Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Book Clubs and Authors and Friends - oh, my!
Almost 15 years ago, I was approached by my then church's pastor, to start a book club. Why I hadn't thought of it myself, I'll never know.
I sought interest in our church newsletter and had a great response. We decided to meet every six weeks on a Friday night at the church and I remember feeling nervous about leading the discussion. I had chosen Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley's Redemption - oh, how my selections have changed since then - and was really hoping to generate a good discussion around fidelity in marriage, temptation, etc, all issues covered in the book.
If memory serves, I think there were about 12 - 15 women in attendance and I opened with the stunning question, "So, what did you think of the book?". The very first response I received at my very first book club?
"I hated the book!"
The wind went out of my sails, as you can imagine! But the discussion from there was fabulous - that one negative comment got everyone talking. In those early years, we discussed books written by Brandilyn Collins, Angela Hunt, Sylvia Bambola, Ted Dekker, Randall Arthur, Randy Alcorn, and more.
We moved from meeting in the church building to my home - tempted away by heating and comfortable chairs. Membership fluctuated over the years and we said farewell to some members and welcomed others. Upon leaving that church a few years ago, I had a brief hiatus before commencing what was to become the Novel Journey Book Club, again meeting in my home. I'm delighted to still have two of the inaugural members of my original book club still attending and now have members from my former church, my new church, and from other churches.
Through my blogging contacts, I began to ask authors to participate in our discussions by way of emailed Q&As. This added a wonderful element to our time together and made the book come alive as the authors engaged with us. Our pattern is to discuss the novel for an hour or so, then read the Q&A together. Most of those Q&As can now be found on my blog.
We became braver! I had selected When Crickets Cry by the then upcoming Southern writer, Charles Martin. He suggested a conference call. Very graciously, he woke up at some dreadfully early time and we chatted with him for over an hour about his writing, inspiration, and family. He was a true Southern gentleman although he did have to ask us to speak slowly as our accents were tripping him up. It is with great interest that I have watched his career blossom and now to see one of his novels, The Mountain Between Us, on the verge of hitting the big screen is fabulous.
Since then we have enjoyed conference calls with Jenny B. Jones, Tamara Leigh, Karen Ball, and others. More recently we have enjoyed seeing authors face to face via Skype - Ronie Kendig and Katherine Reay included.
Choosing distinctive and issue driven books is key to a successful book club. If all we have to say about a book is that it was sweet, then the discussion is over. All the books I select have some issue that will lead to interesting discussion and differing ideas. We have talked about abortion, infidelity, betrayal, Biblical retellings, parenting, conflict, war, sacrifice, animal rights, friendship, and much more. Other authors we have engaged with are Tosca Lee, Billy Coffey, Kellie Coates Gilbert, Jeanette Windle, Siri Mitchell, Robert Liparulo, Chris Fabry, and many more. I love introducing my members to different genres, ones they may never have chosen to read for themselves. We have focused on Christian Fiction but we did select Kathryn Stockett's The Help as our final book in 2013, at the suggestion of one of my members.
Book Clubs are great for readers, but for writers, too. As writers, you will hear a different perspective on how readers respond to a book. You may be surprised that they aren't necessarily looking for the same things your critique partners and publishers are looking for. Listen well and it just may add that little something extra to your own stories!
On a purely personal note, some of my closest friends are those I met at book club. Discovering people who share the same passion for the written word is not always easy, so in joining or starting a book club you may just find your next true friend!
If you have any questions about starting or joining a book club, book selections, or generating discussion, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments below.
Rel Mollet founded her book-reviewing blog www.RelzReviewz.com in 2006, which is dedicated to showcasing Christian Fiction and its writers by way of reviews, author interviews, character spotlights, and more.
Rel is the Content Editor at NovelCrossing.com, a contributing writer at FamilyFiction.com, and an Advisory Board member of the INSPY Awards. A book club co-ordinator for over a decade, Rel resides in Melbourne with her family.