Monday, October 10, 2016

On Book Clubs

LUCY BURDETTE: Though my hometown book club is on hiatus, we had a lot of wonderful discussions over the years. For a while, we decided that the hostess would choose the book and also provide dinner to other members. My turn came when we discussed Carlos Eire’s WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA. I made an elaborate Cuban meal, including pork roast with black beans and baked bananas. Funny how I remember the details of the food better than the details of the book (although it was an excellent memoir.)
As a writer, I love book clubs even more, and I’ve had some fabulous visits with groups over the course of three cozy mystery series. Luckily for me, these often involved food. (Fudge pie anyone? Or how about the onerous task of judging molasses cookies?) The latest was a book group in Connecticut that was reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER. The hostess created a Key West-themed meal, including decorations and Hemingway cocktails. Oh how I wished I’d been there in person, rather than by FaceTime! (You can read that whole story here.)  

But this book club photo has to take the cake—these girls are from northern Germany, so far north they are almost to Denmark, and their teacher sent me their questions about the book and I answered by email.

Over to you Reds. Do you belong to a book group or club? What’s your favorite book club story as a writer?

RHYS BOWEN: Unfortunately I don't have time to belong to a book club. I do belong to a hiking group and we find ourselves discussing books we've read as we hike--so I suppose it is an itinerant book club. I have led book club discussions at Book Passage bookstore. I've been a guest a many book clubs, lately more via Skype than in person, and I've

photo from Wikipedia
sent discussion questions to many more. I'm afraid I find being a guest in person rather awkward. Nobody can say what they really thought of the book with me sitting there, and I know from my experience as a facilitator at Book Passage that members are super critical. One session I led was on Edgar winners and my book club members didn't like any of them. Gleefully they pointed out flaws in Michael Connelly and Jan Burke etc. So I'm always thinking that they really hate my book and are just being polite.


My favorite book club memory? Would have to be the first book club for my first Constable Evans book, when I realized that ten people, sitting around me, had all read my book!


HALLIE EPHRON: I don't belong to a book club, either. I have barely time to read what I have to for my own work. 

I love going to book groups, or even Skyping. Better in person because there's always good food. A dear friend had me talk about "Night Night, Sleep Tight" to her book group - and she made food from the '60s when the book's set. Quiche! Pigs in a blanket! Just needed some Sara Lee cheesecake. It was lovely. Thanks, Nathalie!


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I, sigh, belonged to a book club once. It took up a LOT of time, and I didn't really love it...except for one fabulous discussion we had about Bel Canto, which was unforgettable. (And shows you how long ago it was...)  I left the book club for two reasons: One, when my turn to pick the book came, I chose Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country, which I adore. NOBODY else liked it, and they proceeded to rip it to shreds.

And when I started writing PRIME TIME, so than I had NO more time.

I adore going to bookclubs, and I love it in person way more than Skype. It is SUCH a treat to be in a place where people have read my books, I so agree!  And yes, there is that element of knowing no one is going to criticize--but hey, what's so bad about that?  Nice and polite is good, right? Just, as they say, spell my name right.

Oh, sorry, one more thing. I always learn something at book clubs. For instance: One woman talked about how I have different characters leading different scenes. I said yes, it's multiple point of view. 

She had NEVER heard that phrase, nor did she understand it. When I explained it, I absolutely saw the light dawn in her eyes.
"You should teach people about that," she said.
But from then on, I realized that people do not see the world in the same way we do. And that is such an important thing for a writer to remember.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: No book club for me, either, although I volunteer at our small local library, and the spontaneous conversations about reading are wonderful (and informative!) I do enjoy speaking to book clubs  especially since Skype has made it so easy to do from home. I recently chatted with my mother's book club in upstate New York, and had a great time. (Although talk about not wanting to say anything bad...imagine if you have both the author AND her mother listening!)

Best book club experience was early on, when I went in person to the book club hosted by one of the teachers at Ross's school. Book club was also Fancy Desserts and Wine Club, and we all had a wonderful, caloric time. After the discussion had ended, one of the members said to me, "That was terrific! It's the first time we ever actually talked about the book!"

LUCY: How about you Red readers--do you belong to a book club?


  1. The closest I come to anything even remotely resembling a book club is a group of us at Church who share books . . . we read them and then pass them along to others in our little group of readers.

  2. I'm in two different book clubs, very different. And the one I've been a member of the longest has changed so much from when I first joined that I'm very close to quitting. They also meet on the weekend, when I'm most likely to have other stuff going on, which makes the decision easier.

    The other group is way more fun, and a very different dynamic. Many ages, several male members, two family groups, plus significant others who join in and have also become friends of one another. And everyone is an excellent cook. What's not to like? Other than the occasional sci-fi or dystopian future book, that is. But I love that whoever hosts gets to pick the next book, and because two members are blind, we try to find books available in audio format, and with copies at the library. I especially appreciate not having to buy a book I am less interested in. However, I just discovered the delight of Neil Gaiman through this group.

    Hank, do you remember discussing one of your Jane books with our TLC diet support group, a couple years ago? You were game, but I thought it was a bit unwieldy in format, and it took a lot of time for you as the author. Hallie came to my fun book group, just a few months ago, via Skype. That was great fun, discussing There was an Old Woman. Too bad we couldn't share some wine!

  3. I haven't been a member of a face to face book club for a while. I did belong to an online club for a while and that was a lot of fun, however, life got in the way and the group dissolved.

    As an author, I love attending book clubs, by Skype or in person. The questions asked often give me insight into my books. I've learned something every time.

  4. I'm not in one, but am with most of the Reds in that I love being invited to them. This isn't a book club story, but a local high school teacher assigned my historical mystery for her Early College American Studies class to read and invited me to the class to talk about it last week. It was lovely and amazing to hear the questions some of these bright juniors asked. A couple of them had bought the book and were so excited to have me sign their copy afterwards.

  5. I have never been a member of a book club. Reading is a solitary pleasure for me, although the food served at some of these book clubs looks delish!

  6. No I do not join book clubs. I want to read what I want to read when I want to read it, not have someone else pick my reading and my timeline for me. The food and wine sounds good, but.....when I was younger and had the kids at home there was no time and now that I'm retired and
    do not have to read for work I can enjoy reading again.

  7. Joan, that sounds like a lovely group!

    Karen, such an interesting crowd at your club. I've never read Neil Gaiman either. Where would you start?

    Kait and Edith, isn't it interesting to hear readers find things you didn't consciously intend?

    Grace and Gram, no book clubs is fine too. I understand wanting to choose your own reading! And we are kind of like a book club here, right?

  8. Lucy: I agree that JRW is a great, virtual meeting place where are usually positively supportive of the works created by the Reds, guest authors and other online participants. I am definitely not against people who enjoy participating in a book club...they just never worked for me!

  9. I love my book club. Okay, sometimes it's hard to get everybody to talk about the book, so we made a rule that we talk about the book first, before dinner. I am always struck my how differently each person perceives a book. Some focus on story, some on theme, rarely the quality of the writing (!) but everybody hungers for the experience of reading and sharing the ideas inherent in a book. I feel so much closer to those friends now that we gave bonded over books.

  10. The one thing I recall from the book group I was in was that it was a humbling experience. Books I love-Love-LOVE other people hated, and books I hated there were plenty of readers who loved. So, good for an author to get that perspective. There's all kinds of readers out there.

  11. Nancy, I always have the same experience with my book groups. We have one male member who so carefully reads and absorbs everything; I wait for his comments because he generally adds so many insightful observations that I didn't get from my own reading.

    Roberta, our group just read Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Road. It was a perfect introduction to his work because it's fairly short. It started out as a short story, apparently, and some of our members felt it was not quite finished and fleshed out entirely, but the last few pages were masterful.

    The book club experience with Hank that I referenced way too late last night was via group emails, over a 24-hour period. That's why I thought it was unwieldy for an author.

  12. I ran a book club before starting BOLO Books - I know, you are all shocked. My husband would make food based on the theme of the book and we would all just love sitting around and talking about the characters, their decisions, the writing style, etc. Our group ranged in age from 30-80, so we had lots of debates.

    My favorite memories include having Louise Penny call in to discuss the second and third books in the Gamache series (yes, she called in twice - but this was before she was the New York Times Bestselling superstar she is today). And the time we had Alan Brennert called in to talk about his amazing book - Molaka'i. (If you haven't read it, you really must). We also had Kristin Hannah call in to discuss Firefly Lane (another favorite of mine).

    Alas, there just is not time to read book club books with the schedule for the blog, so I will have to cling to those memories.

    Oh and Hank - I am obsessed with Bel Canto! Such an amazing book. I only wish I could have gotten to see the premiere of the opera based on it. One of these days. (BTW, being an opera fanatic, I love the operatic touchstones in Say No More, your new Jane Ryland book). See how I slide in that nice plug? ;)

    1. Definitely time to read Bel Canto again. I don't say that about many books.

  13. I've never done a face-to-face book club. We did an online one through our Sisters in Crime chapter a couple years ago. Every month someone would pick a book and "host" a weeklong discussion. It was interesting to see everyone's perspectives. But it was a lot of time and if you couldn't find the book in the library, not an insignificant amount of money. Sometimes there were books I wasn't interested in owning, so if I couldn't get a library copy I bowed out of the discussion (but I did read the messages to see what other people were saying and if my interest was piqued by a comment).

    Julia - that is too funny! Yeah, I'd be a bit hesitant to be critical in front of an author and her mother. =)

  14. You know the motto of sisters in crime is that "you write alone but you're not alone.". I guess that's why book clubs are so popular, because reading, also, is such a solitary endeavor… But in a book club you read alone but you're not alone!

  15. I would love to read Bel Canto again too. Maybe a JRW Bel Canto discussion in the future? We could get Kristopher to lead us just the one time???

  16. Sign me up. Oh how I loved that book. Bel Canto for the win!

  17. I agree wholeheartedly with Sue Grafton's feeling about book clubs:

    "In Sunday's (7/19/2015) The New York Times' Book Review she sums up exactly how I feel about book clubs and reader's guides:

    Do you belong to a book club?
    I can’t stand the idea of joining a book club, because I don’t want others dictating my reading matter. Reading is a cherished passion, and the decision about what to read is strictly my own. Also, just frankly, while we’re on the subject, what the heck is the point of those study guides at the end of so many novels? Are publishers assuming we’re so dimwitted that we can’t arrive at our literary judgments without the benefit of a list of muddle-headed grade-school questions? Give us some credit here."

    Like Rhys and Julia, I've had some great discussions about books while hiking and volunteering at my local library.


  18. Wish I belonged to a book club.

    A relative and her daughter were in a Mother-Daughter book club. They invited an author of young adults' novels about children in the medieval times to speak to the club. Though she could not make it, she asked them to send in questions and she sent the answers via letter.

    Love the idea of book clubs.

    And Rhys, I love the Evan Evans books. I am happy that I kept them all. I bought a book at Malice and you signed it for me :-)


  19. Bel Canto has been sithing on my bookshelf for years. Now must read. I think a JRW discussion would be great.

    I've never belonged to a book club. I'm always envious when I visit them for talks, but I know that realistically I could never manage to fit it into my schedule. Sigh...

  20. Bel Canto has been sithing on my bookshelf for years. Now must read. I think a JRW discussion would be great.

    I've never belonged to a book club. I'm always envious when I visit them for talks, but I know that realistically I could never manage to fit it into my schedule. Sigh...

  21. I belonged to a book club many years ago. When I was a children's specialist I tried to promote reading with book clubs. The idea didn't work, as most teacher's would put reluctant readers into the group. At the time we did not have many high interest low vocabulary books to choose from. Looking back it was kind of like asking a seal to put out forest fires.

    On the whole I am a solitary reader. I prefer having a book 'buddy' that I can share the joy with.

  22. I was invited to attend a neighbor's book club years ago. Two ladies seemed to run the discussion and if they didn't agree with what you said you were pretty much dismissed. It was supremely strange. I decided that book club was definitely not for me. Our branch library has a mystery book club that meets monthly. I keep considering going to it but it meets on Saturdays. Not the best day.

  23. I think book clubs are a great idea for people who like clubs. Our local libraries sponsor adult, YA, and children's book clubs. There's always a display of the book club's monthly pick. Can't say I've ever been tempted to join in. Like others here, I jealously guard my reading time--it's for books I choose. That said, I love talking about what I'm reading with family and friends, and hearing about what they're reading. Now if I could just talk someone into baking/cooking some treats for when I'm reading....

    1. I'm with you FChurch. I dislike clubs, dislike having my books selected by someone else, and most of all dislike being away from home in the evening. But I like to talk about what I'm reading. And food is always appropriate. Maybe an online book club? Naw. Not gonna happen for me.

  24. Count me in those who love Bel Canto, one of my favorite books ever! Debs, I hope we've convinced you to read it soon.

    I'm not in a book club, but I've often wished I were. I love the idea of the food and talking about books. My husband and I used to play cards with a couple, and we took turns at each other's houses and fixing the desserts served with my favorite beverage, coffee.

    My problem with a book club is that I always have so much to read I don't know when I'd fit in a choice made by someone else. I'm kind of a control freak about choosing my books.