- Meet New People. When I joined my local book club over twenty years ago, I was a young mom searching for ways to connect with other women in my town. While some like me are core members from Day One, others have come and gone. Over the years, we’ve supported each other through life milestones. We’ve become close friends, developed through a shared love of reading. More recently, I’ve joined online book clubs to chat over Zoom with readers across the U.S. and Canada.
- Broaden Your Interests and Perspectives. I love to read historical fiction. Yet, through our process of the monthly host picking our titles, I’ve expanded my depth and breadth by reading YA, non-fiction, LGBQT, biographies, cultural fiction, and more. At each meeting, we bring our experiences and opinions to shape and share thoughtful discussions. And, while most of us are in the same general age bracket, I enjoy the perspectives which emerge from our group which has a twenty-year age span of generations.
- Eat and Drink. “Book club without cheese is just English class” – source unknown. While a book discussion steers our evening meetings, great food and drink, alcoholic and non, enhances our gatherings. We try new appetizers and desserts and swap recipes afterwards. Nibbling on a vegan olive tapenade while sipping on an Peruvian wine choice breaks the ice to launch lively discussions.
- Administer Self-Care. Joining a book club became my single, monthly effort in self-care. I carved out time from working full-time with two active boys in school and sports to read at least one book a month and attend one meeting. No hockey rinks, no baseball/lacrosse/baseball/soccer/football fields. Just me, a good book, and a cherished group of friends for three hours a month.
- Up the Ante with a Slice of Fun. From costumed meetings in October to movie-adaption nights to themed food, there are many great ideas to bring a book to life on Pinterest and recipes in The Book Club Cookbook. For a Zoom meeting, everyone pick a different themed recipe for the book, then eat it during the call and share a picture of your dish.
Reading a book is just the beginning.
Talking about it is the very best part.
With or without wine.
Looking for a choice to stimulate great discussions for your club? I’ve fielded a poll among groups across the U.S. to develop a listing of Top Books for a Great Book Club Discussion. Please add your top picks by taking my five minute survey.
As you can see from my photos, my book club has a lot of fun pairing food choices with book selections and dressing up in costumes (our October hostess loves Halloween and always chooses great books for us and gets creative).
Tons of ideas can be found in the compilation, The Book Club Cookbook, by Judy Gelman. I should have known when I worked with Judy in launching a local children’s museum she would have wonderfully creative ideas like:
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Annie Barrows’s Potato Peel Pie and Non-Occupied Potato Peel Pie)
- Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See’s Deep-Fried Sugared Taro)
Connecting with readers is important for authors. In-Person, Zoom and Skype are great ways to connect with authors for any meeting. My group has been fortunate to Skype with Lisa See to discuss Island of Sea Women and to meet her in-person (pre-Covid) at an all-town read author appearance. She was amazing and so gracious with her time at each one.
Author Talk – Janis Robinson Daly. One of my goals when my novel is published is to meet with as many book clubs as possible during a cross-country road trip. If your club is interested in reading my upcoming historical fiction about women doctors in the 1900s, please fill out my form which will also provide me with information on your local book store so I can coordinate with them. Thank you.
Author Talk – Ashley Sweeney. For historical fiction fans, I’m happy to recommend Ashley Sweeney and her books, Eliza Waite and/or Answer Creek. Ashley loves to chat with book clubs via Zoom or Skype or in-person, if possible, in the Seattle or Tucson areas. Contact Ashley directly through her website. Her next book, Jericho, is slated for publication in 2022. I beta read it – line it up for your 2022 schedule and get in touch with Ashley early to invite her to your discussion.
Authors also post ideas on their websites along with discussion guides for their books.
Barbara Linn Probst writes strong women’s fiction anchored in an appreciation of the arts. Her first novel, Queen of the Owls, introduces readers to the beauty of Georgia O’Keefe’s painting masterpieces, along with personal dilemmas or privacy and ownership rights. Her second novel, The Sound Between the Notes, is a beautiful story of hopes and fears, doubts and courage, as women consider their second acts, which may well deserve an Encore. Linn Probst adds to the colorful and lyrical readings of her books by assembling bonus materials as companion information.
With the release of Sunflower Sisters, Martha Hall Kelley put out some recipes for food items mentioned in the Civil War era book along with a cheat sheet of the numerous characters and discussion questions in a handy book club kit PDF. Very helpful!
- With roots in a local women’s civic group, at my group’s December meeting we collect items identified as in high-demand for our local food pantry. Giving back to our community which brought us together is a simple gesture of thanks.
- From a Facebook post in a reading group, I love this idea: When a member of their group passed away, they all purchased a copy of one of her favorite books and donated them to their library in her name so that other book clubs could read her favorite book with enough copies on hand for an entire group to borrow.
- From another FB post and another lovely idea: Read a book for a cause and make a donation to a charity that fits with the books theme. A few suggestions include: The Midnight Library = Suicide Prevention, American Dirt = Immigration Relief, Before We Were Yours = Adoption Agencies, The Answer Is = Pancreatic Cancer Research, Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek = Mobile Libraries.
Recently I solicited tips from a few Facebook groups for active readers on how to host a virtual meeting. Overwhelmingly, the free service offered by Zoom was the preferred method. Others used a more simple approach of an email or text string of discussions.
(APRIL 2020) In the middle of a world-wide pandemic and stay-at-home orders, I’m missing my book club friends as we enter the second month of being unable to meet. However, lucky for all of us, virtual meeting options boomed. I’ve participated in Zoom clubs with members from across the U.S. and Canada.
- Check the Zoom website first and read through info put in place to tighten security measures since the explosion of usage has also increased questions around privacy, etc.
- Test ahead of time to make sure connections are working.
- Have each person make a list of their top opinions before the meeting and send them to the moderator. Circulate via email ahead of time to think about what you want to discuss
- Limit the time or make sure you’re set up for longer 40 minutes. The free Zoom version gives you 40 minutes. To extend your time, have everyone log off and then log back in with the same link; it generally works. Or, book two back-to-back sessions.
- Choose one person to serve as moderator is key to maintain order and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. A round-robin approach works to make sure everyone who wants to speak gets the opportunity. Have the host pull up the discussion questions on her screen so everyone can see those at the same time.
- Log in a few minutes early.
- Have all attendees mute themselves except for the moderator and raise their hand to comment or pose a question…they have to be recognized by the moderator before un-muting themselves.
- Computers work better than phones.
- Activate the grid view so you can see everyone at once.
- The best audio is if no one in the group uses earbuds and instead uses the computer’s mic.
Making It Fun
- Have each member read a favorite passage. Dress it up – does the character have a signature item? Wear it.
- Drop off or send a book themed goodie to each member ahead of your call, even if it’s a bookmark.
- Try a phrase or word scavenger hunt – where does it say… First one to answer correctly wins a small prize.
- For a brief moment of levity, encourage all participants to have a spatula handy. When they want to comment, raise the spatula instead of their hand for attention.
Does this description fit your book club? “A way for women to pursue truth, knowledge and an understanding of themselves and the world around them.” The observation is attributed to Margaret Fuller, the first American female war correspondent, a magazine editor and an all-around feminist renegade, who formed a literary circle of women in 1839. Read more about the evolution and power of book clubs in this March 2021 Washington Post article, “How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives.”
I invite you to follow my blog for book reviews and to follow my journey toward writing my first historical fiction. More information in my Novel Synopsis. You can sign up from this page with the pop-up, or send me a note through the CONTACT page and I can email you an invitation to follow. I’m on social media, too.
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