In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 24

 

logoMolly from Litlovers.com stops by to share her views of how book clubs are saving the world.. take it away, Molly!

 

Saving the World—One Book Club at a Time
Molly Lundquist
LitLovers.com

 On any day of the week, all across the US, men and women (well, mostly women) meet in homes, libraries, Y’s, churches—any where with lots of chairs—to talk about books … and just maybe to make the world safe for democracy. 

How’s that?  

bookcoverIn a 1995 essay (later book), “Bowling Alone,” Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam traced the decline of American civic life since the 1950’s.  He pointed to decreased voter turn out, lower public meeting attendance, fewer people serving on committees or working for political parties.  

He even found a decline in bowling leagues, despite the fact that the number of bowlers has actually increased!  Turns out, people are bowling alone. 

It’s because we’re staying home, according to Putnam.  We’ve have isolated ourselves in far flung suburbs, we spend evenings in front of our TVs (now computers)—and with the majority of women in the workforce, it all spells less time and energy for civic involvement.

The repercussions matter, said Putnam, especially for a country whose form of government—democracy—depends on active citizen participation. 

But lo and behold, along comes our book club movement—and it is a movement, make no mistake!  No one knows for sure, but the number of people involved in book clubs has been estimated at anywhere from 10-25 million…and the number continues to grow!

Bless Oprah!  Clearly, she has helped trigger the movement.  But it’s not just Oprah:  it’s our own yearning.  The question is…what are we yearning for? 

My take is that we’re yearning for a richer, deeper communal life.  Talking to friends about sports, the kids, the job…or our latest bargain at the mall can take us only so far—we want more substance in our discourse. 

And books give us more, especially when we TALK about them.  Book discussions spur us to ponder, out loud, our connection to the greater world.  We ask ourselves and each other:  what makes a better life, what are our dreams and expectations, what kind of world do we wish to live in…with what kind of people? All these ideas are the things book clubs talk about.

And then there’s the way books broaden our perspective, enabling us to reach out across time and space to understand other people in other cultures. Again, we explore these issues with each other, exchanging views and changing minds. 

It seems to me book clubs are helping to reverse the trend that worried Putnam.  Because of book clubs, we’re re-entering communal life, we’re talking about substantive issues, we’re engaging with ideas—and with one another.  

Not to be too cute about it—but I think book clubs are saving the world!

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In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 23

The very patient and wonderful Michele from the fabulous blog Michele – One L talks about her book group, the LOLAs, in this 23rd volume of In Praise of Book Clubs.   I apologize to Michele and all the LOLAs for the long delay in posting this terrific entry!

I have loved to read since I was little and was excited to be invited to join a group of women reading and talking about books!  This was seven years ago and at that time I hadn’t really heard of book clubs other than what Oprah was doing. What fun to think about reading the same book and talking about it with other women! 

Ladies on Literary Adventures, otherwise known as LOLAs, is our book club.  It started in April, 2001 and I joined in December, 2001.  We started out as an off-shoot moms group and have had up to 25 folks on the list. While we don’t limit our membership to moms, it seems that the majority of folks we know that love to read are also moms.  We currently have 11 active members and all are quite faithful about reading and coming to the meetings. 

The Literary: As you can imagine, we’ve read a lot of books over the years. We’ve read fiction, memoirs, and self-help (not my favorite – I usually can’t even finish them). Books range from fluffy chick lit to serious subjects. Some of the books that stand out to me: Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker – I never would have read this book on my own but it has shaped my ideas and actions regarding my children and their safety;

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  – another one I would not have picked out myself, I’m not much of a classics reader, but thoroughly enjoyed;

These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner – one of my favorite books of all time; and

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik – another of my all-time favorites.

You can see all the books we’ve read at Library Thing HERE.

There are a lot of books that I’ve read because of LOLAs that I may not have searched out on my own. I was a tried and true mystery/thriller fan and would never consider anything else. But I’ve grown to love many other genres because of just one book suggested by the ladies. It’s wonderful. 

The Adventures: We’ve talked to a lot of authors!  We’ve talked with Caroline Leavitt twice! She was our first – her book Coming Back to Me was awesome and based partly on her own life! Caroline was great fun to talk to and is a wonderful author. The second time we chatted was about Girls in Trouble.   We talked with Adriana Trigiani about Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler.  Jennifer Haigh, author of Baker Towers, was also fun to talk with. And it was interesting to talk to Lisa Tucker – I just love all her books, with The Song Reader being the best. We talked to Victoria Zackheim, author of The Bone Weaver.  Two more are Lorna Landvik for Oh My Stars and Sarah Bird, author of The Mommy Club

It always feels so surreal to talk with the authors of books we’ve just read, to hear what they think of the books, their characters. It puts such a different spin on the book, making it come alive in my imagination even more. I was amazed to learn from each one of them that their characters are very real to them. Not in a ‘crazy I hear voices way’, but, in my engineering mind, as close to that as you can get without being crazy. LOL  I am fascinated to learn of the writing process and how different it is from what I would have imagined.  

Our other adventures would be our meals – we either eat out or bring appetizers to a home. We’ve discussed the theme idea where we eat foods relating to the book, but the closest we’ve gotten to that is eating at a Chinese restaurant when we were discussing Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The best part of LOLAs is, of course, the Ladies!  I’ve made great friends that enjoy reading as much as I do! During our meetings, the book discussion sometimes is a large part of the night. I usually learn quite a bit about myself and other points of view/thought from these discussions. Other times the book discussion is a very small part of the evening. But either way we make sure we laugh and talk with each other, finding out about their families, children, jobs, life.  

We are truly Ladies on Literary Adventures and it’s tons of fun!

***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 check out my current giveaway, click HERE

In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 21

In this 21st installment of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Melanie over at lit*chick, where she writes about books, naturally, but also about life with her 3 boys. Three must be her number- here she writes about her 3 different book clubs!

Best Discussion - Group 1

Best Discussion - Group 1

I am afraid I suffer from a bit of reading schizophrenia or multiple reading group personality disorder. I enjoy the pleasures of being a participating member of a book club, an honorary member of another, and running an online book club. Each of these variations satisfies different parts of my book nerd world.

My “in real life” book club has me finishing books I never would have chosen. And I get to hang out with women of all ages, cultures and experiences. Not everyone here is a voracious reader, in fact most are not. But face-to-face discussion and engaging on issues or topics that get past the “Hi, how are you? I’m fine” is good exercise for my introvert self. You learn the most about other people and yourself when you have your opinions challenged and share personal experiences, sometimes painful. I highly recommend it. Not to mention the opportunity for adult conversation, a skill in which I lack practice.
Up Next for Group 2

Up Next for Group 2

The honorary membership serves my non committal/rebellious side. I get their book list, can follow along, and pop in when I can. I found that having to read a book can sometimes cause me to desire anything but, surely I’m not alone here. They manage to welcome me without judgement, whenever my schedule allows. And this book club has completely different selections than the other that run more to my taste. It should, my cousin started it so there is a family connection too. But what can I say, I like being included.

Coming Up for Group 3

Coming Up for Group 3

Finally, the online book club, feeds my desire for control. I choose the books, and the questions, and steer the discussion. There is also flexibility here – while I have monthly choices, I can also post questions for books whenever I feel like it. I don’t have to wait for my turn to present selections or even wait until next month. The internet has been a wonderful vehicle for me to spill all the book stuff I’ve had bottled up. I have met lovely people and for some reason, they choose to return again and again to talk books with me. The online book club speaks to the part in me that says: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” (C.S. Lewis) That and the cool factor of having friends spread all over the world who read.

As an avid reader, there are so many options for connecting with other people who love books. Why not try one, or three?
Blogger Bio: Melanie is a suburban mom of 3 boys. Before she started blogging about books, she had other hobbies like scrapbooking and baking. Now she just reads and moves piles of books around to give the impression that she’s cleaning.
***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

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 20

WOW!  This is the 20th installment of In Praise of Book Clubs!  I can hardly believe it!  Today we hear from Laverne at the very fun Redhead Fangirl blog, which you must check out if you like comics or graphic novels.  Here she talks about her Adult Book Discussion group at the Ewing Branch Library, where she is the reference librarian.  

While I was attending library school and working full time, I was drafted to be the book club coordinator in 2005.  We host a once a month adult book discussion, and this group has been one of the most rewarding parts of my very busy reference librarian schedule.   

Our book club reads fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry and short stories.   I love the diversity of the styles we read, and the group is extremely democratic on bringing suggestions to the table.  We only ask that the title be available through our library system, so it promotes our collections and there is no expense for any patron.

We have a group of regular patrons, but always have an influx of new participants.   The group is led by a now retired Corrections Officer, who told me he only knew of one other guard who was a reader in all his years working in corrections.    There are several current and retired teachers who bring witty classroom stories to the table. 

One of our favorite yearly discussions is the “Short Stories for a Short Month”, where every February we read 4 or 5 short stories.   I make copies for the entire group, and then we share our thoughts and feelings.    It has turned us on to T.C. Boyle, Jeffrey Archer,  and more– many times we like a short story enough to want to read more by that author.

The biggest hits of this year are the nonfiction The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, the memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassan.   This fall I’m looking forward to our discussions of the Benjamin Black (John Banville) mystery Christine Falls and the historical fiction novel People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.   I saw her speak at ALA, and thought she was so wise and funny that it even propelled me to read historical fiction- usually my least favorite genre. 

Mostly it has allowed a deeper connection with patrons through years of telling our stories and tidbits in the book group.  Some patrons have gotten ill, or moved, and we miss them.  But I’m always recruiting new readers to tell their stories by reading the stories of others.   

Redhead Fangirl 

(A librarian, redhead  and fangirl’s commentary on comics, graphic novels, and libraries)

Blogger Bio:  Laverne loves graphic novels and writes at the popular Redhead Fangirl blog.  She is a reference librarian in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, cat, and turtle.  You might find her there playing guitar or WiiFit or drinking Irish beers. 

***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

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 19

In this 19th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Sarah of the terrific blog, The Last Book I Read.  Here she talks about the book club she formed with other stay at home moms in her area.

I started my book club a little over a year ago.  As a stay at home mom of a then almost two year old I was craving the company of other women during the day who could talk about something other than their kids.  I went to a playgroup which I enjoyed, but I wanted a playgroup for ME.  And, while I have other girlfriends that I swap books with and talk books with all the time, I needed something in person and I wanted something during the daytime.  I wasn’t looking to get out of the house, but I was looking for better conversation.

So, I asked a couple friends and I put up a little sign and soon enough we had a group of 4.  We try to meet once a month and whoever hosts the group at her house gets to pick the book and also lead the discussion.  When we meet the kids go off and play together while we get to talk about the book.  We’re pretty informal-don’t really have any rules and it’s agreed that if you haven’t finished the book that’s ok.

One of the things I like about our group is that I think we don’t have the same exact reading tastes.  We like enough of the same books that it’s not a chore to read the month’s book (well, that’s not exactly always true), but we’ve all also been pushed into trying new things.  I prefer to choose books that we haven’t read before but it often happens that someone chooses a book she’s read before and wants the others to try.

Some of our selections have been The Memory Keeper’s DaughterNights of Rain and StarsWhen Rabbit Howls, Captain Corelli’s MandolinBelong to MeThe RoadThree Junes, and The Ice Queen.

Although it was not my intent at all, something that has naturally occurred is that we often talk about how we responded to a book as a mother of a young child.  For example, in our conversation about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter* we all found the deception of telling a mother her child had died was practically unbearable to contemplate.  Since having kids I’ve found myself even more emotional about death/kids/families in novels than I used to be (and that’s saying something because I’m an easy crier at books.)  My book group has shown me that I’m not the only one who’s become so sensitive to those topics.  [Our upcoming discussion is about Belong To Me, during which I cried and cried at the friend’s death imagining myself dying with my children around me.]

*(I like to steer clear of Oprah books when it comes to my picks, but we’ve actually read quite a few of them.  I hate to admit it but they usually are really easy to talk about and universally liked by us. I just have a thing about reading what everyone else reads.)

As a YA librarian I wanted to introduce my friends to some YA lit and chose Speak for my first book.  I thought the discussion we had about this book was one of our best yet.  A YA buddy had suggested it as being a good one for women to discuss because no matter who we are or were it was likely we could all think back to being a teenage girl and feelings of isolation.  This proved to be true!  I am looking forward to introducing some more YA titles into our mix, perhaps some Sarah Dessen or Shannon Hale.  I also think maybe we should try some sci-fi or fantasy since that is a genre we haven’t yet discussed.

We’ve definitely had some flops.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was only read by one of us.  Two of us couldn’t get more than two chapters in.  When Rabbit Howls was so interesting in concept, but in reality nobody could get through it.  It was one of those books that you like someone to tell you about, but it turns out that that’s enough. And even though it’s topped book lists galore for the past two years not one of us liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Nickel and Dimed was another choice that really prompted conversation.  Truthfully, though, our conversation ended up being a lot more about what we thought about Ehrenreich, cleaning services, and the economy, and not so much about the book as a work of writing.  I think sometimes that happens with non-fiction choices– you don’t talk about it as a book per se, but just about the content.

Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to post about my book group.  I hope it encourages other stay at home moms to form their own groups!

Blogger Bio:  My name is Sarah, I’m a thirty-six year old young adult librarian, who is presently a stay-at-home mom. I have two children, aged  three and 9 months.  We live in central New Jersey in a beautiful area with lots of fields and farms.  I’ve been an avid reader since childhood.  I read a ton of ya books (hence, ya librarian), but I do like adult books too. I like historical romances, general fiction, and anything set in a boarding school! My blog is The Last Book I Read.

***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

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

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 17

 

In this 17th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, Tracy from Book Room Reviews tells us about the wonders of a library book club!

I wanted to tell you about the virtues of joining your local library book club. I started less than a year ago and am truly enjoying my experience. I have tried to start book clubs in the past with different friends but we have always found a reason not to. We moved to a new town in Iowa a year ago and one of the first places I always go is the library of course! Needless to say they have a wonderful library here and after a while I started to notice the signs for the book club. The first meeting I went to was for the book The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer and I enjoyed it so much I keep going back. There are lot of wonderful reasons to go to a library book club so I made a list:

1. The book is free! I get to check it out for at least six weeks before the actual meeting too.

2. There is a core group that is always the same but I always get to meet several different people, even a few men come!

3. I never have to clean my house, provide treats and find somewhere for the rest of my family to go! The Library always provides a comfortable meeting room and refreshments.

4. The discussions are always led by our librarian who takes suggestions and the books she picks are always well researched and she provides lots of additional information.

5. We have met several authors in person and over the phone.

The other cool thing about the library book club is we participate in the All Iowa Reads program.

The All Iowa Reads program is a book selected every year to encourage Iowans statewide to read and talk about a single title in the same year. The books are selected by members of the Iowa Center for the Book advisory council. The criteria used to select a book are

1. Be available in paperback, large print and unabridged audio

2 Lend itself to in-depth discussion and raise universal social issues relevant to Iowans

3. Be accessible to adults and high school age youth

4. It is desirable, but not required, that the book:

Have an Iowa or Midwest connection

Is a recent publication that has not been widely read

This year the selected book is Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Past selections are:

2007. Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio by Jeffrey Kluge

2006. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

2005. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

www.iowacenterforthebook.org

Our library book club summer list is Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Looking For Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Five Quarters of an Orange by Joanne Harris

Blogger Bio:  I am a wife and mom of two lovely boys. I also tutor Special Ed students at the college level. I just started a book review website www.bookroomreviews.com with a companion blog www.bookroomreviews.wordpress.com My passion is reading and sharing books so I invite authors and publishers to contact me since I would love to help you get the word out about your book!

***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 JANEOLOGY by Karen Harrington, click HERE