Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Joe Wallace

Guess who's back? One of my favorite authors and favorite people, Joe Wallace. He is the author of DIAMOND RUBY -- you can read my gushing review here -- and I guarantee that it is the perfect book for book club discussions!

I love the approach Joe took to this guest post. He asks himself some very interesting questions about book clubs. He also shares some of the reasons why DIAMOND RUBY is such a discussion-worthy novel.


QUESTION: Why don’t men organize or join book clubs?

ANSWER: I have no idea.

Sorry. If you were looking for insight from this writer and reader who happens to be a man, sorry. I’m coming up empty. I don’t know why almost every book club member I’ve met or heard of is a woman.

It can’t be because we men are “too busy.” Most of the women I know have at least as much on their plates as the men, and often far more. And while statistics show that women read more, especially fiction, I know plenty of men who love books, including novels. So why no (or so few, because there must be some) book clubs with men? Ask me another.

Luckily, there is a question that I can answer, one that I never guessed at before my first novel, Diamond Ruby, was published in May.

QUESTION: What has been the most unexpected gift to you as a writer since your novel came out?

ANSWER: Getting to visit book clubs and catch a glimpse of a vibrant, enthusiastic society that gives me hope for the future of books, of publishing as a whole.

It’s been remarkable, encouraging, even soul-warming. (If that’s a phrase.) My early experiences with Diamond Ruby have given me the opportunity to meet women I never would have otherwise. I’ve gotten to learn something about their lives, their reading tastes, the vital role that books play in who they are.

Just as importantly, my book-club visits have taught me an enormous amount about my novel—and, by extension, about myself. That’s what happens when you share something incredibly important to you with strangers: They surprise you, which gives you the chance to surprise yourself.

Perhaps it helps that Diamond Ruby is a novel that provokes questions. As some of you know already, it’s a historical novel set in the 1920s that mixes fictional characters (Ruby herself, her nieces and friends) with people who really existed (most crucially Yankees slugger Babe Ruth and the great boxing champion Jack Dempsey). I almost always get questions about what’s real and what’s not; about how I did my research; and about the real-life events themselves, including the great influenza epidemic of 1918 and the Coney Island sideshows of the Roaring Twenties.

But the richest discussions are the ones that focus on the book’s very core: Ruby herself, the character you follow for 400 pages and, I hope, root strongly for. Every book club, every female reader, has been interested and curious about why I, a man, chose to write a novel with a teenage girl at its heart. Did I worry that I was overreaching? That women especially would be skeptical, even suspicious, of my ability to create a convincing character in Ruby? And did Ruby have inspirations in my own life and if so, who?

Facing these questions, and those that follow naturally from them, have forced me to think more deeply about the novel, about the people and worlds I find most intriguing, about my own teenage daughter and others who live inside Ruby and the other female characters in the novel. I have learned so much along the way—insights that I think will help shape my next novel about Ruby and all the books I hope to write thereafter.

The book clubs I’ve spoken to are always grateful that I’ve taken the time to visit. What I always tell them is that I’m the grateful one. In this busy, noisy world, to meet avid readers is a gift. To get the chance to learn is more than a gift. I believe it’s a treasure.

QUESTION: What do I hope the next months will bring?

ANSWER: The chance to visit—in person, via Skype, or by telephone—with as many book clubs as will have me.

Another easy one.


Joe Wallace was born in Brooklyn, where he fell in love early with nature, travel, and writing. Lucky enough to make a career of the latter, he spent more than two decades writing nonfiction (on nature, travel, and other subjects) before making the leap into fiction in 2006. He is the author of half a dozen noir stories (including "Custom Sets," chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010) and now a novel, Diamond Ruby.

As I mentioned above, DIAMOND RUBY is a fantastic choice for book clubs. In fact, you might even want to arrange an author chat with Joe -- he loves talking about his novel with readers! Joe has also graciously offered to provide Ruby baseball cards to every member of a group that selects DIAMOND RUBY for a book club selection. I have my own card, and they are very cool. All you have to do is contact him at and let him know!

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


bermudaonion said...

Now I'm wondering why men aren't in book clubs - maybe because they don't like talking about their feelings? This was a fun post! I hope I get the chance to see/hear Joe at some point since I've read such great things about his book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love this guy, and I really NEED to read this book. But I am now puzzling over the men and book club question. I asked my husband, which is really pointless because he doesn't read. But IF he did, he claims that men aren't that big into sitting around discussing their feelings and thoughts about cerebral topics. I beg to differ...I've heard him try to solve the world's problems over a glass of wine, but there you go.