Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Book Clubs and Authors and Friends - oh, my!

As I was pondering what to write about today, I realised my last book club evening for the year is coming up. There was my answer!

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.

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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.

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your book club journey with us, Rel--very inspiring! That conference call with Charles Martin would have been fascinating--I loved 'When Crickets Cry'. And I agree readers often look for quite different things in a book than critique partners or publishers. Just last week, I received an email from someone who had been touched by the story in my very first novel 'Helena', published in 2007. Yet the omniscient point of view I used back then and those long, wordy sentences would not pass muster with a publisher now!

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne, thanks for your encouragement. You can actually read the conference call with Charles on my blog. I taped and transcribed the whole thing!! Here's the link: http://relzreviewz.com/interview-with-charles-martin/

      Apologies for the font and formatting but it went funky when I changed from blogger to WP and I've never gone back and fixed it all. Just don't have the time for that ;-)

      Lovely to hear you received encouraging feedback of your own.

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  2. Hi Rel
    Have you ever read a book by an Aussie or Kiwi Christian author at your book club?

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    1. Yes, Anne. Ian Acheson's Angelguard and Lisa McKay's My Hands Came Away Red. Both excellent!

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  3. I can't thank you enough for inviting me to your book club, Rel! It's an honour to explore fabulous fiction with you and the gang. I'm sorry everyone else doesn't get to experience what we do at book club and I can't wait to read your stellar selections for 2015.

    You sure know how to pick them. :-)
    Thank you for introducing me to authors whose footsteps I can only aspire to follow.

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    1. We are so very privileged to have you as a member of our book club, Dotti. Love it!

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  4. Enjoyed this immensely. Always planned to part of a book club, but was never invited to one - never thought of starting one! Now...just looking at my diary...

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    1. Hope you go for it, Rhonda, as it really can be a wonderful experience.

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  5. Well, you've inspired me. The book club I was in closed down several months ago and I miss it. Think I might get another one underway. Thanks, Rel!

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    1. Hope you can get it started again, Andrea :)

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    2. The two bookclubs I was a member of both closed down at the end of last year, Andrea. A friend and I have just restarted one of them :) It's a lot of fun.

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  6. Howdy Rel, love reading your Book Club journey. My mum's also in a long standing Club and now being in her 80s it still is one of the highlights of her monthly schedule.

    It's not often I wish I was a woman but Book Clubs seem to be a girl-thing. There just aren't enough blokes within cooee of each other that read enough and/or read the same things. One day it'll happen, what only need 1 other don't I to make a club? Or I might have to start a virtual one.

    Thanks again for sharing. I do love reading your Q&As - your ladies sure ask some great in-depth questions.

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    1. Ian - you would be more than welcome to join us! I've been trying to get a guy to attend for years, without success!

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    2. Rel, count me in for February! I'm looking forward to it already.

      I'm honoured and very humbled by your offer.

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    3. There was a bloke who came to one of the book clubs I attended. No reason why the blokes can't come :)

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    4. Woo hoo, Ian! I'll be sure to add you to our email list. Have been working on dates and books this past week :)

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  7. Rel, excellent post! I'm in awe of your dedication to sharing your love for books with your friends :) Thanks for providing inspiring and helpful tips on how to run a book club. It makes sense that a diverse range of issue-driven books would create interesting group discussions.

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    1. Thank you! Appreciate your encouragement, Narelle. One thing I really love about book club is that is one of the few multi-generational ministry or groups I'm involved in. We range in age from 30s to 70s :)

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  8. I tried to get one going at our church but not one was interested. They do borrow from the library but not interested in discussing the books at this stage. One day maybe.

    Yours always sounds fun and love the interaction you have with authors. Having meet some of them last year would make it even more exciting reading the books too wouldn't it?

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    1. You really do need people who are interested. I have a number of family/friends who adore reading but have no interest in discussing books in a book club setting. I get that. I'm sorry yours didn't work out though, Jenny.

      Yes, meeting a number of the authors whose books had been part of our book club was fabulous :)

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  9. Hi Rel, I enjoyed reading about the book clubs you have been apart of. I was going to two different ones but as it happened both closed down at the end of 2013. So a friend and I have restarted one of them as a ministry of our church - with 3 meetings so far. Last year we had Lynne Stringer come and talk about The Heir (which she had recently launched at the time) and it was great night, appreciated by everyone there.

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    1. That's fabulous, Jeanette :) Always makes me happy to hear people talking about books!

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  10. I don't have any questions today, but I do want to say that I really enjoyed this post. I've never been a part of a book club, but it sounds like fun. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Kay - so glad you enjoyed the post.

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