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.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 10

Our 10th contributor to the series In Praise of Book Clubs is Jen from Devourer of Books, who happens to be having a big contest in anticipation of her 100th post on her blog.  Here she talks about her unique book club, in which they talk, and drink, and talk about what they drink.  They talk about books too, eventually!

Our book club is special.  I understand that many book clubs have, as a rule, alcoholic beverages to facilitate discussion.  At our book club, however, the alcohol is part of the discussion.

Perhaps I should back up to how our book club began.  My good friend Kristy, and her roommate Kelly, decided that they were not really reading as much as they would like, and they wanted an incentive to read more.  They decided that they would invite girlfriends from different parts of their lives, and invite those girls to invite some girlfriends so that, in addition to being exposed to more books, they would also make some new friends. 

I’m not quite sure how the additional component of our book club came to be.  Perhaps Kristy and Kelly worried that even a no-pressure book club might not always inspire regular attendance, perhaps they just thought it would be fun.  Somehow, in addition to being a book club, we became a wine club as well.

Our format is simple.  Each month, we focus on one book and one varietal of wine.  Our first order of business is to read and learn about the wine, and do a tasting of all the wines.  Each girl brings a bottle of the varietal, so we can compare and contrast, try to taste the differences of regions, etc. 

Once we have tasted all of the wines, we begin to discuss our book.  We never seem to have any pre-set questions for discussion.  In many book clubs that can be a problem, stymieing conversation, but not after you have just tasted 6 different bottles of wine! 

The format actually works very well because, not only are we loosened up for the book discussion, we usually take long enough talking about the book and various other things at the end of the night that, by the time you are ready to go home, you have sobered up from all of the wine and are capable of driving. 

I adore our book club, and wouldn’t change it for the world. 

Blogger Bio: Jen lives in the Chicago suburbs with her fiancé and is busy getting ready for her wedding in June.  She works for the denominational offices of her church, but would love to review or blog professionally one day.  Her blog, Devourerofbooks, has only existed since the end of February this year, but she is being contacted for blog tours and book reviews. 

***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.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 9

In this 9th edition of In Praise of Book Clubs, Becca from The Inside Cover talks about her book club, where some months they drink more wine then read, but no matter what they have a ‘ton of fun’. This month her online book club is reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

When I was in college I stopped reading “fun books” because I was so laden with school assignments, not to mention the three jobs I was working to pay my tuition. Toward the end it really started to gnaw at me that I wasn’t enjoying reading anymore, especially considering I’d always been a huge book-aholic. So I decided to start a book club – and I asked everybody I knew to join in. The book we chose for our first meeting was “Life of Pi.” We never did actually meet even though I saw a bunch of the girls walking around with the book for a while. The problem was none of us were really into the book. And most of us weren’t that close of friends.

A year later, I decided to try again with some of my closer friends. Most of them aren’t really readers, but for us it was an excuse to get together at least once a month for a gossip session and some wine. Our college years were winding down and we were seeing each other less and less often as we began to work “real” jobs and worry about life and rents and mortgages. So in January 2006 we had our first book club meeting, in which we discussed The Secret Life of Bees. To date, this is the only book we’ve discussed with any amount of seriousness, having used the “book club guide” in the back of the book for discussion questions.

As our book club grew and became a monthly ritual, we didn’t want anyone to feel unwelcome for not having read the book, so we sort of have this unwritten rule that as long as you bring some wine and good gossip, you’ll be forgiven for not reading the book. We go in circles – some months nearly everyone has read the books, and some months there is an abundance of wine at the meeting. I guess we still haven’t gotten to a level where we all know which books everyone would read. No matter what though, we have a ton of fun, and our book club has kept us close even though we live farther away than any of us would like.

In the meantime, I’ve taken part in some other book clubs and have had wonderful book discussions with more serious readers. While living in Paris last year, I joined meetin.org and took part in their monthly book club. It gave me an opportunity to read a number of books I wouldn’t have chosen on my own and opened my mind to new genres. And, more recently, I’ve started my own online book club over at The Inside Cover and I plan to take part in my local library’s “Banned Books” book club. When you like to read, you can never be a part of too many book clubs.

Blogger Bio: Rebecca lives in Sacramento, California, where she works as a freelance journalist and lives with her boyfriend of two years. She loves flip flops, traveling, being outdoors, and spending time with her friends. Although she has been blogging since 2005, her book blog (The Inside Cover) didn’t come on the scene until early this year. Rebecca is a huge fan of travel essays and memoirs, but will read just about anything she can get her hands on.

***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.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 2

 Tara from the lovely blog Books and Cooks writes about her book club and what makes it special.

April 5, 2001. I remember it well. This was the first official meeting of  my bookclub. The book discussed was The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and we all wondered if the girl’s hair was really green or if it was meant to represent something else. We sat around the living room, somewhat awkwardly, and finally someone said, ‘maybe we should go around and say whether or not we liked the book.’ Thus began our journey together that continues today. We still go around the circle but it’s less of a yes or no question and more of a platform to speak your mind, uninterrupted.

Our bookclub is about the books, but those books are also the medium that brings together a diverse group of women who might not otherwise have much in common. Now in our eighth year together, we have experienced much of life together. Breakups and marriages. Pregnancy, birth, as well as infertility and miscarriage. Job changes, house changes and now divorce. It could in fact be a book in itself. But through it all, we meet once a month (except for December and January) to discuss a book and our lives. In this way we have come to know and respect one another, to be able to predict how each other will respond to the books discussed, and to eat fantastic desserts.

There are things about my bookclub that I find challenging. No one else reads as much as I do, so many of the books chosen I’ve already read. Often books are chosen that don’t seem terribly ‘discussion worthy’. Sometimes I wish our books were more literary or our discussions more serious. But, it is obvious to me that our club is more than a sum of it’s parts, that the fact that we are discussing is sometimes more important than what we are discussing.

Our bookclub has evolved over the years. We are now six, including 4 original members. Over the years, we’ve had guests who are usually friends of members. We have found it humorous that people think we’re intimidating because we actually read and discuss books. We have loads of traditions, from how we select books, to how we discuss them. One of the best things we’ve done is start a journal. Occasionally we read aloud from past meetings and literally cry from laughter at the various quotes people have jotted down. I personally have stated “This might be the worst book we’ve ever read” several times. We celebrated our five year anniversary by going to a fancy steak restaurant and answered 5 questions that I came up with including favorite and least favorite books. Some of our best discussions have resulted from books that people greatly disliked, some of our worst from books that we all adored. We just hope to keep on having discussions for many years to come.

Blogger Bio:  Tara met her husband D in 1997 when they were both living the post-college single life in Chicago.  They moved to the Twin Cities, married in 2000, and have a six year old daughter.  Tara began writing her blog Books and Cooks in December 2006 after discovering the vast book blogging community.  When she’s not reading or in the kitchen, Tara works part-time as a pharmacist.

***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, click HERE by May 15th.  Josh would be happy to do an author chat with your book club!

To win a copy of The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski, click HERE by May 15. You can contact Jill at her website about setting up an author chat.

10 Ways to Spice Up Your Book Club Meetings

Are you doing everything you can to keep your book club meetings fun and interesting? Do your members look forward to each meeting with great anticipation, or is attendance lagging? Is your book club becoming more of a chore than a joy? Check out my suggestions to help put the spark back into your meetings.

1. Feed them and they will come! Our book club always enjoys good food together, typically pot luck. We meet in each other’s homes so it’s easy to bring a dish. Some books lend themselves to a food theme, which is fun and adds to the experience (for instance, Chinese food for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Italian for Eat, Pray, Love). The format we like best is to eat and socialize first, talk books in the middle, then end with dessert. Even if the book is a dud, there is always chocolate!

2. Liquor them up and they will talk & laugh! In the past year, we’ve had only one meeting without wine (at a coffee house). The conversation did NOT flow. ‘Nuff said.

3. Give stuff away. I sign up for tons of contests and giveaways online and receive several free books each month from publishers, authors, other bloggers. I arrive at book club meetings loaded down with books to share, and they are much appreciated! We also pass along books we’ve read and enjoyed throughout the month.

4. Celebrate! Do a book exchange and talk about your favorite books of the previous year for an anniversary party. Distribute a member list with general info about each member, including their birthdays. Make a point to remember each of them with cards. Have a BBQ and invite spouses to read along one month (it could become an annual summer event). Make a club donation to the local library or put together a book basket for a daycare center at the holidays.

5. Consider a book that has been (or will be) made into a movie. Our group saw The Other Boleyn Girl together, and a couple of us went to see Into the Wild, The Kite Runner, and The Jane Austen Book Club. We just learned that Eat, Pray, Love will be made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. Seeing a movie together after reading the book can be great fun.

6. Don’t get into a rut with book selections. Suggest books that are slightly out of your comfort zone. Do your homework when it’s your turn to choose and look for books that are sure to spark conversation. Try different genres- fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, classics, historical fiction. There are so many to choose from. Use websites like bookmovement.com and readinggroupguides.com to get ideas. If every book you read is about women’s issues or if you only read chick lit, it won’t be long before your meetings are a snorefest. Branch out.

7. Diversity is good! Look around at your meetings. Are all your members about the same as far as age, gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, marital status? If so, you might want to invite a few more people who aren’t EXACTLY LIKE YOU! One of the best reasons to be in a book club is to get a different perspective on a shared reading experience.

8. Author chats are awesome.. and surprisingly easy to arrange. These chats can be the highlight of your book club year, adding depth and understanding to your club’s selections. And it’s fun-don’t be intimidated! Authors enjoy discussing their books and many are willing to attend book club meetings by speakerphone. Most have websites with contact info. Send an email and see what happens. Random House has a website full of information and authors who enjoy participating in author chats.

9. Discussion Questions are helpful.. but sometimes the best discussions morph from a single question-Which part of the book did you like most (or least) and why?

10. Try something new. Ask members to read their favorite passages aloud. Or speculate on a better ending to the book. Or “cast the movie”. Or critique the cover. Read a bit of dialogue and ask members to guess which character said it. I like to have fun, but I do have to draw the line at dressing up like the characters from a book. Nope. Not doing it. Although maybe other clubs are adventurous in that way. The point is..be creative, but most of all, have fun!

Don’t have a book club yet (what!!??)? Here are some ideas on how to get started: Be Trendy-Start a Book Club!