Guest Post: Author Cheryl Kaye Tardif asks, “What’s Your Book Club Looking For?”

Canadian Author Cheryl Kaye Tardif wants to know-

What’s Your Book Club Looking For? 

As a suspense author, I’m often asked whether any of my books are suitable for book clubs, and I usually answer with: “Definitely! But which one depends on what your book club is looking for.” So what can I offer to a book club? Well, I hope to give you an exciting, suspenseful read with location settings that add to each novel. 

Divine Intervention:  For book clubs that enjoy the paranormal/supernatural world, crime fiction or just suspense in general, I recommend Divine Intervention. Set in various BC locations, it has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and it explores tough societal issues, like child abuse, the foster care system, and abortion. 

Fans of authors J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts), Kay Hooper and Iris Johansen, and TV’s CSI, Medium and Ghost Whisperer will enjoy Divine Intervention, a sizzling paranormal crime novel that sends a team of psychic agents on a manhunt for a deadly serial arsonist who is leaving behind a blazing trail of corpses.

The River:   If your book club prefers high adventure, suspense, intrigue and controversial issues then I recommend The River. Discussion topics range from Multiple Sclerosis to family dysfunction to stem cell research to nanotechnology to conspiracy within our governments.

 This thriller takes place in the wild Nahanni River area of Canada’s Northwest Territories and it explores biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the search for longevity and youth as a group of near strangers search for a man who had been presumed dead. The River asks a thought-provoking question: How far have we gone with our technology…until we’ve gone too far?

Whale Song:  For book clubs that enjoy character driven tales, like novels by Jodi Picoult or Alice Sebold, I recommend Whale Song, set on Vancouver Island and Vancouver. Touching on the sensitive issue of assisted death and drawing on wise native legends, Whale Song is a poignant story of family ties, love, tragedy, sacrifice and transformation that will change the way you view life…and death. And it is “my heart book.”

 Reviewers have called it “beautiful”, “thought-provoking”, and “emotional”. New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice calls Whale Song “a compelling story of love and family and the mysteries of the human heart…a beautiful, haunting novel.”

There is a discussion guide available for Whale Song that you can view online and/or download (PDF). Please feel free to copy it for your book club. There are no discussion guides yet for The River or Divine Intervention.

My novels have been used in many book clubs in Canada and the US. Whale Song has even been used for novel studies in schools (elementary to high school), and as recommended reading for a tutoring company, plus mandatory reading for women at a Georgia women’s shelter. I’ve had the honor of visiting book clubs in the Edmonton area and I have immensely enjoyed the interaction, questions and of course, the great munchies. Why does book club food always taste so darned good?

My goal as an author is to hopefully give you suspenseful stories and memorable characters that will become like old friends, ones you won’t want to forget any time soon and ones you’ll think of long after you’ve read the novel.  

Book clubs: Please let me know if you choose any of my novels for your book club. I have some goodies I’d like to send you. Happy reading! 

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

http://www.cherylktardif.com

http://www.whalesongbook.com 

Guest Post and Giveaway: Phyllis Zimbler Miller, author of Mrs. Lieutenant

Author Phyllis Zimbler Miller talks about her book, Mrs. Lieutenant, and how she’s had to become proficient at online marketing and html! Please leave a comment here by June 30th for a chance to win a copy of Mrs. Lieutenant. Oh, and that is the real Mrs. Lieutenant at a Coronation Ball in 1967. What a lovely up-do!

I’m reading Stephanie Chandler’s new book “The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform” with the subtitle “Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books.” It’s one of several such books I’ve read as well as numerous teleseminars I’ve listened to along with attending John Kremer’s two-day marketing event 10 Million Eyeballs.

All the advice is excellent – and if I could replicate into 4 to 6 copies of myself, I’d be able to follow all this terrific advice in the next, say, two to three years.

And yet the truth remains that an author has to self-promote or get completely overlooked. In 1992 when the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION that I co-wrote with Rabbi Karen L. Fox came out, she and I had to do all our own marketing. At least now, thanks to the internet, this is easier to do – as well as harder because there are many more opportunities to chase.

Just the “simple” question of my blog for MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL: How do I attract people to the blog? Where else can I post the blog? Is what I’m writing on the blog of any interest to anyone else? And, oh, could I somehow magically learn html so I could add fancy “things” to my blog?

Yet I do believe that authors self-promoting through blogs is very important. Only perhaps very important on other people’s blogs – blogs that have been around longer and have a loyal following. In fact, I’m on a virtual book tour this month through Pump Up Your Book Promotion – and I’m really enjoying writing guest posts and being introduced to some great blogs.

In addition, I’m co-sponsoring “Tell-Your-Own-Story,” a contest for military spouses in connection with season 2 of Lifetime Channel’s ARMY WIVES television series. The contest is HERE, and Lifetime is contributing prizes.

MRS. LIEUTENANT is told from the point of view of four women (read a chapter from each HERE. These women in the spring of 1970 come together because their husbands report for Armor Officers Basic at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, during the Vietnam War.

I wrote the novel because of the experiences I had as a new army officer’s wife – I wanted to share this specific time in women’s social history. And, yet, I do think the novel has much relevance for today, especially as the U.S. heads into a Presidential campaign in which race will undoubtedly be an issue as well as the current unpopular war.

I’m hoping book clubs will discuss MRS. LIEUTENANT, and for that reason I wrote book group discussion questions and provided these as a download off the home page of my website. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip question 7 until you’ve read the book.)

Recently on a podcast interview I was asked what I hope to achieve with my book. The answer: besides entertainment and a window into a past era, the opportunity for people to consider their own prejudices from the safety of a book’s pages.

A former Midwesterner and “Mrs. Lieutenant,” Phyllis Zimbler Miller lives in Los Angeles with her husband. She got a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University and an M.B.A. in Finance from The Wharton School. She’s the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION and, besides working on the sequel to MRS LIEUTENANT, she currently writes three blogs: www.mrslieutenant.blogspot.com, the teen and young people advice blog www.flippingburgersandbeyond.blogspot.com, and her newest blog www.dogooderscrooge.blogspot.com. She’s on an intense self-directed course to learn internet marketing, and her biggest addiction is clicking the “buy now” for books she sees on Amazon.


Note from Lisa, Books on the Brain: I haven’t read this book yet, but check out the reviews at Fizzy Thoughts and Planet Books.

Guest Post: The Power of Women Who Read by Jennie Shortridge

Last June our book club discussed Eating Heaven, and author Jennie Shortridge attended by speakerphone. This was the first time we’d had an author in attendance and we were really nervous. One thing I remember and laugh about now from our conversation with her is that we were so concerned about taking up too much of her time that we jumped in with our questions almost as soon as she picked up the phone, and she said something like- “Well, hold on a minute, what are you guys eating? And are you enjoying some wine?” I remember she asked to “meet” each of us and we all introduced ourselves separately. She was so warm and friendly, and funny, too! We were so impressed with her and her book.

So imagine how happy I was when we found each other in blog-land, and how delirious I became when she agreed to a guest post! Please enjoy Jennie’s thoughts on The Power of Women Who Read. Ooooo, I am feeling powerful already!

The Power of Women Who Read

by Jennie Shortridge

Because I’m a reader and a woman, I may be biased on this topic, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet many other wonderful reading women through authoring three novels and attending many, many book group gatherings to discuss them. It’s no surprise to anyone that the majority of readers and book group members are women, and it’s no surprise book publishers drool over the thought of putting out a book that is book-group worthy.

This is where our power comes in. We can read Oprah books and NY Times bestsellers, or any other books someone else tells us to; there is no shame in that. For the most part, they’re fine books, and bestsellers for a reason. Of course, there are other options. Author Josh Henkins blogged here recently and offered you a challenge: choose something for your group that half of you haven’t read. I wanted to jump up and down clapping my hands when I read that. Yes, please! There are so many wonderful books out in the world. Why read the same twelve everyone else is reading?

As an author who attends book groups, in person and on the phone, I’d like to make a little pitch for those books whose authors aren’t yet household names. We are friendly, and available! We have insider stories of the book world, and of course, how the book was conceived and written. Some of us are funny, some serious, some weird, maybe, but we all have one thing in common. We love books as much as you do, and will sit and talk with you about them as long as you’ll let us.

But here’s where the power part comes in. By choosing those books that don’t get all of the marketing money and media attention, you send a message to publishers: we love these books. We purchase these books. We support these authors. Keep publishing them, too, along with the bestsellers and sure things. Publishers will take note.

How do you find great books? Ask your friends, your sisters and co-workers what they’ve loved lately. Ask your local bookseller for something beyond the front of the store. What secret gem lies in wait back in the shelves? Look at the employee recommended lists in bookstores. Ask librarians. Ask other book groups. Ask your hairdresser. Look to older books you missed the first time around. A book does not become stale or moldy with age. It seasons, just like we do, oh women readers.

In that spirit, I have a few book suggestions that may not have crossed your radar.

Miss Alcott’s Email, by Kit Bakke. Yes, Kit is a friend here in Seattle, but I pick her book because it’s smart, wry, and delightfully subversive! Kit has the audacity to imagine that she finds a way to email back and forth with Louisa May Alcott, and in her wonderful prose, they discuss social movements, personal connections, writing and famous writers, and so much more.

Church of the Dog, by Kaya McLaren. Highly recommended by friends, I’m about to embark on this novel myself. For now, I’ll just tell you what a famous author says about it: “Church of the Dog is a radiant novel that honors the broken among us, tenderly healing with its love, humor, and understanding. Kaya McLaren is a deeply wonderful writer. From the opening scene of Mara in her grandmother’s garden, through the wrenching finale on the ranch, I was stunned by this book. It’s a classic on the spirituality of everyday life…”—Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author

Devils in the Sugar Shop, by Timothy Schaffert. LOADS of sexy fun mixed with utter poignancy as a group of offbeat Omaha women gather for a sex-toy party, ending up with more than they bargained for. Not for the prudish, as you may have guessed. I also love both of Timothy’s other books: The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God (I even blurbed it) and The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters.

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Low-Life, by Sam Savage. This little book is the Ratatouille of the book world! It’s no cartoon, however, but the wonderful adventures and misadventures of a rat and his family inhabiting a Boston bookstore in the 1960s. Quirky, yes! Fun, yes! You’ll love it. I promise.

Chez Moi, by Agnes Desarthe and Adriana Hunter. French author Desarthe tells the story of Myriam, a middle-aged wife and mother who, with no prior experience, opens a restaurant in Paris. With few resources, she sleeps in the dining room and bathes in the kitchen sink, struggling to come to terms with her painful past. Her delectable cuisine begins to bring in customers and Myriam finds that she may get a second chance at life and love. Chez Moi is a charming story that will appeal to those who love Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate.

-In that vein, Home Cooking: A Writer’s Life in the Kitchen, by the late, great Laurie Colwin. If you’ve somehow missed Laurie’s books, they’re all wonderful.

-And of course, I’d be delighted if you chose one of my novels. You can read more about them at www.jennieshortridge.com.

I could go on all day. Claim your power, oh reading women! Make your own choices about what you read, and help broaden the scope of wonderful reading out there in the world, not just for you and your group, but for the community of readers whose decisions you impact here.

Jennie Shortridge is a three-time bestselling novelist. Her most recent book is Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, and her second novel, Eating Heaven, has become a favorite book club pick for hundreds of groups, even one in Taiwan! Learn more about Jennie and her books HERE.

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!

Blog Stop Book Tour featuring Susan Woodring

This is my first time hosting an author on a blog tour (thank you, Mary Lewis from Blog Stop Book Tours, for arranging this!), and I’m so excited to welcome Susan Woodring, author of the brilliant short story collection, Springtime on Mars (reviewed HERE). I mentioned to Susan that Books on the Brain focuses on book clubs, and she suggested she write about why a short story collection is a great choice for a book club. Here’s what she came up with!

Coming into This Planet Again and Again: The Case for Short Story Collections
By Susan Woodring

“A story collection?” The woman, drifting amid a crowd of authors and book fair browsers, gives me a look of uncertainty: wrinkled brow, a moment’s hesitation. I touch the cover of my book, channeling words of comfort to it like a mother speaking to a distressed child. It is my child, my baby, caught now under the glare of this stranger’s scrutiny. Then, brightening, the woman says, “Say, don’t you also have a novel?”

As a novelist-turned-short-story-writer, I face this kind of thing all the time. Most people prefer non-fiction, but if they are going to read fiction, let it be a novel. They want to get cozy with a group of characters, live with those characters for a bit, follow them across a stretch of narrative time, all the while hoping for some happiness—or at least resolution—at the end. They want reading fiction to be a full-blown relationship, not a date; a home, not a glitzy hotel. They want to settle in, hunker down, and read.

I don’t blame them. I love novels. There’s nothing like moving into a fictitious world, getting to know its inhabitants, making friends, staying for dinner. Even better: I love it when a novel is so good, I come to the end with reluctance; I want it to go on and on. I completely understand the attraction. Yet, there are days when a girl needs a night out on the town. She needs a romp, no strings attached. To be dazzled, drawn close, given a glimpse of the funny, the ironic, the poignant, the wild. A girl needs a short story.

I wonder why fiction-readers often shy away from short story collections. You would think, with how limited everyone’s time is these days, a person would be thrilled to depart on a literary adventure that she or he can begin and complete in thirty minutes’ time. If coming to the end of a novel is satisfying, then wouldn’t a short story collection—with ten or more endings—be even more satisfying? Why wouldn’t a reader who finds joy and companionship with a few characters over the course of three hundred pages be all the richer for a series of quick but intimate encounters with dozens of characters?

The short-story form, I suppose, has a reputation for being hyper-literary. There are a fair number of scholarly journals out there publishing rather dry, pointedly confusing and—dare I say it?—boring stories. It is true that the short story is the purest, most artful form of fiction. While some writers do blatantly misuse the form, only wanting to show how smart they are—how elite—most short story writers simply love the art of short fiction. Short stories are, at their best, quirky, humorous, searching, true, and smart. The short story is able to crystallize a single, breath-catching moment in a character’s life—a moment that will, for that character, change everything. You can liken a well-written short story to a brilliant gem held under a light, the writer turning it just so until it glints brilliantly for a breath-taking instant. These extraordinary glimmers of truth, depth, and nuance flash again and again in a good collection.

I think a short story collection is the perfect choice for book clubs. For starters, there’s the obvious advantage of each story’s being self-contained. If you’re not smitten with a story in the first few pages, if it’s about dogs and you loathe dogs or if something about the narrative voice or the central character irritates you, fine. Move on to the next. The beauty of a short story collection is its variety; you’re almost guaranteed to find something you’ll like. Even the most eclectic mix of individuals can find something to love in a book of stories. More: a collection of short stories written by the same author is the best of both worlds. Sure, there’s the variety, but there’s also a common thread running through the stories. A collection of stories contains recurrent themes, situations, and life-questions. Each story offers a new way of seeing a common theme or motif. This makes for a lively, insightful, and challenging book talk. Also, a short story collection can be as comforting as a novel since you’re in the hands of the same author throughout. The scenery might change, and the people are different, but it’s a familiar voice speaking the story to you; you can be assured this writer will guide you through this story just as skillfully and as faithfully as he or she guided you through the last.

I don’t know if I’m able to convince the doubting woman at the book fair or how much success I’ll find in my mission to turn the world into short-story readers. As a novelist and a short-story writer, though, I can say which is the hardest to write, which demands the most from me in terms of talent, restraint, and insight. When you write a novel, you reinvent the world. When you write a short story collection, you reinvent the world ten times over. Reading a short story collection, then, is as big, as triumphant, as satisfying as coming into this planet again and again, each time seeing something new.

Susan’s Bio (from her website): Susan Yergler Woodring, an award-winning short story writer and novelist, grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. She also lived in California, Alabama, Illinois, and Indiana as a child. Upon graduating from Western Carolina University, she spent a year teaching in Vologda, Russia before moving to the foothills of North Carolina to teach middle school. Susan is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte. She is the author of one novel, The Traveling Disease. Her short fiction has earned many honors, including the 2006 Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Fiction Award and the 2006 Isotope Editor’s Prize. Her work has appeared in Quick Fiction, Yemassee, Ballyhoo Stories, Slower Traffic Keep Right, The William and Mary Review, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, Passages North, turnrow, and Surreal South (Press 53). Susan currently lives, writes, and home-schools her two children in Drexel, North Carolina.

Susan Woodring’s website can be found HERE

Susan has agreed to give away a copy of her book to one lucky winner. Leave a comment HERE by midnight PST, Friday, June 6th. Thank you, Susan! Wishing you all the best of luck with your short story collection, Springtime on Mars!

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 14

For this 14th volume of In Praise of  Book Clubs, the lovely and newly engaged Beastmomma talks about what she misses about being in a face to face book club.

Missing Book Clubs by Beastmomma

As I started reading the various In Praise of Book Club volumes, my nostalgia for the in-person book clubs I have been part of increased.  Prior to Seattle, I have been a member of a book club in every city I lived in since graduating college.  They have ranged in size, format, and genre focus.  

I joined my first book club when I was in New Orleans finishing my master’s program.  My course load was lighter since it was my last semester, so I had more time to read for pleasure.  There were only four members.  We only read two books, Poisonwood Bible and White Teeth, but we met every week.  We discussed the books a few chapters at a time.  The discussion included our predictions of what would happen next and if we were surprised with the turn of events since our last session.  Of course, a home cooked meal every week was an added bonus. 

After I graduated, I moved to Atlanta and got in touch with H.  In addition to becoming fast friends, we decided to start a book club.  The monthly sessions had a host who provided dinner and a facilitator who lead discussion.  The facilitator also nominated four books— two fiction and two non-fiction for the next month’s read.  The size of the group fluctuated.  When I left Atlanta, H and I turned the reigns over to G-love who has done an amazing job.   I still get e-mails about meetings and there is a webpage for members to view past reading nominations and selections.  When I visit Atlanta this summer, I am actually going to be a guest facilitator for which I am VERY excited! 

Because I had such a great experience in Atlanta, I decided to start a book club in Durham.  Of all the book clubs I have joined, this one had the best title: Books, Brunch, and Conversation (BBC).  The hardest part of starting this book club was finding people who were interested in joining.  After gathering a good number of people, we held our first meeting. The book club was the middle ground between the NOLA book club and the Atlanta book club because we met monthly but did not have a formal facilitator or selection process. We even incorporated an Easter basket exchange into the discussion. The size of the club varied with some sessions having only two participants.  Even though out attendance was sometimes small, the quality of the food and discussion stayed high.  

When I moved to Seattle, I was not sure if I would have time for a book club while in law school.  In the midst of the stress of law school, I began to feel very homesick and lost. I could not seem to get the hang of school and wanted to do things that reminded me of home.  I found a book club through one of my classmates. I went to one session, but shortly after that meeting the club faded.  Since then, I have joined an online book club, the Sunday Salon, and taken part in reading challenges.  My reading is much slower than other participants, but it is still fun to at least be a spectator in the process. While those are good ways to feel connected to an outside community, I miss the in-person book club experience. 

As I was writing this piece, I tried to figure out how I could incorporate the in-person book club into my law school life in a way that was not overwhelming.  When I return to Seattle in the fall, I am (possibly) going to start a short story club.  Each month, we will just discuss one short story.  One story a month feels easier to deal with than the pressure of an entire book; right now, I have two people interested. Even if we just meet a few times, I am hoping that I can get my book club fix! 

Blogger Bio:  After living in Maryland, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina, Beastmomma moved to Washington to attend law school in Seattle. In exchange for getting married, she will be moving to New England after graduation. This summer, she is looking forward to returning to the East Coast for an internship and to crank out wedding planning. In the three sections of her blog, she discusses books (on the shelf section), movies (on the screen section), and everything else (in the thoughts section).

***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.

Review: The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page

The Book Gods have been kind to me.  Recently I received a package from the Avon Trade division of Harper Collins containing not one but two books for my review.  I was tempted to add them to my ever growing stack, knowing it might be weeks before I got around to them, but instead passed one of those books and a couple others from the review stack to Elaine, a friend in my book club.  This girl is a reading machine!  Within a few days time she’d read the three books I’d given her and reviewed them for me.  Here is her first review for Books on the Brain:

The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page is about a slightly dysfunctional family and their three-day visit in a small rural town in Texas.  Holli/Hollyanne, divorced and living in NY, believes that her aging grandmother who raised her is loosing her grip on reality.  Holli decides to go to her childhood home in Thaxton, TX, to check up on Grandma Raine to make sure she is all right.  Around the same time, she hears that her twenty-year-old son, Connor, who had recently run away from college with his girlfriend and moved into a trailer behind Grandma Raine’s house in Thaxton, may also be facing a crisis of his own, with his girlfriend in the hospital.  As a result, all the family descends upon Thaxton to solve these problems and, consequently, create more family drama than Holli initially expected. 

This three-day trip becomes the setting for some critical life decisions, secrets revealed, reflections into love, faith and loss, and flashbacks into Holli’s own troubled childhood.   The drama in the Texas home, the majority of the book, reminded me of a stage play, with lots of one-on-one conversations rotating between the various characters.  This part of the novel seemed to drag on a bit after the major conflicts are introduced.  In contrast, Holli’s flashbacks to her childhood and relationships with her father and stepmother, I believe, were interesting and heartbreaking.  Coincidentally or not, many of the tragedies of Holli’s life happen in concert with events in space.  I am still trying to figure out if there is any deeper symbolism in the space theme (the emptiness, the danger of traveling into the “heavens”, etc.), but I felt like it was more of a literary “gimmick” to tie the events together, more than anything else.  Also, it seemed as though every character had a secret to reveal and there seemed to be a few too many parallel tragedies in the story to be realistic, although maybe some families are simply that unlucky. 

The novel is extremely well written, albeit slightly long.  Minor criticisms aside, the book is a very enjoyable read and I would recommend it to someone interested in family drama. 

Blogger Bio:  Elaine Legere is stay-at-home mommy and part-time marketing consultant, after years of working for Disney, Palm (aka Palm Pilot), Los Angeles Times, and Details Magazine.  She received her BA at UCLA in English Literature and an MBA from University of Colorado. She is an avid reader, loves movies, and all things outdoors.

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.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 1

This week I asked several Book Bloggers to respond to a question for a post I had in mind about why people love their book clubs.  Initially I thought this would become one post with several bloggers talking about their reading groups.  But bloggers (being bloggers) love to write, and the responses I got back were so great (and lengthy) that they each deserve their own post.  This will become a regular feature at Books on the Brain.

This first essay is from Kristen at the very popular Book Club Classics.  

I have been lucky to participate in a couple of different book clubs and have enjoyed each one.  My current book club has evolved and morphed so much through the years that it almost feels like multiple book clubs at this point!  But all of my book clubs have had a few things in common that have made each a rewarding experience.

Since reading is usually a solitary experience, I love how book clubs allow us to make what could be an isolating activity, communal.  We’ve all had the experience of finishing a truly terrific or upsetting or baffling book and desperately wanting to check our reactions against others’ experience of the same book.  Beyond book clubs, this is one of the major reasons I love reading book blogs – finding out what others are reading, what they thought about it, what they are reading next, etc. always brightens my day.

Another reason I enjoy book clubs is being motivated and held accountable to read genres outside my usual milieu.  This seems to be especially true when we have male members choosing, but my current book club has a member who loves politically aware nonfiction, a scientific member who actually chose a book on physics one month, and a mystery lover.  Thanks to these three women, I have now read at least one selection from each of these genres.  It is easy for me to want to broaden my horizons, but I like how my book club actually holds me accountable for doing it! 

The one challenge I have had with all of my book clubs is the difficulty we readers have distinguishing between the objective value of a work and our subjective opinions of it.  I’m overly sensitive to this since I taught literature for fifteen years, and one of my primary goals was to move my students beyond equating taste with quality.  In other words, learning to appreciate the strengths and qualities of a work we didn’t happen to enjoy.  Reading has such a way of engaging our hearts, as well as our minds, so separating the two can be nearly impossible at times!  Attempting to do so sure results in great discussions, though!

Blogger Bio: Kristen has taken a year off from teaching to start her blog, hoping that book clubs might be encouraged to read the classics with a little help from her (she designs kits that include discussion questions, context, etc.)  She can also customize a kit to any title; in fact, her most popular kit is for A Thousand Splendid Suns!  Her blog is jammed to bursting with book reviews and all the latest info. on what’s happening in the book world.  Kristen has been married to Eric for 2 years.  They live in the Twin Cities with their pit bull/border collie mix, Juno, and half-Arab, Mariah.  Book Club Classics was started last October.  

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 more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

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

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, 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 and comment by May 15th.  Jill also does author chats with book clubs!