In my wayward youth, I belonged to a few book clubs. They varied tremendously and served different purposes throughout the years. In New York, my book club read the classics, and I found it an easy, low-stress way to make up for the gaps in my education.* During the summers of grad school, I joined a book group to move me away from those very classics, to introduce me to more current writers. And in my early working years, book clubs were a way for me to blow off steam, to read books I wouldn’t normally have picked up on my own. Alas, as I began to write historical fiction and needed to research more, book clubs slipped away from me. While I do multi-task on my reading, I find it difficult to do so on a time frame. For instance, I am currently reading Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition as research for novel 2, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter because, well, it looked like fun (and it is!). I will finish all three books, but on the time frame I’ve set for myself (“I’m going to finish this part of the research by June 1st… Not!”), my hunch is I’ll be asking for an extension.
In the past two weeks, I have rediscovered a love of book clubs. I’ve been honored to be the guest at seven book groups that have read MODERN GIRLS. I’ve visited four in person and three online via FaceTime or Skype. What I love is how each group has its own personality. The first allowed me to read passages from the novel as I discussed the research that went into the book and had a marvelous cake made out to look like the book. I visited a group on a Friday night that was ethnically diverse, and they asked me to create a mini-Shabbat, which I was thrilled to do. We lit candles, said the blessings over the candles, wine, and the homemade hallah I brought. The Not Your Typical Book Club had a huge spread of traditional Eastern European Jewish foods, such as knish, herring, and hallah, but they also had plenty of wine and a bit of the stronger stuff in a nod to Dottie. The Sh*&%t I Forgot to Read the Book Club met in a wine bar in Boston, but the conversation was just as lively.
For those who are farther afield, I had a passionate discussion on the merits of Willie vs. Abe with a bookclub in Ohio, a discussion on how common illegal abortion was in the 1930s with a group in California, and a rousing conversation about family secrets with an expat group in Japan, all through the magic of the Internet. While the Japanese crowd drank wine and sake at 8 p.m., I sipped a cup of tea at 7 a.m. Eastern time. I’ve mastered how to show things online, so I was able to give them snippets of pictures, paraphernalia, letters, and articles that were all part of the inspiration and background of the story.
I love how different each group is and how each found a different angle of the book with which they resonated. Hearing people’s personal stories, how their families had similar backgrounds, even as the details were different, was thrilling for me. (The Not Your Typical Book Club all came together because they were all parents of children at the same Catholic school, yet quite a few of them had similar stories to tell about their own families; while Rose and Dottie may be Jewish, their problems are universal.)
The next two weeks bring in six more book clubs, and I’m hoping to visit a lot more as we head into summer and fall (my goal is to visit with 50 book clubs over the course of the first year of MODERN GIRL’s release!). If you have a book club, I’d love to chat with you guys, either in person or via Skype. Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have more information for book clubs on this website. Happy book clubbing!
*We all have literary gaps. No matter how many classics (or any kind of books) we’ve read, there are a wealth more we haven’t read. In a graduate English lit class, my professor challenged us to find a single book that all twelve of us had read. We couldn’t. Not a single title. Our high schools had focused on different topics. We’d all read different Shakespeare. Even childhood books weren’t uniform, as the international students hadn’t read American classics such as Dr. Seuss. So there will always be that one book you haven’t read, no matter who you are.