Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Club Love @sujatamassey

Lucy Burdette: You Reds know I'm a big fan of Sujata Massey's books. I'm thrilled to hear the news that Rei Shimura will be back in our reading lives soon...and we're delighted to have Sujata visiting today to talk book clubs...

SUJATA MASSEY: Cranberry-topped Brie. Hummus and carrots. Strawberries, assorted hot teas and a bottle of Pinot. The only items yet to add to this menu are a group of ladies and a “serious” book.

I remember joining my first book club in the late 1980s with other young single women. We had various links, but the most important was our desire the read the best books of the era and talk about them. We didn’t flinch at the cost of buying a non-discounted hardcover each month--or the evening hours needed to read these books, which we always finished on time.I’ve got less time and more expenses for which to budget, a quarter-century later. Fortunately, I’m still part of a delightful book group that meets once every few months. And I attend far more book clubs as an author guest, an honor that began occurring every now and then since I became a published writer—and because popular fiction novels with happy endings are now considered fair game. However, walking into somebody else’s living room, where everyone has an opinion, is sometimes daunting.

One of my most challenging book club visits occurred with my first novel, The Salaryman’s Wife. Shortly after I’d settled myself, one of the members began a Perry-Mason like questioning of why two characters hooked up casually while on vacation. Although the series is not erotica, this book club reader was steadfast in her belief that my book was full of sin—and I could not get away from her disapproving glare for the remaining hours of the meeting. And then, a year later, a different book club read Zen Attitude, asked why I didn’t treat gay sexuality more openly. My faith in the diversity of readers was restored.

It’s no surprise that sex comes up so much when I visit book clubs. The magic of an in-person book club is that it’s an intimate gathering that often uses a text as a springboard to discuss personal concerns. And from my own selfish perspective, I’ve found these gatherings are a good place to discuss my future book ideas with readers, taking note of plots, locations and types of characters are most intriguing to the group. Book club members have also reassured me that long novels are still popular, regardless of what professionals in the publishing industry may think. What a relief!
As times have changed, a way that I connect with book clubs around the world is by phone or computer, using programs like Skype, Google Plus and Facebook. I have to admit, though, the likelihood of screens going blank and voices fading out are so frequent when camera time is involved that it’s almost easier to just speak on a landline with the speaker on.

Then, there are the bookclubs where everyone stays at home: the private groups on Facebook and Goodreads, where people agree to read one book over a month’s time. While virtual book clubs can’t offer real food and drink, they are great for people who can’t make it to a real-time book club, allowing them to post their opinions whenever it’s convenient.  I love that you could be serving in Afghanistan and still belong to a virtual book club. Or in a hospital bed, commuting on the train, or trapped at your kid’s hockey game. And I’m not sure people in virtual book clubs realize how influential they are. These are the readers who are more likely to dash of a quick, useful online review of whatever they’ve read at sites like Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo. Increasingly, the voices of the book clubbers—rather than mainstream media reviewers--are what can drive books to successful heights.

I write this while in the final editing stages of my first Rei Shimura mystery in six years, The Kizuna Coast.  This novel is set in the post-tsunami world of Japan, where a newlywed Rei Shimura, plus her elderly antiques dealer mentor, and an adorable, nosy dog, are on the hunt for a young woman artist who’s gone missing. Are the cultural details right? Do the clues add up, but not so fast they spoil the read? All this will be clear after I spend time with book clubs.


To celebrate the launch of The Kizuna Coast, Baltimore-based mystery and historical fiction author Sujata Massey wants to be part of your book club. The first 5 readers who contact Sujata (sujatamassey at with a plan for a scheduled book discussion in 2015 will get an e-book, trade paperback or audio MP3 download as a thank-you. Happy holidays and happy reading!

The Kizuna Coast will be available Dec 15 at amazon (paper and ebook) and in both formats everywhere else Feb 15.

Reds, tell us about your favorite book club experiences. What books have stimulated the best discussions?


  1. Sujata, I have to laugh about your book club sex discussion. My readers mostly complain that nothing's happening in my characters' love lives:)

  2. Welcome, Sujata! That's so funny about asking about your characters' sex lives! I get emails about that sometimes, but no one has brought it up in a book club, thank goodness!

  3. More intriguing titles to read! Thank you, Reds, for introducing me to Sujata!

    Last night one of my two book clubs, at our annual (this was the 15th year) holiday book club, discussed my latest pick, The Language of Flowers. We had our usual exceptional potluck dinner, then spouses separated to another room while we had our book discussion.

    After that the spouses rejoined us for a pirate book exchange: wrapped books under the tree, chosen in order by numbers drawn out of a hat. People with later numbers can "steal" other's already opened books, so it's not good to get too attached to a book. There are also books included that are, shall we say, less than desirable, or hilarious in context. For instance, one guy ended up with an American Girl novel.

    This weekend my other book club is getting together to watch a DVD of our last book, The Book Thief, and to eat Christmas cookies. And drink wine, of course.

  4. Very excited to see Sujata Massey here. Book clubs are my favorite kinds of events, too -- is there anything more fun than talking to people who've actually *read* your book! And Skype and Facetime make it so easy to connect.

    And you do come face to face with reader biases which is always an enlightening and sometimes humbling experience.

  5. Ok, I just ordered the e-book of the new Rei Shimura novel. Thanks for returning to her after all these years Sujata.

    Now, I just need to find the time to squeeze her in. ;)

  6. I've missed Rei so much! It'll be great to get caught up with her.

    I have not had the opportunity to join a book club but I do enjoy sharing books on blogs like JRW. Most of the books I've read in the past few years are books I've learned about on line.

  7. Hallie, no, there's nothing better than visiting a book club to talk about something you wrote--so much fun!

    Karen, what a fabulous night you had! And I was crazy for THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. I gave a lot of copies out for gifts. In fact, should go back and read it again...

    Deb R, hmmmm, maybe we should try to set up a book club for JRW books?

  8. I'm sure sex is a hot topic in book clubs with everybody having an opinion. =)

    My local SinC chapter did an online book club (because we're all too busy to meet). I enjoyed the discussion of the first few, but found that reading a book a month, plus writing, plus day job, plus family was just too much.

  9. Hi Lucy, Susan, Hallie, Kristopher and Mary: Isn't it funny the things that come up when people have the author in front of them?

    Karen, that is a great, great party idea. Those parties where you can steal gifts are a lot of fun, and setting it up with books is even better. I've got a stack I could gift that does include American Girl!

  10. I would LOVE a JRW book club! Sign me up.

  11. Sujata, I'm wondering how it felt to go back to Rei after a hiatus during which you wrote other voices? (I wonder partly because I worry I couldn't find my earlier characters' true voices once I'd left them alone for a while...)

  12. When I was in book club, we each picked the book for the month. I picked Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I adore it, and wanted to share. The rest of the club HATED it. It was a strange experience.

    The best book club discussion I've ever been in was for Bel Canto, by Ann PAtchett. Have any of you read that?

  13. I love Sujata Massey!!! Her Rei Shimura books are truly to die for! (Sorry). :)
    Can't wait to see the next novel.

  14. Roberta/Lucy,

    I like the idea of a JRW book club! I just remembered that an organization I belong to has a book club. A couple of years ago I looked into the books that they read and all of them are so depressing! Actual members of that book club have said the same thing. I think people decide on a book by book basis whether or not to read the current choice.

  15. Yes! Hank, Bel Canto is a beautiful book.A couple of years ago I chose WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA, which I need to reread now that I've been to Cuba. Funnily enough, I remember very little of the discussion, but I can picture clearly the Cuban pork roast, black beans, and bananas sauteed in butter and sugar that I prepared for the meal:).

    Deb R, we'll talk some more about the book club idea when we aren't all strung out by the holidays!

  16. Hank, I read Bel Canto years ago, and don't remember a darn thing about it. Must reread, I guess.

    One of my very favorite books was disliked intensely by everyone in one book club, and when I tried again with the other one, a couple years later, it got the opposite reaction. Very strange. But there's always someone who "hates" the book choice, it seems. You have to make allowances for personal taste.

    Roberta, we always try to match our food contributions to the books, and some of the menus are way more memorable than either the books we read or the discussions we had about them!

  17. Although Bel Canto led to great discussions (particularly about whether the diva's action at the end was consistent with how Patchett portrays her character earlier) no book generated more heat than the brilliant Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years, which I always recommend to book clubs. The character is forced to make a choice at the end of the book. How you feel about her choice will illuminate your values. It's a great book, too...

  18. I love going to book clubs as an author. And have had some either critical or ridiculous questions/comments. I just smile and hold out my glass for more wine...

    I've been meaning to read your books for several years, especially as I lived in Japan for two years. Just ordered it!

  19. I adore Bel Canto, Hank. It has actually been adapted into an actual opera, so I am hoping to see that at some stage.

    Such a powerful story.

  20. Bel Canto has been sitting on my to-read shelf for years. Ack. I'll try to move it into the current to-read pile... Christopher, I have read Ladder of Years, which I loved. And so interesting for discussion!

    That said, I've never belonged to a book club, although I've now spoken to many. There is a great local group that would probably have me as a member if I asked, but I always quail at the idea of another book to read to a schedule.

    I suspect, however, that I'm missing out on a lot of good books. And good food. And good friends...

    Sujata! Always so wonderful to have you! And can't wait to read the new Rei book. It sounds terrific!

  21. Sujata -- that's so funny about those book club readers! I'm so glad this post reminded me about the new Rei Shimura novel.

    Hank -- One of the most interesting book discussions I've had was about Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, so I think she gets people talking ;)

  22. So happy to see Sujata back here on Jungle Reds! The Sleeping Dictionary was one of my favorite reads this past year and of all time. I'vee recommended it to so many people. If there's anyone here who hasn't yet read The Sleeping Dictionary, please treat yourself with it for Christmas. I've enjoyed communicating with you, Sujata, and reading your blog and newsletter is always so interesting. I love when you talk about the food you cook, as it is often so different than my usual fare and so delicious sounding.

    I must say that you seem to handle the odd questions in a book club setting very well. That you try to understand where the question might be coming from and how you can relate it to your book are signs of a wonderfully open mind. Sex is such an interesting topic with people coming to it with different experiences and curiosities. I don't belong to a physical book club (one that meets in person, not one that is sexually involved--thought I might need to clarify that in light of my previous statement. Haha). I wish I did have a book club to attend, and I'm thinking about starting one. Karen, your activity of a pirate book exchange sounds like so much fun. I'd have to steal that idea for a club of my own.

    Hallie, Sujata, and Lucy, I think it's great that you all enjoy meeting with book clubs and discussing your books. It's good to know that it's as exciting to the authors as I know it must be to the book club members.

    Oh, Hank, Bel Canto is another favorite book of all time for me. I read it at the same time as two other friends, and we were all captivated by it. Debs, please do move it up your list, and you, too, let us know when you've read it. There's nothing quite like people loving the same book as you do. Gigi, I really enjoyed State of Wonder, too. Her book Run is also fantastic.

    Count me in for a JRW book club, Lucy and Deb! That would be one enjoyable book club with all of the fantastic authors and participants here.

    Sujata, I need to apologize to you for not having communicated better about The Kizuna Coast copy you sent me. I sent you an email that I didn't have a drop-box account and listed my Kindle email. However, I have now pre-ordered the e-book, so I will be receiving it in a few days. I really want to read this book and review it, and I'm sorry that I didn't check with you again before now. I'm having work done inside my house (doesn't everybody do that during the holidays), and I have been crazy busy getting ready for it and now running errands about it. I'm looking forward to relaxing with The Kizuna Coast during Christmas.

  23. How apropos to this conversation - I got a copy of Bel Canto last night in our SinC chapter Christmas book exchange!