Friday, September 26, 2008

Book clubs . . . bring on the dessert

By Lonnie Cruse

A few months back I accepted an invitation to join a local book club that meets once a month in various members' homes. I knew a couple of the members, the rest are new to me, so I'm still learning names. I didn't have enough time to read the book for the first month so I simply showed up, met the members, listened to the discussion, and ate dessert. Well worth the trip.

The next month we read I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK by Norah Ephron. The group thought a lighter read was needed and I confess, I laughed my way through the book. Well, except for the chapter about Ephron losing her best friend to cancer. That one made me cry. Since the group is around Ephron's age, the book resonated with each member.

The following month we read THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson. It's the story of Mortenson, a mountain climber who was rescued by the inhabitants of a remote village. He promised to pay them back by building a school for the children who daily sat on the ground and did their lessons . . . without a regular teacher. As he said in the book, can you imagine young children in America sitting quitely and doing lessons for a long period of time with no adult in attendance? Mortenson has devoted a great deal of his life to building schools in Pakistan and other areas. Seeing to it that children in other countries have a chance to learn. Interesting book, but I must confess, not one of my favorites.

For October we're reading THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards. I'm only about 80 pages in. I'm enjoying it, but it is a deep book. Gotta admit I can't wait to see what happens next.

The scheduled November read is THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Dianne Setterfield. That's a book I've been wanting to read, but with such a heavy, near-to-toppling-over TBR (to be read) pile of books in my bedroom, who knows when I've have gotten around to it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I tend to be fairly narrow in my choices of what to read. So many books/so little time syndrome I suppose. So I stick pretty much with what I like, and if, heaven forbid, I happen onto a book I don't like, I bail after a few chapters, skipping to the end because I DO have to know Who Dun It. Joining this book club is exposing me to a lot of books I probably never would have chosen for myself. Some I'll like. Some I won't. But I'll finish them so I can carry on an intelligent discussion with the group. And participate in the dessert and coffee after.

Book clubs are great because you can share your opinion and get feedback from the other readers. And you get cake. Or pie. If you don't already belong to or know of a local book club, why not consider forming your own group? It will open up new reads for you. Expand your reading horizons. Not to mention your hips.

Now all I have to do is figure out which book I want to suggest for the monthly read when it's my turn. Something light and funny like a Donna Andrews mystery? I just finished OWL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and loved it. Or should I suggest something deep like WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson? Sigh. So many books, so little time.


Cait London said...

Lonnie, you're not alone. Time and that big TBR pile are becoming everyone's problem. I'm with you, tho, in that I choose to read only my favorites and did try The Thirteenth Tale. If I'm remembering right, it took the writer something like 5 years to write it. That might be an interesting fact to check out. I think it was at her website. I think :)Compare that to a working novelist today, who sometimes has 3-4 months to complete a book. It might interest your group anyway.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Morning Cait,

Looks like we're both up early! Thanks for stopping by and for the info on Thirteenth Tale. I'll check that out.

caryn said...

Hi Lonnie,
I belong to a couple of bookgroups in part because it does force me to read other stuff, sometimes WAY out of my comfort zone.
As for suggestions, I could send lists but I won't. I will say this about many mysteries-especially ones that are parts of current series. They tend to be hard to have an hour long discussion on just that one book, and it's even harder if the other members are not mystery readers. However, mysteries that take on an issue, are set in an interesting place or time lend themselves to great discussions. For instance, I think Liz Zelvin's book would lead to a fantastic discussion. The books by Barbara Cleverly come to mind as well. Or Jill Patton Walsh's books that she wrote using Dorothy Sayer's notes and letters-in fact, a group I'm in read A Presumption of Death just a month ago and we had quite a nice discussion.

Sandra Parshall said...

I agree with Caryn that series mysteries -- especially cozies -- may not provide enough material for an hour-long discussion. This isn't because they're bad books or not entertaining, but because they're lighter in tone and seldom delve into complex questions. In the online group I moderate, we haven't had much to say about cozies, so we almost always focus on more complex books. We're currently discussing L.A. REQUIEM by Robert Crais.

I'll be interested in hearing your reaction to THE THIRTEENTH TALE. I think it's one of those love it or hate it books, so you should have a lively discussion.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Caryn, I love you!!! (And no, we don't know each other.) As I read Lonnie's post, I was thinking Death Will Get You Sober DOES take on an issue, recovery from alcoholism, but I can't say so, too BSPish, and then I read your fabulous comment. Thank you!!! BTW, there are discussion questions on my site, but when I visit book clubs I find they want to talk not about alcoholism but about the characters and their relationships.

Sandra Parshall said...

Yes, characters and their relationships are what book club members most often get wrapped up in -- and I think that mirrors the reactions of average readers. When I attended a discussion of my first novel, I was absolutely amazed at how much the members had thought about these characters I created! They had so much insight into the relationships of the two sisters and their mother. It was a wonderful experience.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I have to agree about characters. Right now the male character in THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER is really giving me food for thought. His choices and how the affected everyone he loves. VERY interesting.

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

Paul Lamb said...

I've been in various book discussion groups for years. I like them specifically because they've often introduced me to books I would have never picked up, much less known about, on my own. After a discussion, the book I've read takes on a whole new meaning and resonance.

A group I'm in just finished a TWO-YEAR discussion (monthly) of Moby Dick, and I think we could have gone on a lot longer because two hours a month is hardly enough time to get started.

I think book discussion groups are an excellent tool for writers to help learn their craft.

Mark said...


I tagged you today with the 6 Things You Don't Know About Me meme. Tell us 6 new things about you and then tag other friends.

You can see my post at


Abby C said...

Thank you for sharing about your success about your book club -- it really is inspiring. I have a huge pile of books I haven't read yet, because I am a bibliophile, and sometimes it's just addicting to buy a book, then I read the first few chapters, then life gets in the way, and I don't read it anymore!

That's where a book club comes in, to motivate you, and to keep you accountable. I recently joined this book club based on Rachelle Knight's book lovers journal called "Read, Remember, and Recommend" (see It contains tons of book lists and we're starting with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. We're on the fifth book now -- Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex". It's been rewarding so far, and I really like the direction the book club is going, the journal is really guiding is to the right books. I recommend it to your book club as well. It's at