in-person clubs and spoken with clubs via telephone. Now that Skype has become so popular, maybe I'll be invited to do a few of those with my upcoming release.

Beth Groundwater said...

The immigration experience is a very interesting theme for a book club! And I do agree that reading and examining great literature is a wonderful exercise for aspiring authors. I know it has helped my writing.

My daughter's best friend and her mother are in a mother-daughter book club whose daughters are now all grown and in college or graduated. The mothers still meet and the daughters join them for at least one meeting during the winter holidays and often for one or two meetings during the summer. The group has forged close friendships that will last a lifetime. And yes, they've discussed my books. :)

I, too, am looking forward to my first Skype experience with a book club. Speakerphone works well, but I'd love to be able to match faces with names and voices.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I used to belong to a book club and loved it, but had to give it up when I moved. I do a lot of book clubs as an author, both in person and over the telephone. They are one of my favorite events!

G.M. Malliet said...

I was in two book clubs at one point. It proved to be one book club too many! I love being the guest author of a book club by phone. Libraries seem to be doing this a lot.

Keith Raffel said...

I've spoken to a few hundred book club members along the way. The number of men could be counted on one hand. Men are less social? They don't know how to read?

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Keith,
I've wondered about that myself. It seems like any guy looking for a woman to date would be well-served by joining a book club or two, with such odds! I guess guys are more likely to play poker or fish or hunt in groups than discuss books together. I know a lot of men who read sci fi, action-adventure, or thrillers avidly, but they don't seem to want to discuss what they read together.

Camille Minichino said...

There's an interesting preference to both my book clubs (one mystery, one nonfiction) -- they don't want author visits!
Too bad, since I live where I could have an author at most meetings.

They like to pick books apart and say that the presence of the author intimidates them.
Have you ever run into that?

I love being the author at book clubs, of course, and think I take critique pretty well!

CJ West said...


Great topic. I joined a book group through and it was truly an educational experience. We read meaty books outside my normal genre, but what made book club was the variety of backgrounds and opinions. I learned as much from the members as the books and it was an experience I'm so grateful for. Unfortunately I don't have time to squeeze the books in anymore, but I do drop by occasionally.

I heard Dennis Lehane speak recently and he said his books were "about something." I write books about topics that are important to me and I really enjoy meeting with bookclubs to discuss them.


Lisa Bork said...

Our neighborhood book club is finishing our fifth year and going strong. We meet every six weeks and read mostly women's fiction. We read Still Alice, too!

Several book clubs, including the local library's, contacted me about my first book, and as I say on my website, I'd love to talk to more.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Camille,
Yes, I've had the experience of a book club being intimidated by an author visit--my own, believe it or not! They really don't think of me as an author, just Beth. But when I arranged for my women's fiction author friend, Barbara O'Neal (also published as Barbara Samuel) to visit, the women in my club went into a tizzy. They kept asking how they should act, what kinds of questions they should ask, what Barbara would be like, what she would think of them, etc.

I said, she's just like me, very friendly and down-to-earth and she's not going to think anything bad of you. The visit went fine, from Barbara's and my viewpoint, but a couple of the women were so relieved that it was over with (they were frantic with worry beforehand), that they've never been interested in having an author visit again. Of course, I think it's a hoot, because what am I, chopped liver?!

Darrell James said...

Great topic, Beth. I've never belonged to a formal book club, but I suppose you could call Diana and I our own private book club, as we often read books together and discuss what we've read.

I'm looking forward to talking to book clubs.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I belong to a group devoted to historical fiction, which includes a lot of mysteries. Anyone can toss a title into the hat, and we draw to see what will be read next. I love the exposure to titles I wouldn't otherwise find! But alas, I've been too busy to finish most of the books in the past year or so!

Janet Rudolph said...

My mystery bookclub has been meeting every Tuesday night September-June for over 35 years. We do a series of 10 books or so for each session. At this point we're family, but we always welcome new members. Our reading tastes have changed over the years. In addition, our bookgroup has put on several mystery conventions and more.

Beth Groundwater said...

Now that's a sign of a happy marriage if I ever saw one--reading and discussing books together!

I think being pushed to read books that you wouldn't have found or selected on your own is the primary benefit and joy of belonging to a book club.

Your mystery book club is well-known and well-appreciated in the mystery community!

And to everyone who commented (and is going to comment), thanks for joining in the discussion about one of my favorite activities. Now, I'm heading up to the mountains to do another--skiing!