What a difference a year makes

Sometimes I wish I had not shared this blog with my mother, brother, sister, husband, neighbor, book club, friends, and half the city I live in. Sometimes it would be nice to speak the truth, even if it’s ugly, to rant about my mom being a bitch (not YOU, Mom-it’s just an example), or my husband being an asshat (I borrowed that term from Chartroose), or my annoying neighbor who continuously shows up at my doorstep unannounced (I’m not talking about you, I mean the other neighbor, I swear) without fear that said mom or husband or neighbor would read my words.

Sometimes I’d like to show the unvarnished me, not the G rated version.

So I was wondering if those of you with blogs are public- does your real life and your blog world mesh or collide? Are you free to say whatever is on your mind, or are you constantly self-editing? Are you an open book? Does your mommy read your blog? Is your sister looking over your shoulder?

I’ve been thinking about this blog a lot, as I just had my one year Blogiversary on Saturday (with no mention and no fanfare). I’m thinking about what direction I want to take it in – do I want to just keep doing what I’m doing or turn it into something else? I’m not sure. I find it interesting that on the rare occasions when I get a little personal, I get a huge response (views and comments). Anything slightly controversial gets attention.

So here are my one year stats. I never dreamed a year ago that anybody would click over to read my little book reviews and commentary. Seriously, it blows me away. Thanks to all of you who read, lurk, and comment.

Total Views: 62,233

Busiest Day: 783 Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Posts: 263

Comments: 2,967

Book Review with the most hits: The Other Boleyn Girl

Non Book Post with the most hits and comments: I Hate You, Mom

2nd Highest Non-Book Post (hits and comments): The Last Girl on Earth Without a Cell Phone

Post where I offended someone I like and got a bunch of comments: One Divisive Book (and then the debate continued HERE, and HERE, where Elizabeth Gilbert claims to be God).

Weekend Update post (in my pre-Sunday Salon days) with the highest hits: Weekend Update: From a Hormonal Preteen to Pinewood Derby Cars

In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 22

In this 22nd volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, CB James of the wonderful blog Ready When You Are, CB (where you can find out which book his basset hound, Dakota, has eaten lately) writes about his book club, which has the honor of being the oldest club we’ve heard about in this series!  Forgive me for not adding links to all 114 books they’ve read!

I’ve been a member of the same book club off-and-on since 1993. That’s fifteen years, with a hiatus for graduate school and a couple of breaks here and there. 15 years and 114 books read so far.

The original members all worked together at the same elementary school, but one who worked at the school in the next neighborhood over. We started off with Wallace Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, which we all enjoyed. For the first few years, our after school meetings begain with a “discussion session,” mostly complaints about various people we worked with and didn’t like. Then we’d move on to the book. Our reading taste in the early days was a bit more literary than it is now, but there have always been a dash of popular titles and young adult titles on our TBR list.
To choose books, anyone who had one they wanted to suggest brought it to the meeting and we all hashed it out, ultimately deciding the next book via consensus. We never picked a book that any of us had already read, which, in retrospect, may not be the best rule. Most of the time at least a few members enjoyed the book and there were many that we all loved, but there was Jeanette Wintersteen’s Written on the Body, which has become infamous among book club members as the book no one liked at all.

While the book club has been around for 15 years no single member has. I took a couple of years off for graduate school. Some members have moved away; some moved away and moved back. New members have joined. Currently there are nine active members, three former members and two members who stop in whenever they are in town, in one case in the country.
Our current book is Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan. We’ve changed the way we select books; now each member takes a turn choosing the book, which is working out well. After 13 years, we’d fallen into a pattern where two or three members selected almost all of the books. This was okay with me, since I was one of the selecting members, but became a problem for other people. Like everything that lasts a long time, the club has changed the way it works over the years. This year, for the first time, we established a set of ground rules that everyone agreed upon. Bring a book or two when it’s your turn to select, or pass to the next person if you don’t want to choose; make a serious attempt to read the book no matter how much you do or don’t like it; come to the meeting with something to say on way or another.
We’ve all become very good friends over the years. We’ve watched one member’s daughter grow up and head off to college, attended member’s weddings and major birthdays and mourned the loss of several boyfriends and a beloved cat. (The cat was the greater loss.) I fully expect the book club to be around for another 15 years in one form or another and to hit 250 books read before the end. Once something has been around for a long time, it tends to stay around for a long time.

Here’s a list of all the books the club has read over the past 15 years. Not a bad reading list, if you ask me. The books I recommend are in blue. The pictures are books various members voted as their all time favorites. They are listed in the order we read them.

  • Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner
  • A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, Julia Alvarez
  • Becoming a Man, Paul Monette
  • The Ginger Tree, Oswald Wynd
  • Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

Call It Sleep, Henry Roth

Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson

  • World’s End, T. Coraghessan Boyle
  • The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner
  • The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
  • Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Peristroika, Tony Kushner
  • Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Bingo Palace, Louise Erdrich
  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin
  • Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, Dorothy Allison
  • Dear Mem Fox, Mem Fox
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, David Gutterson
  • A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
  • School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, P.E. Orenstein
  • Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • Jazz, Toni Morrison
  • Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
  • A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr
  • A Parrot in the Oven, Victor Martinez
  • The Color of Water, James McBride
  • A Prayer for Owen Meaney, John Irving
  • She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb
  • Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Brendt
  • The Beauty of the Lilies, John Updike
  • Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
  • Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
  • Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman
  • A Stranger in the Kingdom, Howard Frank Mosher
  • Lolita, Valdamir Nobokov
  • A Perfect Agreement, Michael Downing
  • A Pale View of the Hills, Kazuo Ishiguri
  • Emma, Jane Austen
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterho od, Rebecca Wells
  • Where the Heart Is, Billy Letts
  • Charming Billly, Alice McDermott
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  • The Reader, Bernard Schlink
  • I Know this Much is True, Wally Lamb
  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rawling
  • The Archivist, Martha Cooley
  • Dreams of My Russian Summer, Andrei Makine
  • The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  • Goodnight Nebraska, Tom McNeal
  • For Kings and Planets, Ethan Canin
  • The Hours, Michael Cunningham
  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  • River Angel, A. Manette Ansay
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • Corelli’s Mandoline, Louis de Bernieres
  • Girl with Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
  • Nervous Condidtions, Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • Wait ’til Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • I Married a Communist, Philip Roth
  • The Last Life, Claire Messued
  • Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  • House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III
  • The Night Listener, Armistead Maupin
  • Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Letham
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
  • Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Seabiscuit-An American Legend, Laura Hittenbrand
  • Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
  • The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
  • The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • Atonement, Ian McEwan
  • Tears of the Giraffe, Alexander McCall Smith
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Mystic River, Michael Lehane
  • Riven Rock, T.C. Boyle
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  • Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller
  • How to Make a Tart, Nina Killham
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Mark Haddon
  • The Sixteen Pleasures, Robert Hellenga
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hossein
  • Back When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguru
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • Don’t Think of an Elephant-know your values and frame the debate, George Lakoff
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  • Mendocino, Ann Packer
  • A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
  • The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
  • My Antoni a, Willa Cather
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundara
  • The Devil in White City, Erik Larson
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • Songs in Ordinary Times, Mary McGarry Morris
  • Farewell my Lovely, Raymond Chandler
  • Hard Times, Charles Dickens
  • The Good German, Joseph Kanon
  • Julie and Julia, Julie Powell
  • Criss Cross, Lynne Rae Perkinds
  • Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Black Swan Green, David Mitchel
  • True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey</li&g t;
  • Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
  • Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  • The Reading Group, Elizabeth Noble
  • Small Island, Andrea Levy
  • Eat, Love, Pray, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Losing Battles, Eudora Welty
  • The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
  • Mutant Message Down Under, Marlo Morgan
Blogger Bio:  C.B. James lives with his spouse and their many pets in Vallejo, CA.  He teaches 7th grade English and history in Marin County.  He has been in the same book club for over 15 years.  The book club is all teachers, most of them elementary school  teachers. When not teaching, reading or blogging, C.B. James can be found in his art studio where he makes mixed media art books or walking his Bassett Hound Dakota who would love to eat every book in the house if she could.
***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

To win a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (who ADORES book clubs), click HERE


Sheri from A Novel Menagerie!

Sheri’s a single mom of twin girls (they have some furry friends too in their menagerie), a brand new book blogger just starting out, and she’s also a real life friend who got inspired to blog by my enthusiasm for it, so I wanted to send her some love from Books on the Brain..

Her latest review is for Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert. Sheri pulled the discussion questions from Mostert’s website and answered them herself, which I thought was a great idea. Check it out HERE

Hi, Sheri (waving like a lunatic and blowing kisses)! The blog looks great! Keep up the good work!

UPDATE: Sheri has a contest going on for a $25. gift card to Barnes and Noble! Go see!

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 18

In this 18th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Shana of Trenton Reads and Literarily about her book club addiction!

I am a book club addict. Could I live without my book club? Of course. Would I want to? No! Being part of a book club enriches my life in a big way. In terms of hobbies, it ranks right up there with running and eating chocolate, which anyone who knows me well will tell you – that’s sayin’ something! I’ve enjoyed Lisa’s In Praise of Book Clubs series, eagerly awaiting new installments. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to have friends who read, and has made me think about my past and current book clubs and what I enjoyed about each one.

MY FIRST BOOK CLUB: My first experience was in a bookstore book club. Because it was officially a British book club, we read books that were written by British authors, or set in Great Britain. Many of the members were from England and I fell in love with their beautiful accents and sharp, witty senses of humor.

I discovered some great authors, too – P.D. James, Bill Bryson, Ken Follett. One of the books we read – The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman – remains one of my top 10 favorites of all time. I remember calling in sick to work one day and lying in bed reading until I finished that book. (I was 28 and it was the first time I’d ever called in sick – that’s not so bad is it?).

MY SECOND BOOK CLUB: An out-of-state move meant I had to say good-bye to my British book club. I went almost two years without belonging to a group. When we moved again, my new friend Sheila invited me to join her book club. I was elated, to say the least.

I still remember the first book I read with this group: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. The group has been meeting nine years so it has a very established feel. In the three years I’ve been a part of it, we’ve read a wide variety of books, but most tend toward the contemporary fiction genre. The books are chosen one month in advance and although we used to meet in a different member’s house each month, we now gravitate toward local restaurants. The appeal of restaurants versus homes is that no one needs to clean their house, prepare food, or worry about getting rid of their husband and kids for a few hours.

One of my favorite discussions was the one for Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen. Everyone adored the book. We spoke with the author on speaker phone, and had the opportunity to ask her questions about the book, her writing process, etc. She was so interesting to talk with –very open and honest about her experiences as a writer – and we learned so much about what it takes to write a novel and get it published. We’re anxiously awaiting the release of her next book, Land of a Hundred Wonders.

MY THIRD BOOK CLUB: As if one book group was not enough, two friends and I recently started a second group. Why, you may ask (and believe me, my husband did ask – several times!), did I decide to do this? First, since the other group was large and so well-established, I felt uncomfortable inviting people. But, since I talk about books and my book clubs to anyone who will listen, people often responded with a wistful comment that they too would like to be part of a book club. The new club is small and in its infancy, so we’re open to any book lover who wants to join.

The new group always meets in restaurants, for reasons mentioned above. We always use a discussion guide. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of information available to book clubs online. Readinggroupguides.com has hundreds of discussion guides and failing that, we can often find a guide on the publisher’s website. Using a guide with questions really helps to keep the discussion on track. We usually order our meal, eat, chat about books and what is going on in our lives, then turn to the questions which inspire anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of discussion.

Our first book was a modern classic – A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum was a favorite, and again, we are anxiously awaiting the next offering from this author. This month we will be discussing Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult and our August book is the newest release by Elizabeth Brundage, Somebody Else’s Daughter, which we decided to read after enjoying The Doctor’s Wife several months ago. We recently started choosing books three months at a time, which works well. It gives everyone a little extra time to find and read the book.

My family and I recently spent the 4th of July weekend in Nebraska with my in-laws, who hosted a dinner party in celebration of the holiday. Most of the women at the party were avid readers and we had a great discussion about books. Not surprisingly, I’ve nearly convinced my mother-in-law and her friends to start a book club in their hometown. Just call me the book club evangelist.

Blogger Bio:  A stay-at-home mom of three, Shana is addicted to books, running and chocolate.  She moved back to her very small Midwestern hometown (population: 6,500) four years ago and those addictions have saved her sanity on many an occasion.  Escaping into the pages of a good book, pounding the pavement for an hour or so while listening to an audio book on her iPod (there’s that book thing again), and indulging in her favorite dark chocolate are wonderful respites from the sometimes tedious nature of small town life. 

Shana has a degree in accounting and spent several years working in finance before jumping off the corporate ladder to be home with her children.  She is considering an English/secondary education degree because she would rather pick lint off the carpet than work in corporate finance again.  In the meantime, she blogs about her reading adventures at Literarily.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel, click HERE

Interview and Giveaway: DeLaune Michel, author of The Safety of Secrets

Before we begin with the interview, here is a bit about the book The Safety of Secrets from the author’s website: 

“Now we’re just alike.” So begins Fiona and Patricia’s friendship that warm Autumn morning in first grade in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a friendship made as close as sisters by Fiona’s abusive mother and Patricia’s neglectful one, and by the fantasies that the two girls share.

Fiona and Patricia’s relationship is a source of continuity and strength through their move to LA to become actresses; through Fiona’s marriage and not-yet-famous career; and through Patricia’s ups-and-downs with men and rise to fame. Then when their husbands’ needs and the pressures of Hollywood begin to exact a toll, the women are forced to wonder if their friendship can survive. But the true test of their devotion is just beginning. When a dark secret from their past begins to emerge, it threatens to destroy not only the bond the women have shared, but all they’ve worked for as well. 

What happens when your most treasured friendship suddenly seems broken beyond repair? Humorous and poignant, The Safety of Secrets is a beautifully written exploration of the bonds forged in childhood and challenged decades later, of the fulfillment of dreams and the damage they sometimes cause, and of secrets being uncovered and the truth that we find inside.  

BOTB:  Welcome DeLaune Michel, author of The Safety of Secrets!

First off, I’d like to know how your name is pronounced!  I’ve never seen the name “DeLauné” before.  Is it a family name?  Is it French? 

DM:  That’s sweet of you to ask! It’s pronounced duh-LAWN-ay, and it is French. Some people say it with more of a French accent, but I don’t really care, as long as they don’t call me de-lawn-ee – or late to dinner. Sorry, I can never resist a stupid joke! I was named for Helene DeLauné, the first woman over from France on my momma’s side of the family.  Helene DeLauné was in the court of Marie Antoinette. Her husband, Jules André, fought in the French Revolution. Antoinette gave Helene DeLauné jewels to help her and her husband escape to South Louisiana. Ever since I was young and heard that story about my namesake, I have thought of her whenever things were difficult because no matter what I am going through, I can’t imagine it being a harder than leaving the court of France, and ending up in the wilds of South Louisiana. So in a funny way, I have always felt very connected to her.

BOTB:  Your book, “The Safety of Secrets” centers on a female friendship.  Do you have a lifelong friendship like Fiona and Patricia’s?

DM:  I feel very blessed that I have a number of lifelong friendships, some from early childhood, and some from high school, though none of those were an exact model for Fiona and Patricia’s friendship in this book.

BOTB:  Do you think friendships are more important to women than to men, and if so, in what way?

DM:  I don’t think that they are more important to women than to men, but I think they get expressed differently. There was a study from UCLA that showed that contrary to long-held beliefs, not everyone has the fight or flight reflex when faced with stress or danger. Only men do. Women don’t respond by fight or flight. Women turn to their community, to their friends. We process, and get feedback, and find strength by turning to a friend. Not to say that men don’t, but it isn’t their first impulse when faced with those situations. I think that is how they are different. And that is one area that I wanted to look at in this book. Fiona’s connection with Patricia is so strong that Fiona feels she has to juggle her loyalty between Patricia and her husband. A lot of readers have told me that they really related to that. I don’t think that is something men go through the way we do. 

BOTB:  Do you think women feel more secure, or safe, in telling their secrets to other women?

DM:  It depends. There are secrets I’ve told to men that I know will never be revealed. But I think that a close friendship between women is marked – at least the ones I have – by an ability to tell each other pretty much everything, so in that sense, revealing a secret to another woman is easy because it is so natural. Definitely in this book, Fiona feels more safe keeping secrets – particularly the big one – with Patricia than with her husband, and the effects of that is something she has to deal with.

BOTB:  How much do you think childhood friendships shape our lives as adults? 

DM:  Very much, particularly ones that are like siblings, as Fiona and Patricia’s is in this book. And I think sometimes we find a friend to be a kind of family member that we didn’t get to have, or for us to be the person that we can’t be with our own family. 

BOTB:  The book is mostly based in Los Angeles and the main characters work in the film industry.  You seem to know LA and the business of Hollywood quite well- the realistic side of it rather than the glamorous.  Do you live there?  Were you/are you in the industry?

DM:  I live just above New York City, right near the Hudson River. But I lived in LA for many years, and while I was there, acted in television and film, so, yes, that world is one I know quite intimately. And I loved writing about it. It was wonderful to be able to take a trip there every day in my mind, and then return home easily. I wanted to show a side of that industry that isn’t written about very much. Most books that are set in Hollywood only show the upper echelon, and while Patricia is hugely successful, Fiona works steadily but hasn’t achieved that level of fame or fortune yet, if she ever will. I thought it would be interesting to show what that kind of career is really like, since that is the kind of life most working actors in LA have. And besides, some aspects of that life are so ridiculous; it was fun to be able to write about it, having lived through it myself.

BOTB:  What would you like readers to take away from The Safety of Secrets?

DM:  I hope that it will enable them to look at their own friendships, and the issues of loyalty and betrayal that are at play in them, even on the smallest scale. Eudora Welty said that the novel is the most intimate art form because it is the writer’s words in the reader’s mind with the reader’s life, and imagination, and beliefs creating the story. I love that. I also think that that old saying that if a tree falls in the wood and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound applies, too. I think novels don’t really exist until someone reads it and brings it to life, so I hope that the life that the reader creates with me is one that has resonance for them, and enables them to see their world from a new angle. I do a lot of book clubs in-person and via speaker phone chats (I can be contacted at delaune@delaunemichel.com), and I love getting to hear how women view Fiona and Patricia’s friendship and how it relates to their lives. 

BOTB:  What are you currently working on? 

DM:  My third novel. I wrote my first two novels while I was pregnant with my two sons, so this will be the first novel that I write without being pregnant. I’m enjoying not being sleepy or nauseous while I work! My husband asked me how I’ll be able to finish the new book without that built-in deadline, but I assured him that I will find a way! 

BOTB:  Thanks so much for your time!  

DM:  Thank you for your very thoughtful questions!

BOTB:  Many thanks to DeLaune Michel and to Jennifer Ballot from Over the River Productions for sending me 2 copies of the book- one for me and one to give away- and for arranging this interview with DeLaune!  If you would like a chance to win a copy of The Safety of Secrets, leave a comment here by Friday, August 8th.  Good luck!

You can read fellow blogger Sheri’s review of The Safety of Secrets at a Novel Menagerie.

Review: The Sweet Potato Queen’s 1st Big Ass Novel by Jill Conner Browne

The Sweet Potato Queen’s 1st Big Ass Novel by Jill Conner Browne seemed an unlikely choice for my book club, so I was more than a little surprised when it got voted in.  Having just read Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague together, I guess we needed a little something to lighten things up, but wow- we went from one extreme to the other.  I wasn’t sure I’d like it, since I don’t typically gravitate toward chick lit, but what a romp!  If ya’ll are looking for great literature, this ain’t it, but if you want a sassy Southern comedy with tons of attitude, look no further.

It’s 1968, and four high school misfits decide to form their own club when a new girl, beautiful redheaded Tammy, daughter of a housekeeper, is humiliated by the rich and popular teen queens in the Key Club.  They call themselves the Tammy club, don red wigs and bejeweled cateye glasses, and pull her into their group.  The Tammys soon become the Yammy Queens by a little painting mishap on a banner for the homecoming parade, and when interviewed afterwards, the reporter wants to know why they are called the Sweet Potato Queens (SPQs).  The name sticks.

Narrated by SPQ Jill, The Queens are followed through many adventures over two decades of career changes, moves, marriages, divorces, lovers (straight and gay), births, and deaths, and through it all they support and encourage each other the way best friends do, only better.  They are the type of loyal lifelong friends most people can only dream of.

Featuring a couple fabulous made-up words like “bosshole” (can you guess the meaning?) and hysterical southern phrases like “Butter my butt and call me a bisquit!” this book had me chuckling to myself in several places.  While there are lots of cliched characters and situations with predictable outcomes, and the flow of the story is a bit inconsistent, I still found myself enjoying the book.  The foreword is especially funny and relatable, and the recipe section in the back is a delight.  The Sweet Potato Queen’s 1st Big Ass Novel has considerable wit and charm and I would recommend it for a fun summer read.

Guest Post: The Wednesday Sisters Book Group by Meg Waite Clayton

The Wednesday Sisters Book Group

by Meg Waite Clayton

My friend Camilla Olson has this to say about our Wednesday Sisters Book Group: “I love that our book club parties together in the context of the neighborhood. It seems in California that things are either too spread out or too close, and neighbors become invisible. At first I was really intimidated by the club. After all, our first book after I joined was Madame Bovary!” And fellow voracious reader—and writer!—Rayme Adzema also loves the way the “geographical boundary” of the club strengthens the neighborhood.

When we first gathered almost five years ago now, though, we were not yet The Wednesday Sisters. Most of us did not know each other well—if at all. Relatively new to the neighborhood myself, I’d practically squealed when I was invited to join, but I remember feeling awkward walking to that first meeting. Would anyone I knew be there? Would I be able to call to mind the names of the few folks I had met? Why did I ever imagine this would be fun? I wasn’t even all that wild about the book!

It’s hard to believe now that I ever doubted anything about the Wednesday Sisters. I think the murky old ice shattered at our third meeting, with Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage—by the end of which I was laughing so hard I was literally shedding tears at the stories of my fellow readers’ marriages.

Not that our husbands are anything to laugh at!

Okay, maybe they are. But then we ourselves are something to laugh at, too, which is all part of the fun, and part of the learning experience that goes on when we gather—although we don’t laugh at each other unless the subject of the laughter is laughing first; when I accidentally wore two different shoes to a meeting (hey! they were both black!) everyone kept their chuckles to themselves.

With House of Mirth, On Beauty, and The Senator’s Wife, we talked about women’s choices and self-image, sharing our own histories, our own dreams. When we read Reading Lolita in Tehran, we donned the bhurka Camilla brought, a little firsthand experience of that life so different from ours. For Madame Bovary, we gobbled Marie’s crepes. For Hunting and Gathering, we drank a lovely French wine and, yes, I think we did eat the entire tart and most of the cheese.

 The one thing that has been constant through all the books we’ve read—and I don’t think there has been a single book on which we’ve had a unanimous opinion—is that, as Jennifer said at a Memorial Day barbecue, “We do talk about the book!” Writing style and plot, simile, metaphor, point of view, and theme are certainly words in our vocabularies, and no meeting ends without reference to other books.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is another thing that has been constant: We root for each other. Whether it is attending Leslie Berlin’s first reading for her wonderful The Man Behind the Microchip, or applauding Rayme’s success in the Palo Alto Weekly short story competition, Adrienne’s photography, Camilla’s acceptance to her fashion program or Diana’s to Stanford’s Genetic Counseling  graduate school, we cheer each other on. The group has risen to support me again and again: reading my first novel; practically leaping at the name “The Wednesday Sisters”—the title of my not-yet-sold-at-the-time second novel; and now hosting the launch party for The Wednesday Sisters, which Random House/Ballantine is publishing next week.

There’s the wine, too. We always do serve wine. So I suppose there are three constants about us.

Or four: the laughter. Of course.

Five: … Oh, never mind! For a group of women linked initially only by geography, we turn out to be a pretty constant group of wonderfully-connected readers and friends.

Meg’s novel The Wednesday Sisters will be available on June 17th!  Her website is jammed with information for would-be writers, readers, and fellow book clubbers.  You can find it HERE.

You can read Meg’s Bio HERE.  To read an excerpt of The Wednesday Sisters, click HERE.  For a rave review from Trish at Hey, Lady! click HERE.

Meg, it was such a treat to hear about your book group.  Thanks for guest posting!

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 15

In the 15th installment of In Praise of Book Clubs, Suey from the fun blog It’s All About Books talks about how her book club has evolved over the past four years.

Our book club began four years ago this past month in May when a couple of us decided to gather those ladies in the neighborhood who were interested in reading. We called and talked to lots of people and had about 10 or so who seemed willing, but that first month only 2 or 3 showed up. That trend continued for the next several months and I wondered if this book club would be a go or not. 

However, I didn’t give up and every month there was always a book to discuss and we continued to meet with whoever came. Slowly but surely more people began to show up and be interested. Then after about a year, the core group that makes up the book club today was formed!! There’s moms, grandmas, single ladies, and young ladies. I also love the variety of reading interests. Some love fantasy, some don’t. Some want lots of non-fiction, some want classics, some want new stuff, some more YA stuff. 

Because of this diversity, anything goes for our reading selections. Lots of fiction, some non-fiction, some YA, some religious, and some vampires! Our first book, back four years ago, was The Scarlet Pimpernel. That was one I’d never read until then, and couldn’t believe I’d waited that long to get too. Wonderful book! Some books that got lots of discussion were The Life of Pi, A Girl Named Zippy, The Twilight series, and The Doomsday Book. Some books we weren’t impressed with were The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (way too long and detailed), Love in the Time of Cholera (we just didn’t get it), and Armadale by Wilkie Collins (I loved it, but I don’t think anyone else read it! Too much of a fat classic I guess!) 

Others books we read that most everyone loved were Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (we watched movie clips too that night), The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (I think we convinced a non-fantasy lover that fantasy could be fun), and Seabiscuit (non-fiction that reads like a novel). 

Another fun thing we do is give ourselves a sort of summer project. This is because we take a break meeting during the summer and only meet during the school year, so for the summer we think of a theme or some other assignment. One year we all read a biography of our choice, and then reported back in September who we learned about. One year we read the books of a local author friend that just lives down the street from us. Last summer, we caught up on all the Stephenie Meyer books and invited our daughters to join us for September’s meeting to discuss all the ins and outs of Bella, Edward and Jacob. We are currently deciding on this summer’s theme. I’ve come up with a list of five authors and the book club is voting on which author they’d like to concentrate on this summer. We’ll all read at least one book by that author and in September discuss our findings. 

So what makes our book club unique? First of all, we seem to be nameless! I called it “The Neighborhood Book Club” for awhile, but that was much much too generic for me and I dropped it. Then, because of our very consistent meeting time, I debated on ” The Third Thursday Book Club” but I neglected to pursue the issue. So, we are still nameless for now I guess. Anyone have any suggestions? 

Another thing that perhaps makes us unique is that fact that there is no drinking going at our meetings, besides water that is! However, there is usually some form of chocolate available, or something salty. For sure there’s always something to munch on. 

Another thing we love to do is to check out book club sets from the library. Both our nearby libraries offer this service and have a huge inventory of book club sets. So we look through those lists and every year, about half of our selections come from there. This way, everyone is certain have a copy of the book which makes us all happy. 

And like many other book clubs, we end up talking about all kinds of things besides the book. In fact, the book may be discussed for a half hour of the time, and for the other hour or two, you never know what we might tangent on to! 

But that’s what makes book clubs great! Reading, eating, and general socializing, all in one evening! 

Blogger Bio: Suey is a stay at home mom with 4 kids (ranging in ages from 18 to 9) who likes Star Wars, chocolate, Josh Groban and thunderstorms. She reads a ton, but sometimes tries to do other things like quilting, scrapbooking and exploring her home state of Utah through geocaching adventures. She started a book blog just over a year ago to keep track of challenges, and to share what she’s reading with friends and family. 

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

For a chance to win The Fires by Alan Cheuse, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 13

The 13th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs comes from the lovely Florinda, of the always interesting The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. Here she writes about how she didn’t think she was the book club “type” until she started hanging out with her sister’s book club.

Thank you to Lisa at Books on the Brain for allowing me to contribute this guest post to her “In Praise of Book Clubs” series.

I’ve always been a reader, but I shied away from book clubs for years. The whole idea of reading assigned books on a specific schedule? Not freewheeling enough for my reading-whatever-strikes-my-fancy style. I could see the point for people who didn’t read much on their own, or needed that sort of structure to get more into reading, but neither of those characteristics applied to me.

However, nearly four years ago, my sister and several of her moms’-club friends decided to get together on the side and start reading together, and I was invited to join them. I didn’t accept right away; since everyone else in the group was a stay-at-home mom with young kids, they held their first couple of meetings during the weekday, and I just wasn’t available to join them. My sister kept me informed about their book selections, though, so I could read along if I wanted to. After a few months, the group decided to switch their meetings to Friday evenings, thereby doubling as a “moms’ night out,” and I was able to become a regular participant at that point. We held our first few Friday-night meetings in public settings, but found that the distraction level was just a little too high to keep focused on the book, so we’ve been meeting in members’ homes ever since – most frequently in the home of one particular member, who is always happy to make it available if the designated meeting host needs a change of venue (that is, can’t get her family out of the house while the meeting would be taking place).

Members have come and gone over the years, and we’ve never been a very large group – and I’m still the only one who was never part of the moms’ club. We usually have about five to seven women at each meeting. My sister is our unofficial administrator, and every January she e-mails us all with a schedule of proposed meeting dates and the rotation for book picker/meeting host. After some craziness during our first couple of years involving last-minute rescheduling attempts when too many people came up with conflicts, we no longer change meeting dates unless it’s the host herself who can’t make it. This has been a really beneficial change, and now we actually do meet as planned, every six or seven weeks, although we usually skip December unless we decide to have a social. For the last year or so, we’ve invited members to bring other books they’ve read to the meetings, so they can be exchanged or passed along to another interested reader.

The host for each meeting selects the book we’ll read, and announces it at the meeting prior to hers; for example, I’m scheduled to host our July meeting, and will let everyone know my book pick at our meeting on May 30, when we’ll be discussing The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. The host may select any book she likes, even one that she has read before; after one member got burned by choosing a book she absolutely hated and refused to finish, she never picks anything for the rest of us that she hasn’t read first. We don’t have a master list or any formal guidelines, but after this length of time we have learned to keep certain group preferences in mind:

* General fiction – nothing with too many pretensions, nothing obviously genre, and nothing too frothy
* Memoirs, occasionally, but no other nonfiction
* If the book has been adapted into a movie, we may plan on seeing it during our meeting.
* Nothing too lengthy unless it moves fast – everyone’s busy, after all!

Our conversations about the books we read tend to be focused more on characters and plot points, as opposed to thematic elements or writing-style choices; after all, it’s not a literature class, it’s a conversation in someone’s living room. We have occasionally worked with suggested discussion questions, but for the most part it’s not very structured and it’s pretty subjective; we share opinions and impressions, and there’s usually a respectful give-and-take, accompanied by a fair amount of laughter. We seem to have our best discussions about the books that either everyone liked (The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini) or everyone hated (His Lovely Wife, by Elizabeth Dewberry) – assuming the haters actually finished the book, that is; if not, there’s obviously not too much to talk about. In either case, the book has generally struck a chord with us as readers, and we have more thoughts on it to share with the group.

My book club has exposed me to some books I might not have read otherwise, and it’s given me the opportunity to share some books I’ve really enjoyed with good friends. Because it’s a social thing at least as much as a reading thing, we do end up engaging in a fair amount of off-book-topic talk when we meet, but I’ve come to enjoy that aspect of it very much as well. And since we keep to a fairly relaxed schedule and format, I still have plenty of time for my own reading choices, which I now get to talk about on my blog.

Blogger Bio: Florinda has been blogging about books, pop culture, family, and whatever else comes to mind at The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness since March 2007. She lives northwest of Los Angeles with her second husband and their 11-year-old shepherd mix, Gypsy; they’re joined part-time by his two children, ages 13 and 8, and occasionally by her son, who is in his 20’s and lives on the East Coast. When not reading, writing, or attending to family life, she’s an accountant working in the nonprofit sector.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

For a chance to win The Fires by Alan Cheuse, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 11

Ti from Book Chatter and Other Stuff talks about her love affair with books, and the book club she discovered at the public library 10 years ago, in this 11th edition of In Praise of Book Clubs.

I love books. I love their covers. I love the way they smell. I love the words displayed between their covers. Opening up a good book is like “coming home”. For that reason, I found myself increasingly frustrated that none of my friends were readers.  I’d finish a book and not have anyone to discuss it with. I thought about starting my own club, but having never been in a book club at all, I thought maybe I should just look for one that was already established and then go from there. 

The city I live in has a local magazine that is published monthly.  The calendar section had an entry for a Library Book Group hosted by the public library. I was pregnant with my first child and thought it would be a great way to meet people and support the library at the same time. So I gave it a shot. 

The group consisted of five ladies of various ages and backgrounds. They chose their books three months ahead and the book that we discussed on my first night was Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence. I knew from that very first meeting that I had found what I was looking for. 

Nearly ten years later our group is still going strong. If there is a book that has been made into a movie, we sometimes have special outings so we can discuss both.  Sure, there was one time when I showed up for a viewing of the movie (Lolita) and I was the only one there, but it provided months and months of discussion afterward! We’ve also had holiday meetings of the potluck variety and special brunches to mix it up a bit. I think the social gatherings allow us to discuss all aspects of the book and make it fun at the same time. Our leader does a wonderful job of “keeping it fresh”. 

Through the years we’ve made some changes too. Since we’re hosted by the library, we had a problem with “floaters” who came to one meeting, suggested a book for next time and then never came back again. Don’t you hate that? To remedy that, we moved to a yearly selection process. We have a special book selection meeting in January and we all make a pitch as to what books we want to read for the year. At the end of the evening, we take a vote and the final list is shared with all members and posted for the public. We look forward to this meeting each year, and because you know what you are reading during any given month, you can plan your reading time accordingly. This has proven to be a real time saver for us. 

I am so glad that I attended that first meeting over ten years ago. I discovered a group of people that enjoy reading as much as I do and their recommendations have prompted me to read books that I never would have picked up on my own. If you are looking for a book group and do not know where to start, start with your local library. You never know what you may find!

In case you’re interested, here is what my group selected for 2008:

Jan – Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor

Feb – What is the What, by Dave Eggers

Mar – I, Mona Lisa, by Jeanne Kalogridis

Apr – Banker to the Poor, Muhammad Yunus

May – A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah

Jun – Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

Jul – The Unknown Terrorist, by Richard Flanagan

Aug – Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

Sep – Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones

Oct – The Meaning of Night: A Confession, by Michael Cox

Nov – Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Dec – The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai

Blogger Bio: Ti lives in Southern California with her husband and two kids. She works full time and is very busy but tries to read whenever she can.  She has been blogging at Book Chatter and Other Stuff since February 2008 and hits the big “Four O” this September. 

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.