Kandide and The Secret of the Mists

Our book club has taken an odd turn–

This fall we will read Kandide and the Secret of the Mists, a book meant for 9-12 year old readers (let’s just say we are all a wee bit older than that).  It’s all faeries and magical worlds and enchanting adventure, not my usual interests!  But one of our members is a friend of Diane Zimmerman, the author, and she will be attending our meeting in person.  That’s a rare opportunity and one we did not want to pass up.  Ms. Zimmerman is also a professional magician at the Magic Castle in LA- pretty cool! Several of us (myself included) have children that fall into the 9-12 age range, so we’re going to ask them to read the book along with us and include them in our meeting.

The trailer is quite good!  Check it out:

 

 

Click HERE for a Promo Code to save 25% on Kandide!

Has your book club ever read something completely different like this?  If so, how did it go?  

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: 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!

Book Club Babes

After nearly a year and a half of monthly meetings, we finally got around to snapping a picture at our book club meeting yesterday. That’s me, kneeling on the left. We’ll have to take another shot when we’re all together (one of our group missed the meeting).

We had a cookout to kick off the summer. Our hostess, Maggie (3rd from right) grilled hot dogs and burgers, and several people brought interesting salads and wine. I enjoyed a terrific Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling with my dinner (from Costco), and then I had a little more after dinner!

We discussed Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks (reviewed HERE). We all felt it was excellent, very well researched and well written. We compared the plague to modern day epidemics and one member (Hello, Mom! – the good looking redhead 2nd from right) had information on the influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed more than 25 million people-far more than the plague in the 1600’s. My mom is always ready with statistics and background information… not only does she read the book each month, she takes notes (she’s a bit of an overachiever!). We went through all the discussion questions and had a great conversation about Year of Wonders. I would highly recommend it for book clubs.

After we wrapped up the discussion, it was time to nominate books for this fall. One member (Sara-seated- in the black shirt) thought it would be fun to have husbands/significant others attend our September meeting, which she will host in her backyard. Wow, did that get shot down in flames!! A couple people said, “Why?” and others said, “My husband doesn’t read!” Hmmm. Oh well, it was a nice thought. It sounded fun to me!

We had some fabulous suggestions for our fall book club picks, but after the voting it came down to this:

September: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (I LOVE the cover!!)

October: Peony in Love by Lisa See (our first repeat author!)

November: Kandide and the Secret of the Mists by Diana Zimmerman (this is a YA book, but one of our members- Karen-2nd from left- is a friend of the author and will ask her to attend our meeting in person- a first for us).

Our July choice is The Sweet Potato Queen’s 1st Big-Ass Novel by Jill Conner Browne, which a couple of our members have already read and they swear is funny. I’ve never read a book with the word ASS in the title before. Never thought I would, either! For August we will read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and the author will join us by speaker phone.

What are you reading this summer?

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. 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 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. 8

Petunia from the fabulous blog Educating Petunia is a homeschooling mom from California with an interesting book club. Here she talks about what makes it different.

My book group is not so typical.  I first saw the idea on the PBS Masterpiece site and knew I had to give it a try.  So four months ago I started a Book and Movie Group.  What we do is choose a book that has a movie associated with it.  We read our books on our own over the month, then we plan a Movie Night where the hostess makes the movie available to the group.  This is like a Mommy’s Night Out for most of us and can be a lot of fun.  Then we meet to discuss the book and the movie together.  Watching the movie is not a necessity but it does add more to the discussion.  We talk about what changes were made to the plot and how it affected the story.  Was the main message different for those changes or were they simply part of interpreting the written word into a visual forum?

The best meetings are the ones where the hostess creates a theme and plans a game and/or prizes that go with the book.  For Much Ado About Nothing we had a spring wedding theme, each member bringing wedding photos to share.  Persuasion lent itself to an English Tea very nicely.  One member wanted to have a chocolate tasting at her meeting so she chose Chocolat for the book.  And I always try to offer a door prize that encourages further reading, like bookmarks, journals, pocket-sized books of poetry.

Blogger Bio: I will have been married to my husband for 15 years this July.  I wasn’t much of a reader until 6 years ago when we got rid of the TV and started homeschooling our three kiddos.  I have found homeschooling to be as much as a learning experience for me as it is for them.  The classics are my favorite type of book and Edith Wharton is my favorite author.

***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.

Review and Giveaway: Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring

When my kids were very small, I would find myself with little snippets of time, perhaps while waiting at the pediatrician’s office, or watching a toddler gymnastics class, or while the kids were napping.  I found I could read short stories in a single sitting, and there was something really satisfying about that, unlike a novel, where it might be days until my next opportunity to sit down with my book, and I would need to go back and reread to figure out where I was. 

Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring is a short story collection filled with intensely personal domestic situations of quiet desperation.   There are 11 stories, set in the 1950’s until the present day, loosely connected by recurrent themes of science and technology, marriage and relationships, love and loss.  

Charming, deceptively simple, and utterly American, many of these tales depict the country at the brink of change and huge scientific advances. Others show the struggle between faith in God and faith in science.  Ranging from the introduction of the television into our living rooms, to the Kennedy assassination, to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Springtime on Mars holds up a mirror and shows us not only who we were, but who we are. 

In Zenith, 1954, Reverend Joe and his wife Marianne, pregnant with twins, are given a welcoming gift by their congregation: 

I knew Frank did not hold to the elders’ decision to gift us with a television set, a worthless diversion that not only inspired rampant idleness, but also one that was relatively new- the whole thing could turn out to be nothing more than a Hollywood fad.” 

Woodring breathes life into her characters so quickly- within a few short paragraphs you fully grasp who they are.  In the story Inertia, Lizzie’s mother sends her to the basement for a jar of preserves and some beans.  She’s reluctant to go, and when she gets there, we understand why:  

“The shelves on the far wall held my grandmother’s canning efforts:  tomatoes, okra, peppers, and preserves: strawberry, pear, and rhubarb-strawberry.   There were empty spaces now, as there always were this late in summer, but since my grandmother had passed away last winter, the holes were unsettling.  My mother had promised to keep the garden up, but she’d tended only to her bees…” 

Later, Lizzie’s father attempts to explain her mother’s grief over her grandmother to Lizzie this way: 

“He assured me my mother’s need to tend to them {the bees} would pass, the same as people’s need to watch the skies for news from other worlds.  He taught math at the junior college and this seemed to give him an insight into why people believed what they believed.  It’s all, he said, an irrational desire to control the uncontrollable.  I wanted him to think I had a scientific mind like his, so I nodded and told him I understood, though I didn’t.” 

I was perhaps most touched and completely caught off guard by the story Beautiful, in which a father is staying in a hotel, apart from his family, on an extended business trip.  His wife and daughters come down for a visit, but there are huge walls of silence and misunderstanding.  He realizes his 13 year old didn’t want to make the trip; she seems embarrassed and unsure of how to act around her dad.  He then remembers how it used to be: 

“When she was little, though, she used to cup his face in her hands and draw it very close to her own.  Listen, she would say.  There’s a crisis on planet Gimbel and we have to go there now. “ 

Throughout that story, I was rooting for the dad so much.  I kept thinking,  Do something!  You’re going to lose your family!  The relief I felt when he finally took some action to connect with his kids is hard to describe.  I got so choked up and was surprised at how much it affected me. 

Susan Woodring has a unique voice and a disarming style.  Many short story collections are woefully uneven, but that is not the case here.   I found real moments of charm and humor in every single story.  I enjoyed this book so much and enthusiastically recommend it. 

The author has generously agreed to provide a copy of Springtime on Mars to one lucky commenter.  Please leave a comment here and a winner will be selected on June 6th, the date of Susan Woodring’s Books on the Brain stop on her blog tour.  On that date I will post a beautiful essay Susan has written on why a short story collection is a great choice for a book club. 

Susan Woodring’s website can be found HERE 

Here are excellent discussion questions for Springtime on Mars: 

Book Club Discussion Questions compiled by Ashley Roberts, March 2008.

1.   Though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, what were your expectations before reading the book? Did the stories meet these expectations or were you surprised?

2.   Susan Woodring plays with family dynamics. What do these different types of families have in common? How are they different?  

3.  Why do you think “Springtime on Mars” is the book’s namesake? Does this story accurately represent the rest of the stories? 

4.  In “Birds of Illinois,” what do the birds symbolize? The meat? 

5.  Six of the eleven stories are written in the first person. Do you think these stories would be diminished in any way if we didn’t have the thoughts of the leading characters?  

6.  Woodring plays with different fears in “Inertia.” What fears are present? Are the characters fearful of different things? Does fear appear in other stories? 

7.  Compare Jean and Harold’s relationship in “Morning Again” to Gladys and Andy’s. How would you describe their understanding of their roles in their respective relationships? 

8.  In “Love Falling,” there’s a lot of tension in the house. What is the breaking point for Julie? Why does she ultimately decide to leave? 

9.  Woodring describes the weather with much detail. Why do you think this is, and can you draw any connections between the weather and the temperament of the story?  

10.   What do you think Woodring is implying in her observations of belief systems: religious, political, and extraterrestrial? 

11.   Russia makes a frequent appearance in the stories. What do you think it symbolizes? 

12.   The parent/child relationship is often very strained in the stories. What do you think Woodring is trying show the reader?  

13.  When Shannon urges Jean to take the triangle IQ test in “Morning Again,” she responds, “I’ve raised three children.” What do you think this implies about Jean’s values? Shannon’s? 

14.  All of the characters are unique. Is there one in particular you most empathize with? Why or how?