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. 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, Vol. 7

In this installment of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Karen of Planet Books fame.  Karen is an American living in Okinawa, Japan.  Here she writes about her attempts at a real life book club, and why she resorted to the online variety.   

I started Planet Books in October of 2007 as a way to connect with other readers from all over the planet (hence the name).  At the time I also had a “real-life” book club I had named Lit & The Island.  I started this group by inviting girlfriends that I had gotten to know over the previous few months.  Some of them knew each other but for the most part this was their first meeting.  There were never more than ten of us in the group which worked out since only a few would attend the monthly book discussion and dinner out at a restaurant.  This way we always had at least four people attend the meeting each month.  I really enjoyed listening (I wasn’t big on discussion participation at the time) to what each lady took from the book and if the ideas were similar to my own or completely new and different.     

My favorite meetings were when we would vote for the upcoming books.  We selected three to four months of books at a time because living in Japan made it difficult to just go to the store and get our books (the PX & BX selections suck for the most part).  Lining up our reading selections for the next few months made it easier to just place an order from your favorite book store’s web site and have them at your fingertips after waiting a week to two weeks for their arrival.  Because of this the book nominations were endless.  I tended to go a little overboard and always nominated at least nine or ten books each time.  I liked the opportunity to learn about new books from everyone’s nominations.  We would go around the table and each person had the opportunity to sell us on their books.  Then we would each get a slip of paper and write down our top three or four books, depending on how many books we needed at the time.  I would tally the most popular title and so on and we would get our titles.    There of course were the occasional duds, but for the most part the books we read were enjoyable and inspired lively discussions.  After two years, schedules, kids for some, and life for all got in the way and we stopped meeting.  Therefore, Planet Books began to fulfill my need for a book club.    

Planet Books started strictly as a book blog but has now morphed into a way for me to discuss not only books but music, baking and everyday topics that catch the attention of my inner blogger.  You’ll find everything on Planet Books from what book I’m reading or which magazine is taking me away from reading books for the moment, to “Today’s Favorite Song” feature and what recipe I’ve baked this week.    

I love to receive people’s comments too.  I have enjoyed the relationships that have developed due to my participation in the blogosphere.  Bottom line, Planet Books is a fun way to put my voice out into the universe and connect with people I only know through words on the screen, be it on their own blogs or their comments on mine.  This is my fourth attempt at blogging and I’m happy to say that I have found the best place and blog format for what I want to do.  I always find excitement in how many hits Planet Books gets each day and the idea that strangers from all over might be learning about a new book, recipe or song because I wrote about it on my blog.  

Blogger Bio:  Karen is currently living with her hubby of four years and their five year old Cocker Spaniel, Rocky, in Okinawa, Japan.  She hails from the Washington D.C. Metro Area, Silver Spring, MD to be specific but has also lived in Denver, CO and Memphis, TN.  She has enjoyed living in Okinawa for the last three years and looks forward to the adventures there are to be had during her last year on the Island before returning to who-knows-where in the U.S.  If she isn’t reading, listening to music, sleeping, driving around, lunching, watching t.v., surfing the net or baking you can find (or hear) her singing in the house, her car or at Karaoke on Friday nights. 

***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. 6

Heather, from Age 30 – A Year of Books, talks about her Storie delle Sorelle book club in this 6th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs.

When I started my book club back in May of 2005, I had a grand plan in mind: I would gather a group of friends on a bi-weekly basis and together we would delve into the most intriguing books we could find. Everyone would love every book and raise lots of meaningful points during the discussions. 

Well, as we all know, reality does not ever follow our grand plans. In reality, I have a dedicated group of friends who regularly attend meetings. We call ourselves Storie delle Sorelle, Italian for Stories of the Sisters. Rather than bi-weekly (was I crazy?!) we meet about once a month. Everyone does not love every book, but get this…that makes the meetings even better! 

Our most controversial book was What Our Mother’s Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman by Danielle Crittenden. The point of the book is that the feminist movement actually hurt women in a variety of ways. Boy, did this cause some discussion! Some of the ladies completely agreed with the author’s points while others thought she was loony. One discussion centered on the age-old debate of the working mom vs. the stay-at-home mom — what a touchy subject! Our meeting was intense and needed very little direction from me as the leader. 

One good tip — if your club plans to discuss a “heavy” book, have your meeting in a fun environment. We discussed this book at our annual pool party — it’s hard to get too tense while wearing a bathing suit and drinking lemonade! 

One of our best meetings was for Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. In what seemed like a miracle for our club, everyone really loved this book. For our meeting we dressed in Japanese garb and had Asian food. We even had a special guest bring family heirlooms from WWII occupied Japan and an antique samurai sword. Because we all loved the book, our discussion was rather brief. When it seemed there was no more to say, I brought up the controversy and lawsuits that followed the novel’s publication … then we had a great deal to discuss. That new knowledge made us re-examine the novel with a more critical eye. 

Another great discussion came from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This book is one of my all-time favorites, but with more than 800 pages it was a stretch for my group. To accommodate busy schedules and slower readers we decided to split the book into two meetings. Not everyone liked this book, but everyone got something out of it. Some said they appreciated the strong female characters. One member said reading about the rival kingdoms of King Arthur’s day helped her understand the rivalry and wars between the small kingdoms in the Old Testament. A few were just proud that they had completed such a long and intense book. 

My book club is nothing like what I imagined in my grand plan … in reality it’s a wonderfully eclectic, sometimes stressful but always enjoyable band of “sisters.” Our taste in books varies wildly — as does our reading speed — and we try to accommodate everyone. We found what works for us and our excellent meetings are the evidence. It’s not what I would have imagined, but reality can be better than fiction!

originally published at readinggroupguides.com on March 25th

Blogger Bio:  Heather Johnson and her husband, Chris, will celebrate their 10 year wedding anniversary this year.  They live near Baltimore, Maryland with their one fantastic son, James (age 6) and their big dog, Jasmine (age 9).  Heather founded the Storie delle Sorelle book club in 2005 and started blogging about it – and her other reading adventures – just last year.

***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 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!

For a chance 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.