Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Clubs

Karina kindly posted on the News page that The Long Shot is the May pick for the Smart Bitches' Sizzling book club. The chat is happening on 5/30 and the book is on sale at All Romance until 5/15. This event has me thinking about book clubs. I haven't been in a book club in years and I miss it.

The last book club I was in was amazing and crazy all at the same time. (Are there any book clubs that aren't at least a little crazy?) Most of the women in the club had small children. We were lucky enough to be able to meet in a penthouse apartment in downtown Ithaca that belonged to the parents of a club member. This apartment was not only gorgeous, it was a kid-free oasis. Going to book club in that place at that time of my life felt like going to a spa.

Five Books We Read
  1. Anna Karenina (A gorgeous edition. Loved this.)
  2. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Loved this. With two small children at home, the concept of order and science and solutions at home was super appealing.)
  3. Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable (HATE. I think this was the book that drove me out of the book club. Go ahead and read the description. Would you have stayed in the club?)
  4. Middlemarch (I loved this. I freely admit that I skimmed/skipped most of the descriptive passages which means I read about 1/3 of the book, but it's wonderful.)
  5. Arcadia (I don't like reading plays. I loved reading this one.)
 Five Things I Loved About the Book Club
  1. Theme food. One person brought food that somehow coordinated with the book's theme. You don't want to know what we had when we read The Red Tent. It was mostly delicious, though, and most importantly, it was grown up food!
  2. The view. The penthouse view was breathtaking at night, especially when it was snowing.
  3. The leader packets. One person led the discussion and usually came prepared with questions, background info, and other interesting tidbits. I learned a lot in this book club. 
  4. The grown-up conversation about grown-up books. 
  5. Being forced to read books I wouldn't have chosen. As weird as it sounds, I really did love that housekeeping manual (#2 above) and I never would have picked it up. Same with Arcadia. And Middlemarch. And a bunch of others. 
Five Things I Didn't Love So Much
  1. The theme food. I'm cooking challenged on a good day. Having to prepare delicious, sophisticated food that somehow matched a book? Drove me nuts. (Luckily M&Ms are the new black.)
  2. The night when my car broke down on the way to book club and then my husband called me three times to tell me about the bird that flew down our chimney and was nesting in the fireplace and then after hitching a ride home, having to chase that same bird through our house in an effort to make it GO BACK OUTSIDE TO NATURE.
  3. People who didn't read the books. (I went to Catholic school. I do my homework.) 
  4. Bickering about which books to pick next.
  5. Bickering about everything.
So eventually the load of bickering grew too heavy and we read that alphabet book of experimental fiction and I'd had enough. The book club fractured and a splinter group formed a new club.

A gin club.

I'd like to say we were playing cards, but we were actually drinking gin. Correction: we were tasting gin. That makes it more respectable, right? We tasted some excellent gin. (Also some well-dressed gin.) But then the gin club experienced some issues with over-indulgence and it wasn't fun anymore so once again we splintered.

And that was when three of us formed up into a critique group. A writing group. We were still sipping gin and still discussing books, but now they were our own books! I miss being in a book club, but I love my critique group.

What about you? I already know you love reading, but are you in a book club? I love to hear your stories. Give me a top 5 list from your book club or other club. What's the best book you were ever forced to read? Have you read Ella Minnow Pea and did it make you rage? Ever make theme food to match a book or movie night?

I have a book out this month, so here is the obligatory tie-in with my book section of the blog post: I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that Deacon Fallon, the hero of The Long Shot (May 2012), is illiterate. I never write about actual people I know, but I often write about themes or situations I'm working through. Because I have a son with a mild learning disability and I work in communication, I think about literacy and how it impacts inclusion and access to many aspects of life from basic services all the way up to the independent joy of reading for pleasure. That contemplation is where Deacon's issues came from.

WIN BOOKS: I'll choose 4 commenters to receive a copy of The Long Shot. Maybe you'll read it and join me for the book club chat on 5/30!


Snookie said...

Never belonged to a book club and never wanted too. I like to read what I like to read. Had a hard time in school too when we were forced to read something I didn't want to read! :) I do read all kinds of stuff though, fiction and non-fiction. The book has to be the genre I'm interested in at the time. That's why book clubs never would work for me! :) Oh and I read a Long Shot and I loved it! Worth every award it can garner!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Snookie,

My son has a concussion (the rower, not the hockey player) and he's supposed to be resting his brain and his body. I told him I'd buy him an audio book for his iPod. He told me what subjects he was interested in and then I used my computer to browse on Amazon, reading the possibilities off to him.

Every time I thought I knew which book or topic he'd pick, I was wrong. Some of the books he considered sounded awful to me.

I tried really hard to get him to buy the Civil War book Killer Angels but he ended up with the Lyndon Johnson biography that just came out.

Reading taste really is individual, isn't it?

Glad you liked The Long Shot! :-)

Mary Preston said...

I've never belonged to a book club, I can see the pitfalls rather than the benefits.

My son has a profound hearing loss. Learning to read helped open up the whole world to him. He learned effortlessly at 4, which was a blessing.

Ellen Hartman said...


I count reading as a blessing, too. When my son was having trouble learning to read, I worried that he would miss out on that access to the world you mentioned. Luckily that didn't happen.

I had been in book clubs before the one I described here and some issues do seem to be universal. I think one of the things I miss is the connection to new books and authors. I know about new romances now, but not as much about other books.

Jeannie Watt said...

Ellen--I would join a gin club in a heartbeat! I've just discovered a light blue French gin that has the essence of irises. Not that I'm a gin drinker. Like you, I taste.

I've never belonged to a book club, but I did have a semester long teaching class once, where each person had to discuss and recommend a book for the other teachers to read. As you can imagine, there were a lot of teachery books--you know, the kind you don't want to read, but should because it makes you look like a teacher. I chose Martin Cruz Smith's trilogy Gorky Park, Polar Star and Red Square as my recommendations. I remember getting a few surprised looks. A few disdainful looks. Hey--I read for entertainment. Excellent books, by the way.

Chelle Sandell said...

Poor guy. Hope his brain feels better soon! I don't deal well with bickering and group politics. The closest I came to a book club was through one of my online crit groups. But we were all so busy and had such eclectic tastes that it didn't last long. It sounds like fun...kinda. ;)

liztalley said...

Don't belong to a book club, but last month I was a guest at one that had been ongoing for over 30 years. It's affiliated with the Medical school in town and the wives of the professors, residents, and doctors themselves are the members. The age range was huge, and I was the first romance they'd read as a group. I felt honored and intimidated.

They chose me because I was local and then we had a great discussion on romance...they'd even clipped out articles and were super suprised to find out my book was an actual story and not just a series of hot sex scenes. Most their reading is literary in nature and they seemed to agree that reading a romance was good fun once in a while.

So that's my bookclub experience.

Can't wait to read the book, Ellen, and congrats on being the featured read for SB.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading 'The Bolter' in my book club - the amazing story of a young married woman who left her Upper-class English husband and headed off to kenya in the 1920s. If You've seen the film 'Happy Valley', it was bsed on her life!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Jeannie,

Your blue gin sounds lovely and tasty. Do you like martinis? I'm strictly a gin and tonic person, myself.

Your book recommendation sounds great. That's one of the things I miss about my book club--random recommendations for books that lead to great stuff.

I believe the next time I'm scheduled to blog will be Jeannie Vs. Ellen Round II. Can't wait. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Chelle--exactly. I loved my book club except when I didn't. :-) I really do miss it, though. I'm in a reading/discussion group at my church but I haven't been to the meetings this year due to a conflict with my husband's work schedule. I miss them, too!

My poor boy. He's missing his big regatta this weekend. It's a gym class injury, too, not even crew related. Bummer. Thanks for the good wishes.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Liz,

Congrats on your excellent book club experience! I applaud you for taking a romance to a new audience! And of course they loved you!

I'm trying to imagine writing 75,000 words of sex scenes. Hmm. I might need to buy some research materials just to flesh out the action. Heh. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Pageturner!

I haven't seen that film, but just the title of the book sounds terrifically appealing to me. I didn't realize I was going to get a recommendation list going from this blog, but it's a welcome surprise!


BW said...

No I am not in a book club but I would like to be. I was asked by two people recently about joining their book club but it didn't mesh with my schedule.

I have read that there are online book clubs. Maybe I should try that.

Anonymous said...

FF here. I would love to win your book. You write such nice books.

Ellen Hartman said...

BW--My best friend recently joined a book club for the first time. I think that's another point that had me thinking about book clubs this month.

I may see about trying to find one that would take me in. I really do love talking about books.

Best of luck to you. I hope you find a group that works!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi FF,

We will see what the random number generator has to say about your luck this week. :-)

I'm so glad you enjoy my books. Thanks!!

Beth Andrews said...

Ellen, I'm not much for joining groups or clubs so no book clubs for me. Although I wouldn't mind a Tequila tasting club. Maybe I could start one?

I can't wait to read The Long Shot (as soon as I get these copy edits done *g*)

So sorry to hear about your son's noggin'. Hope he's feeling better. And I'm always amazed by my kids' choices in reading material. Seems as if everything I suggest equals some sort of grimace :-)

Jill said...

Hi Ellen,
Good luck with your son's recovery.
I looove Arcadia. I've seen 3 different productions over the last 15 years or so. I'm always pressing that play on everyone saying "you have to read this." I don't think anyone has honestly taken me up on it. My husband maybe, but then again he may have read it after we went to see the play. Thankfully he loved it, both seeing and reading it. I knew he would. ;-)
I also love gin and would not be opposed to a gin club.
I'm in a book club now and enjoy it for the most part. I don't even mind it when people don't finish the book (although I used to when I'd get there and realize I was one of the few). Now I just don't feel guilty if I don't finish one I think is a stinker!
I'm worried about one of our future meetings. Someone has picked "50 Shades of Gray" as one of our reads. It doesn't really interest me, but I also don't have a problem reading something with erotic content and giving it a chance.
However, I have heard some of our members make sneery type comments in passing about "trashy romance novels." I've ignored the comments b/c they're a nice group of women and we have other things in common. I'm a little afraid that the 50 Shades meeting might descend into a "let's trash romance novels" session.
I might stay home and save my blood pressure!

Cathryn Parry said...

Don't belong to a book club, but when my first book came out (January), my s-i-l invited me to her book club--she made the women read my Superromance. (LOL!)

Most of them had never read romance before (I know!), and we had fun with it. We drank way too much wine and stayed up too late on a school night (husband called me three times), but that was a good night. I couldn't do it all the time, though. It would kill me. :-)

joye said...

One time I joined a mystery book club and I thought it would be fun. Half members were men and I thought they would bring a different viewpoint to the interpretation of the plots and characters. Was i surprised!
it got to be like i was taking a college course in how to totally dissect a manuscript. wow they seemed to go into way too much detail about the weapons used, the psychology behind thekiller's motives, etc. I just wanted to read the dam book and enjoy it!
I didn't stay for many of the
meetings but i did learn about some books I really wanted to AVOID.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Beth--Tequila club sounds dangerous. My critique group often has a gin and tonic while we work. One time for some reason I can't recall, we has Mezcal instead. It was awful! We were all in a bad mood and very defensive. Weird.

My son is enjoying his book. LBJ had just lost the primary when I checked in with him around lunchtime. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Jill,

One of the women who came with me from book club to gin club to critique group saw Arcadia performed last year. I was so very jealous. She said it was wonderful.

Maybe I can find an audio performance of that for me son. He might like it.

Good luck with the 50 Shades book club meeting. I can't even imagine! :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

^^ I meant "for my son."


Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Cathryn--that book club evening sounds perfect! So funny that your husband was calling--except for the bird-in-the-chimney night, my husband knew not to bother me at book club. :-)

Your sister-in-law sounds great. How nice of her to invite you and to introduce her friends to your books.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Joye,

Hmmm. I'm not sure that's the kind of book discussion I'd like either. Bummer. I guess it's good to find out what to avoid, but that's not enough incentive to stick with a book club, is it?

Anonymous said...

OMG - I did read Ella Minnow Pea!! It was when it first came out and I was reading all the lit fiction. I didn't "get" a lot of those books.

I was in a book club once and all the books I mentioned were shot down. The books with the character Thursday Next (can't remember the author - begins with a J maybe?) and one by Leif somebody with Peace and River in the title. I did like those books but these women acted like it was beneath them. Yeah, I didn't last long. Then my friend (it was her SIL's group) told me they ended up reading one of the books I mentioned but acted like it was their idea.

There are some women at my work who love to read and I've gotten them hooked on Larissa Ione. I try to mention a Harlequin and you can see their ears turn off. Annoys the living heck out of me.

It's obvious I need a better crowd of readers. Oh wait - I have them - my Super friends!!


Snookie said...

I was wondering how in the world your boy got a concussion rowing, but then you explained it was at gym. Poor guy missing the regatta though. Very interesting that he picked the biography of LBJ to listen too.
And yup, reading tastes really are individual!

Rogenna Brewer said...

Im going to remember that about M&Ms ;0 Sadly, I've never been in a book club. Not much of a social butterfly.

Ellen Hartman said...

Marcie--I can't believe you read Ella Minnow Pea. Hee.

Was it Peace Like a River? I loved that book.

Good for you with spreading your passion for books. You read enough that people should take your recommendations! :-)

I read everything so I'm always happy when someone gives me a recommendation of something they love. I figure anything that gets readers passionate is worth checking out!

Kristina Mathews said...

I have never been in a book club. I read too fast and am on to the next book so it would be hard for me to keep up. (Or I guess, slow down.

I have tried to get my husband to read some Supers so he has a frame of reference for reading my work. He is the opposite of me, he reads so darn slow. But he's supportive in so many other ways.

I am reading your book right now. Loving it so far. Well, I'm not reading it RIGHT NOW, I'm typing. But you know...

Anonymous said...

Ellen - yes, it was Peace Like a River. I kinda fell in love with the bad boy brother. LOL.


Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Snookie--Audible update. After listening to LBJ all day, the boy requested something lively. We just downloaded A Confederacy of Dunces. I remember all of my friends passing that around in high school. Unrequired reading!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Ro,

M&Ms go with everything! This is a truth by which I live my life. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Kristina,

I'm shocked you were able to put The Long Shot down while you type. ;-)

Don't tell anyone, but my husband has never read any of my books, not even the one I dedicated to him. I don't mind. We brainstorm together and he's invaluable when it comes to dressing my heroes--my husband has an excellent sense of style. He also chooses their cars and consults with me about professional sports rivalries.

My son asked if he could listen to a Super. Not yet. Not just yet.

Ellen Hartman said...

Marcie--you know I love the bad boy brothers, too. :-)

Kaelee said...

Hi Ellen ~ Just finding time to pop in and read the super blog for the past two postings.

The closest I've come to belonging to a book club was reading most of Donna Alward's monthly suggestions over on the Pink Heart Society blog a year ago or so.

I did however read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was recommended on a couple of different blogs. I really loved it.

Then Room was recommended and I got the book but had to force myself to start it as the subject matter wasn't to my taste. I just loved it. It really made you think about human nature and development. It is a book that I will read again in the future.

Laura Russell said...

My book club treasures literary fiction and isn't sure about commercial stuff, let alone romance. I love reading almost anything. Although not sure I could read that odd one about LMNO saving the island that sent Ellen screaming from her club. Lately we've read Shantarum which needs a big ole edit, but I can understand why it grips people, and Major Pettigrew's last stand. I enjoy the women in the group more than the books. And no themed food so far, although one of the moms is trying to raise the stakes by hosting a coordinated brunch. Sigh. IHOP will be my turn I think.

Maybe your current title will work for my group, Ellen. It is serious enough.

JackieW said...

I belong to 2 Mystery Book meets once a month and we have a theme such as women PI's or mysteries with a medical theme to them and the other club meets weekly whereby we pick an author per week and members read any of their books. It is hard to keep up with reading a book a week since I'm a slow reader but they never yell at us or get upset if we haven't read the book for that week...with about 22 members we have enough people to tell us about that particular author's books. I have met some very nice people at the book clubs.

JOYE said...

I have never felt like I needed to belong to a book club. I spend my time reading and reading. I do have a chance to discuss my books with my friends and family however. I read just about every genre except SciFi and some Paranormal books. I especially like Historical Romances.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Kaelee,

I loved the Guernsey also. I was surprised to enjoy it, but I read it based on a recommendation from a friend, maybe my mom? I can't remember.

I haven't heard of The Room, but you know now I have to go look it up.

Nice to see you!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Laura,

I love to read everything, too. On my Goodreads account, I've been having a great time looking up old favorites and giving them stars. I don't rank too many romance books, but I have a long list of other things. Books are the perfect escape for me.

I hope you resist the brunch push. Or stick with your IHOP plan. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Jackie,

Both of your book clubs sound interesting. I like the theme and the author choice. I'd have trouble with the book/week one, though, because I'd never get to read anything else. Good thing they are forgiving!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Joye,

Historical romance is my first love in the romance genre. I still have a keeper shelf full of Mary Balogh Signet Regencies. I'm not much of a paranormal fan or sci-fi either. Sounds like we have compatible taste!

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