As much as I've always loved, loved, loved reading, I'd never been a member of a book club -- or even visited one -- until I was invited to my first set of meetings last November as a guest author. In just four weeks I got a crash course in book clubs, visiting 4 in person and 1 online in my first month alone! Let me tell you a secret: Even if I hadn't fallen immediately in love with the experience of chatting with a group of smart, funny women about novels, I would've stayed at all of these meetings anyway just because of the great food (!!) and the way every group made me feel as though I'd made a bunch of new friends...
The first club I attended was hosted by my sister-in-law's sister-in-law. She and the fabulous women in this club have been meeting monthly for over a decade and are made up of a collection of friends, sisters, former college roommates and neighbors. A full year before my debut novel, According to Jane, was even released, her group asked me to reserve a Fall 2009 date for them. They've read tons of books together (it was hilarious listening to them recount their reactions to some of those selections!) and have a love of making themed meals to accompany every book. Being that I was the first author they'd ever had as a visitor, I got the royal treatment with a table covered with tasty dishes (some of them decidedly English so as to coordinate with Austen -- LOL) and a ginormous basket of chocolate delicacies. YUM. They asked me to recommend their next book, so I suggested Kathryn Stockett's The Help, and joined them for that discussion as well.
The next book club was held at the house of a good friend, but most of the other members were new to me. Before I arrived, my friend explained with a laugh that, really, their evening meetings were "all about the food and the wine," but that they tried to choose a range of books and make their gatherings relaxing, informative and fun. And the experience was definitely that... (I will not reveal just how MANY bottles of wine were consumed that night!)
A third meeting involved a road trip with three friends across state lines to visit the book club of one friend's mother. Their delightful group had been getting together for about fifteen years and were mature women who had a wealth of life experiences. My friend's mom was an especially gracious hostess as well, setting up tables in her living room and serving tea, pastries and crustless sandwiches to all of us on beautiful English china. I felt like a lady of the Regency, and I couldn't help but pause more than once to admire the lovely place settings and all the women in the room who were enjoying the literary tea party.
The final in-person group that month required a road trip of no more than 3 blocks, but it was equally memorable. Held at the house of one of the club leaders, it was a brunch meeting. (Can't you just smell the coffee and the warm glazed rolls and the egg casserole?) One of the many things I loved about these suburban moms was their curiosity about the publishing process and their expressed interest in having an open discussion about it. Having been told this in advance, I arrived armed with a number of drafts of the project that became According to Jane -- showing them the steps from the first full manuscript (with my handwritten notes scribbled in the margins) to the editorial copy edits and page proofs to the bound advanced reading copies to the final printed novel...
I've since met with this group a couple other times. They invited me back to discuss Friday Mornings at Nine and, when I told them about my third novel, A Summer in Europe, they were so delightfully enthusiastic and interested in the process of its publication that I asked if any of them wanted to read it early and offer suggestions. ALL eight of them did! So, I made copies for them and they have it now. We're doing the book club discussion for it at the end of January -- a full ten months before the novel is released! I have every confidence they'll steer me in the right direction as far as any final revisions and so look forward to hearing their opinions on the story.
And I'm already anticipating enjoying a warm, delicious brunch with them again...and thinking about what sweet treat to bring...
Question: What would be a good novel to host a themed meal around for a book-club meeting? What are some of the dishes you could make that would fit well with the story?
Marilyn is the award-winning women's fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and her upcoming novel, A SUMMER IN EUROPE (November 29, 2011), all from Kensington Books.
As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She's been told -- and not always with the intent to flatter -- that she's "insatiably curious" and "a travel addict." She admits to combining these two passions by taking classes in foreign countries whenever possible and, consequently, she's been able to learn lots of fascinating things in Australia, in England, in Italy and in universities across the United States.
She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart® Award.
Marilyn has traveled to 45 states and over 30 countries (so far -- she's not done yet!), but she now lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family. When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.
I am so grateful to Ms. Brant for writing this wonderful guest post, and we both would love to hear your book club/recipe suggestions! If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.