Showing posts with label book clubs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book clubs. Show all posts

27 January 2018

Bad Girl Book Club –
the book club you may want to join!

by Melodie Campbell

Yes, there really is a Bad Girl Book Club (although it might also be known as the Lazy Bookclub.)

Right here, in Southern Ontario, a group of gals meet twice a year (hence the ‘lazy’) to lay out a set of criteria for a year of reading.

Okay, yes, there might be booze involved. And possibly a pig-out of gargantuan portions. But reading’s supposed to be fun, eh?

Here’s the thing: Our ranks include two association CEOs and senior execs. We aren’t the sort of people who like to be told what to do. So we don’t all read the same book every month. Instead, we draw up a set of criteria that we agree to meet.

Want to try it yourself? Get together a bunch of reading mates (buds if you’re American) and try this list:

2017 Reading Challenge
Readers must read at least 12 out of 14
  1. A book publisher this year
  2. A book you can finish in a day
  3. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  4. A book chosen by your spouse, partner, child or BFF
  5. A book you previously abandoned
  6. A book that has won a major award within the last five years
  7. A book that is based on or is a true story
  8. A book that was made into a movie
  9. A book that was translated from another language (forcing us all to leave North America)
  10. A book in a genre you never read
  11. A book about travel adventures
  12. A book written from a non-human narrative perspective
  13. A Giller Prize Winner
  14. A book that starts with the same letter of your first name
Alternative criteria from the 2016 list:

  • A book published before you were born.
  • A book you should have read in school but didn’t.
At each meeting we compare books read, and make recommendations. This year, I added a new dimension to my list.

Increase the number of books that feature female protagonists written by female writers, to 75%. That is, 75% of the books I read this year should be written by women and should feature female protagonists.

How am I doing on that issue? I tried hard. I really did. I’m sitting at 61 books out of 95 read. Not quite 75%. Very simply, I’m having a hard time finding books that meet this criteria outside of cozies and romance, both of which I’m not keen on.

Female crime writers often write male protagonists. Even our bestselling author at Crime Writers of Canada – Louise Penny – writes a male inspector. We have secretly discussed among ourselves whether she would have been as successful if Gamache had been a woman. That’s a heated discussion for another day.

What is notable is that there seems to be a trend for male writers to write female protagonists. These may be good books, but they aren’t women’s stories in the way that I mean. They are written with a different lens.

So I’m struggling to find 75 books in year that I want to read, that are by women telling women’s stories.

How did I do on the rest of the list? 14 out of 14, of course! And the wonderful thing – I forced myself out of the usual crime ghetto, to read an assortment of books that I never would have read otherwise. Some – like The Nightingale and The Alice Network – were terrific.

If you’re interested in the list of books I read to meet the above criteria, let me know and I’ll post it here.

Have a wonderful year of books in 2018!

(Here's the book everyone in my group read for the "A book you can read in one day" category:

04 March 2016

(Book) Club Hopping

By Art Taylor

Even though we're still more than two weeks from the official start of spring, this coming week is our Spring Break at George Mason University, where I teach. Even though I'm often lugging a pile of grading into our week "off" and using other big chunks of break to get a head start on reading for the classes just beyond, my wife and I usually plan some long weekend getaway in between things. This year, however, the week's schedule is marked by several events I'm pleased to be a part of.

On Saturday afternoon, March 5, I'll be the featured speaker at a Book Club Conference hosted by the Loudoun County Public Library—offering tips and tactics about how to run a successful book club and talking about Gabrielle Zevin's delightful novel The Stories Life of A.J. Fikry (a book I'll very likely talk about in another direction here at a later date—stay tuned!).

Mid-week, I'm grateful to have been invited to join in a chat with a local book club that's recently been reading my own novel, On the Road with Del & Louise—and keeping my fingers crossed that they all liked the book!

Then on Thursday, I'm joining Laura Ellen Scott and Steve Weddle—two writers who've been categorized on opposite sides of the literary/genre divide but whose writing in each case is "crime-inclined" (to use Laura's own phrase)—for a writing and publishing panel at the Burke Centre Library that will look at questions of genre and form and the slipperiness in defining and categorizing anything clearly these days.

I mention all this not simply as a shout-out about some upcoming events but also to explain why book clubs and book talks have been on my mind lately.

I don't want to preview here all those tips and tactics—my Powerpoint is proprietary! I don't to spoil the surprise! attendance is mandatory!—but I do want to share some anecdotes about my own experiences with some of the book clubs I've been involved in, each of them distinctive in their own way. And as you'll see, I use that phrase "book club" a little loosely.

The first and then the most recent book clubs I've been a part of have been more traditional in many ways—regularly scheduled meetings, formed by a loose mix of co-workers, acquaintances and friends, and equal parts book discussion and drinking/eating. That most recent book club was focused exclusively on contemporary fiction—very contemporary, in fact, since they tried to stay on top of the titles that were getting buzz, getting rave reviews, winning awards. The first one, however, organized back in the late ’90s by fellow staff members at the North Carolina Museum of Art, was more of a mishmash of titles and deliberately so. Each member was responsible for selecting one book in the rotation—a chance for each of us to have input and an opportunity for all of us to read books we might not have picked up ourselves, a system which has many benefits. I remember that the first book we read was Oral History by Lee Smith, an author local to us, and that we had our first meeting at a sushi restaurant that Lee and her husband Hal Crowther had opened over in Carrboro. I don't remember all of the books that we covered, but my own selection for the club was S├ębastian Japrisot's The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, mainly because I hadn't read anything by him and I liked the title (fun book, not a very good discussion). I also remember Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True, mainly because of the heft of the book and because of the conversations with other club members about having to slog through it and because of the friend who dutifully stayed up all night to finish it before our meeting—and then because the woman who selected it in the first place didn't come to the meeting because she hadn't had time to read it herself.

That was the end of that book club.

My other two book clubs weren't traditional ones at all. The first was actually a writer's group whose members briefly turned away from talking about our own writing—not because we weren't writing but because each of us was working on longer projects and didn't yet feel comfortable sharing small parts of early drafts (dangerous to get feedback too early sometimes). But we did want to keep meeting, so we started talking about other people's books, studying them specifically with an eye toward craft—and in one case with a focus on first chapters, each of us bringing in the first chapter of a book we really admired so we could all try to analyze what made it work.

Later, my wife and I set up our own two-person "book club"—reading and chatting about some novels that each of us felt like we should have read but had never gotten around to, like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. (How did we miss that one in high school, right?) Eventually, this book club morphed into something different; we still read books together for discussion, but now I read them aloud, as I've talked about elsewhere.

While these experiences have been varied and variously rewarding, this coming week will be the first time that I've taken part in a book club as the focus of the discussion. I'll have to report back how that goes—if I survive!

How about everyone else? Any stories from your own book clubs—successes or stumbles? I'd love to hear—and can add to my PowerPoint presentation as needed, of course!


02 October 2015

Breaking Out Of Solitary

By Art Taylor

My first official post as a SleuthSayers contributor—my first big deadline here!—arrives at a busy confluence of events. The Fall for the Book festival, which I've helped run for more than 12 years at George Mason University, is still underway as this post appears (and battening down, scrambling to reorganize as a hurricane looms), and next week, Bouchercon begins down in Raleigh, and just a couple of weeks back, my first book came out (with all the busyness that entails), and on the same day as the launch party, I was a speaker at the Fairfax County Public Library's Book Club Conference and....

Well, the point of all this isn't that it's a busy time, but rather that I wanted to set up a focus on one of the elements that threads through all these various events.

My role at the library's Book Club Conference was to talk about how to moderate a book group—tips and tactics to help keep discussion going, keep the focus on the book (instead of the wine!), and keep everyone involved and engaged. Before I got into specific recommendations, however, I asked people what they wanted from a book club in the first place.

I already had my PowerPoint prepared—the next slide ready to provide my answer to the question—so I hoped that the comments from the attendees would jibe with my own thoughts and expectations, and it turned out they did. "I want to learn something." "I want to read a book I might otherwise not have picked up." "I want to see what other people thought about what we read." "I like getting together with friends." "I wanted to meet new people." Or even as simple as: "I wanted to do something different, and I learned that I liked it."

Here's the PowerPoint slide that I put up at the end of that part of the conversation:



And it's those bolded words at the bottom of the slide I want to talk about now—and not just in terms of reading, but also writing, another solitary act.

In certain circumstances, reading isn't a solitary act, of course. We can attend a reading; my wife and I can read to our son; and in fact, I read to my wife pretty regularly as part of our evening routine, as I talked about in a recent column for the Washington Independent Review of Books. But most of the time, reading is one person engaging with one book at their own individual pace.

Similar, writing can be a collaborative process, of course, but that image of the writer alone with her pen or alone in front of the computer is a persistent one for a reason. We engage with the page—trying to capture in words those characters and stories our imagination has conjured up.

The connection, then, becomes this: solitary writer --> piece of writing --> solitary reader. And in the process, there's also this connection implicit in that one: solitary writer --> solitary reader.

A book club provide the opportunity to expand that solitary reading experience into a shared one. What did you take from the book? What were your attitudes about this character? What did you think of the author's decision to....? And in the process, what emerges is: What did we think of....? —not a decision that will reach unanimity, but a conversation that serves to be bigger than the sum of its parts.

During all my years with Fall for the Book, there have been two types of moments that have struck me as central to our mission—and neither depends exclusively on the actual programming we've hosted year after year. Those readings and panel discussions are part of the larger engagement, of course: hearing authors read from or speak about their works. But what strikes me as more important is when a reader comes in holding a well-loved copy of a book and meets and asks a question of the person who wrote it—making manifest somehow the connection that already exists by virtue of those two solitary experiences I mentioned above, with the book as the connecting point. The other moment is when that reader turns to another person holding another well-loved copy of the same book and says something like, "Didn't you love it when....?"

A book club or a book festival serve to turn the solitary experience of reading into a communal experience, hopefully enriching connections and perspectives and understanding.

And for an event like Bouchercon ahead, opportunities exist not just to connect readers and writers but also to connect people within the community of writer. Networking is inevitably an important aspect of conferences. (How many people will be meeting with their agent or editor next week? How many will be looking for a new agent or courting an editor? How many might ask a writer friend to suggest an agent?) But beyond those more goal-oriented aspects, there's something more important that's gained by being not so alone—by meeting and greeting and sharing anecdotes with others who have elsewhere been toiling alone over those notebooks or in front of that screen, making physical and concrete those connections and that camaraderie that already exist in myriad ways.

I enjoyed your book. I admire your work so much. What you do—it matters, it meant something to me.

I just wanted to say that.




05 June 2013

George Jetson, to the white courtesy phone

by Robert Lopresti

Last week I demonstrated my new webcam with a tune, but I didn't actually purchase it to fill your lives with the glories of music.  I had an ulterior motive, which I shall now reveal.

There is a group of folk  music fans in New Jersey called the Folk Project, and they have retreats twice a year where people go to a camp and play music together.  Good times.

Well, recently they added a new feature to these weekends: a book club. The coordinator chooses a book related to folk music and you can guess the rest.

A few months ago the title was announced for the spring retreat: SUCH A KILLING CRIME, a mystery set in Greenwich Village during the great folk music scare of 1963. 

One member of the Folk Project is Lori Falco, and she and I have been friends since we met while waiting for a bus on the first day of high school. quite a few years ago.  Lori asked the coordinator: "Do you know the author of that book used to be a member of the Folk Project?"

The coordinator had not known that.  But I was promptly invited to come to the retreat for the discussion.  That wasn't possible but I got a webcam and a skype account and made a virtual appearance.

It was a lot of fun.  Oh, the usual technical hiccups (no matter how long Lori and I spent prepping before the show started).  Interested people asking good questions.  My favorite: "What was it like putting words in Phil Ochs' mouth?"

My answer: not as scary as putting words in the mouth of Tom Paxton.  After all, Tom is still alive.  Therefore I was extremely careful to make him a sympathetic character.  (Even though he offered to be the murderer.  And he graciously gave me the following blurb:  "Spooky. If I'd have known he was watching us so carefully, I would have been MUCH  better."

Well, I had a good time and I would like the chance to chat with ALL the folk music book clubs in the world.  Unfortunately, I suspect I just did.

On a related note, Kearney Street Books informed me this week that SUCH A KILLING CRIME is now available on Kindle, for those who don't care to read their books, uh, acoustically.  

Not the future anyone was expecting in 1963, huh?