Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Club Exchange - Nicole of Linus's Blanket

This is the very first Book Club Exchange, a new (and hopefully) regular feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Today, Nicole from Linus's Blanket has written a wonderful post about her book clubs. This is the very first Book Club Exchange post, so I think it's especially appropriate given that Nicole has written about the first time she organized her own book group.

You Mean You Can Eat & Read & Talk About Books!
Or, My First Book Club

Growing up I never wanted to be in a book club (today I'm in 4!) but that's only because I don't think I had any real concept of such a thing existing. I always loved reading books as a child, but it never occurred to me that people would gather for the sole purpose of discussing books. Ironically, now that I think about it, the first that I heard of a book clubs was probably through reading, but don’t ask me which book. As much as I search for that final connection I can’t say what definitively put book clubs on my radar.

Since I graduated college, I’ve always had a book club of sorts with my mother. I would read things and then make her read them and then we would talk about what we had read. We both share a love for intricate stories with complex characters, and we both love having the perspectives of different characters to examine and learn from. We enjoyed discussing The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand; Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende; The House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III; and before audio books became the thing we took turns reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens to each other. Sadly, much as I enjoy reading about Dickens, ‘til this day I still have not finished that book. I was usually the one making recommendations (and I still do!), because I always had my head in a book, no matter how short or long my commute. My poor mom, she can’t keep up with me- so I started looking for other people to force ask to talk with me about books.

In later years I worked in magazine publishing, and found a few fellow readers, and (bonus!) I had access to review copies that had been sent to the different publications for review. A lot were health, exercise, and weight loss books along with some, usually dry, business titles- due to the nature of the magazines that we published, but occasionally there would be some fiction and non-fiction books that would be of interest to me. This is how I first heard of Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife. It was my first foray into advance reading copies and the world of Pride & Prejudice sequels. Who knew that so many people were writing about the lives of Darcy and Elizabeth after they got married?

At the publishing company, a co-worker of mine would regularly circulate copies of books that he had been reading for others to enjoy. That’s how I got to read The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, a book that I’m not sure I would have read on my own and had managed not to hear about even though I was informed that it had “sold as many copies as The Bible”. Another co-worker was actually in a book club and we chatted about starting one at work, but sadly it just never happened.

By this time I had become brainwashed enamored from books, movies and friends by the idea of sitting around over some good food and wine and talking about books. Talk about combining a few of my favorite things! Does life get any better? I thought it would be easy to start one. I had friends…we read books. Easy peasy, right? Let’s get together and do it! The reality turned out to not be as simple. Conflicting job schedules, book preferences and extra-curricular activities made it difficult to decide on absolutely anything. We couldn’t come up with a common time, types of books we wanted to read, or whether we should host at each other’s homes (space is a big issue in NYC) or meet at a local bar or restaurant. I tried out a book club run by a local women’s group, but with a large membership (over 1,000 women) it turned out to be a little less intimate than I would have liked. It was different women all the time and the book selections varied wildly from month to month.

I ended up turning to good ‘ole Craigslist for help. I don’t have the original ad that I ran, but here are a few of the responses I received from people who ultimately didn’t stick with the group.

I am very interested in your Book Club. I am a mid-twenty something professional female, living on the Upper East Side. I am originally from Michigan, and just moved here last summer for a job opportunity.

I am interested in reading I am Charlotte Simmons, London Bridges, Witness for the Prosecution (of Scott Peterson). I am currently reading the "Georgetown Women's Social Club". I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (not sure if this is strictly for fiction reading, which would be fine as well). In the past, I have only read for enjoyment purposes. I have never been involved in a book club before, but this sounds like a great way to meet people and have interesting discussions.

Please let me know if you have room for another young female reader in your group.


Hello. I'm interested in joining the book club you posted about in CL. Some books I would like to read that come to mind right now are Of Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and books by Leo Tolstosy [sic]. This will be the first book club I've been in, I look forward to some interesting discussions. I would appreciate if you let me know the exact time and location. I hope to hear from you soon.

I was thrilled to hear from people who, Angels and Demons aside, wanted to meet and talk about books! I think that I must have had a pretty detailed ad because, from my previous experiences with friends, I knew that if I didn’t put forth a coherent vision, I would have the same results as before. I started with a big group, and to begin with we met at coffee shops around the city. I knew that some people would drop out and I wanted to weed out any problem children before I started inviting people into my home! I think the original number was 13 and we ended up with a cozy 6. We lost the one male we had managed to snag after a particularly heated discussion on rape in Montana 1948, by Larry Watson. Poor guy, he had chosen the book. Unfortunately people can get offended or uncomfortable if their book choice comes under fire- especially when you don’t know each other that well. At that point we hadn’t bonded enough (or at least not with him) to withstand such a fiery discussion. Book choices can be such a personal thing.

After the group dwindled down to about 8 regulars (that took about 3-4 months), we were ready, and a small enough group, to meet in one another’s homes. Yay! I was so excited to not have to try to find venues that were quiet enough, with enough space, that weren’t too expensive, that didn’t mind us monopolizing the place for hours. With a regular group, and smaller group, we were finally able to start getting to know each other- and that my friends is where the fun starts, and where managing the book club gets a little tricky. Book club got to be an experience. We knew a little of each other’s lives, we had met up outside of book club and genuinely liked each other and had found some things in common. We were having interesting discussions, but not always about the book, and not all of us were managing read the book! (My approach to this was to schedule some alternate times for us to hang out so that when we saw each other we were interested in more than playing catch up after not seeing each other for a couple of weeks or month.) I couldn’t have asked for more from my book club and was so happy to have met such a wonderful bunch of women, some of whom have become close personal friends.

My book club has been going for 4+ years now. It has a special place in my heart because I had the nerve to invite strangers into my home, month after month, and through the power and the love of books made good friends. Finding the time to join a book club as a member, and especially as a facilitator can be a tough proposition. There are always competing demands of time, scheduling issues, changes in membership and sometimes personality clashes, but the book club that I started taught me to step outside of myself, to take chances- and has been among the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had in my life as of writing this post.


Nicole is the author of book review blog - Linus's Blanket, lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is a known and documented addict- addictions being food, books, wine, and bocce. Mostly in that order. She has been trying to form a book club with her cats for several years- thus far the cats don’t appear to be interested. This is her first guest post ever, be nice.

I am so grateful to Nicole for sharing some of her book club experiences with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.


Molly said...

Great feature!

Nicole, your book club sounds like such fun - and you all look so happy and content.

I tried posting on Craig's List about two years ago, but received no interest. Perhaps I will try again after reading this success story.

Michelle said...

Nicole, this is a great story! I think the best thing that I walk away from reading this is the fact that you've made great friends as a result. Discussing books is fabulous in it's own right but having great friends even better!

Chrisbookarama said...

Great story Nicole! It is hard to keep guys in a book club, I don't know why.

Love the pic!

bermudaonion said...

I loved reading this! It would be so much fun to be in Nicole's book club! I've met Nicole and she sure doesn't look like she's addicted to food.

Jo-Jo said...

This looks like such a great group of ladies! I think it's neat that she actually started this group by an ad on Craigslist!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Thanks for hosting me Julie! I can tell that this is going be a great feature and I am looking forward to reading about more experiences.

My book club is awesome. It was a little harrowing in the beginning but was a great experience.

Serena said...

What a great guest post and a first guest post at that! Nicole, your book club rocks. I'm having a tough time keeping members probably because the main members are so open to a variety of genres, etc. Some people are just interested in one genre or another.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wonderful story, especially the part about Craig's List! Who would have thought to use that?!!! I think everyone who reads this will be wishing for a similar experience!

Beth F said...

Amazing story! Sounds like part of being in a book club is letting it mature and evolve until you have a comfortable group. I've been in one and only book club and I love it. Our monthly video-conference calls are a highlight of my month! I guess I need to get a life.

Amy said...

Love the feature! Thanks for sharing your experience Nicole. I was in a lovely, small group in D.C., but haven't found a good group in my new town. Perhaps I'll turn to Craigslist. I appreciate all the info on how your group developed. Great advice!

Ti said...

Nicole...great post! I love reading about book clubs. Yours sounds like a lot of fun and from your list of addictions, I can see that you are my kind of gal. I am so glad that we are getting to know each other through our blogs.

Also, I think it's wonderful that you had a reading relationship with your mom. I hope to have that with my daughter someday. We read together now but at age 6 she is beginning to want to do it on her own.

Julie...great series. I can't wait to read future posts.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love this feature! I just joined my very first book club EVER! A friend of mine had invited me to join a group of women who were strangers to me. There are good things about the club, and not so good things, but I'm hanging with it to see how it goes. Rule number one for us though, is: drink wine. Which I see Nicole has implemented!

M. said...

What a great idea for a regular blog feature! I'd love to do a guest post if you're still looking for contributors.

I loved Nicole's story because she went beyond the usual (asking your friends who read) to actually seeking out strangers. That was really brave, socially speaking as well as bookwise. How great that it worked out. Now I'm interested to go visit Linus Blanket, also.

trish said...

Such a great story! Sounds kind of like mine. LOL.

I wish I lived in NYC so I could be in Nicole's book club. :)

Bonnie said...

I love reading about book clubs and details so will look forward to this new feature.

What a great post Nicole! I loved hearing about your book club with your mom. I am envious, I could not imagine talking about books with my mom. I would love it but she is not a reader. I am reading books with my son and he loves it when I read a book that he likes.

What a great way to reach out and start a book club through Craigslist. I enjoyed reading some of the responses that you got! It was smart of you to get to know everyone first before inviting them into your home! I think that diversity in a book club makes it so much more interesting to have people from different walks of life and backgrounds. I started a book club in my neighborhood several years ago and it has developed and grown along the way. We have a rule that to be part of the book club, you need to be a reader and read the books! We've had our shares of ups and downs and challenges and it continues to grow and change.

Your book club sounds like a wonderful group and I enjoyed seeing a picture as well!

Jenners said...

Fun to hear about the evolution of your book club ... and sharing the ad responses was a great detail! I had such a bad experience in my one book club -- I guess I wasn't a good fit with it now that I look back at it!

Neelu said...

i started a bookclub here in Dubai just four months ago and cannot believe that am going through the same stages that you have been through! am really happy that i stepped out of my comfort zone and started a club like you did,,, hopefully it will grow like yours and last for years to come :)

Lisa said...

What is it about book clubs and wine? They just seem to go together!