Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Club Exchange - Susan Helene Gottfried

It's time for another installment of Book Club Exchange, a regular feature on anything and everything book club-related! Today, I have a very special guest Susan Helene Gottfried. Most bloggers "know" Susan because she does a great service to the community with her site Win a Book; however, she also is an author of The Demo Tapes and (of course) a book club member. I was thrilled when she agreed to write an essay for me about her niche book club! After reading this, I'm sure you will agree that her book club sounds amazing.

NOTE: Susan really is a great woman! She is donating
a portion of her royalties from the Demo Tapes from now to January 31st to the Red Cross relief effort in Haiti. Click here for more details.

The Hadassah Book Club

Although I've got a web page set up for my book club (, a lot of people don't realize a fancy, powerful writer like me is even in a book club -- let alone its leader. And then people look us and really doubt my claims. After all, my book club is made up of a dozen women, most of whom have kids my age. There's a definite age gap, but let me tell you, these women are my contemporaries. The are smart, savvy, with it, and well-read. They keep me on my toes -- and never make me feel like I'm their daughter. I like them better than I like some of the women my own age.

Best of all, we came together because of a love for Jewish lit.

It's not a huge genre -- and yet it is. Back when Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Erica Jong were the trend-setting Jewish authors, they pretty well defined the different veins of Jewish lit. Today, the immigrant experience captured so perfectly by Malamud is an issue our parents or grandparents faced, not us. Erotica and its various subgenres have become mainstream. And erudite literature a la Bellow continues to chug along.

When people think of Jewish lit today, the first thing that comes to mind is the Holocaust. The body of literature -- both fiction and non-fiction -- that has sprung from this generation-defining event is huge. Fiction, non-fiction, controversy, fantasy... it's all there. Heck, we could run an entire second book club just focusing on Holocaust lit.

However, as a group, we try to limit the Holocaust books we read. Most of the books are downers. Even when redemption or love is the theme, the setting is still bleak. Death and brutality are all around. We prefer it lighter.

Thus, we've gravitated toward Biblical historicals, an interesting genre. We have Jewish writers like Anita Diamant and Maggie Anton. And then we have non-Jews like my friend India Edghill. In truth, the religion you practice shouldn't matter when you love and respect your subject. However, I've also run across some Biblical historicals that have had a blatant Christian bend. Hardly the sort of book for a Jewish group!

Overall, I'd have to say that historicals are our favorite genre. We've read about incredible periods in history, from the Spanish inquisition to growing up in the 1960s -- hardly historical, but not quite contemporary, either. And we've read everything in between, too. As much as we can find.

Because we don't want to limit ourselves to one genre, we've also read mysteries -- an uncommon thing for a book club. Rochelle Krich has written two great series, but it's the Molly Blume books that we read together. Rita Lakin's senior citizens straddle the line between mystery and our other favorite genre: lighthearted, frivolous, and fun. And don't forget the mystery/thriller such as Daniel Silva writes. Those are a bit darker and oh, so smart!

You'll note how all over the map we are. Literary one meeting, light and fun the next, a memoir after that... I do my best to keep it fresh. A book club shouldn't be drudgery. It should be a continued chance to experience some of the best (and, at times, worst) of the written word.

If you'd like to see what we've read and what we're planning on reading, stop by the website anytime. I keep it updated -- and I'm always searching for suggestions. I'd love to hear if you've got any.

Susan Helene Gottfried is the author of two short story anthologies: ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes -- Year 1 and ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes: Year 2. She holds two degrees in English, reads voraciously, and breathes music the way others breathe air. Visit with her at To see what Susan's fictional characters are up to, stop in the Meet and Greet ( To find out what great books are being given away and what authors are touring the Internet, be sure to visit Win a Book (, where Susan champions ALL books.

I am so grateful to Susan for telling us about her very special book club experiences. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

First I must say, who in the blogging community cannot feel a huge debt of gratitude to Susan for all she has contributed?

Second, I love that her book club is made up of women most of whom have kids her age. Imagine a group of women with such young kids!!! :--)

Thanks for the feature, Julie. These are always so fun and informative!

bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh, I bet a book club with Susan is so much fun! She is such a hoot and does so much for books!

Beth F said...

Sounds like a great club -- and I'd join any group that Susan was in!

Great guest post.

Serena said...

Any Book club with Susan must be a riot and I bet Trevor even pops in sometimes! Love this post and I knew that she read Jewish lit, but I had no idea it was for a book club. Neat!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I want to join her book club!

Bonnie said...

Susan is an amazing part of our book blogging community and I loved reading this about her book club. It sounds like a wonderful group and I learned some things about Jewish Lit. I am drawn to Holocaust Lit but it can be depressing. I'm going to check out what her book club has read. Fab guest post! Susan Rocks!!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You guys had better be careful... I just might start an online book club. Or let Trevor run it. (Oy, what a disaster THAT would be!)

Julia Phillips Smith said...

No, it wouldn't...

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Julia, the man refuses to read a set list. Twenty or so WORDS. Letting him run a book club is not one of our better ideas.

Which is why it's so darn intriguing...

Anna said...

This sounds like a fun book club, and it must be if Susan is involved!

Diary of an Eccentric

Darlene said...

Great post! I can't imagine a book club with Susan in it not being a whole lot of fun. It was great hearing about your book club Susan. I'll have to check out what you all have been reading.