I'd like to welcome author Juliet Grey to Book Club Exchange, a feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! I haven't had a chance yet to review Ms. Grey's latest novel DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW, but I did review the first novel in this series BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE awhile back. If DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW is anything like the first book, then it will be an ideal book club selection.
Recently, I asked Ms. Grey to write about her book club experiences. Here's what she had to say:
How a Room Full of Smart, Curious Strangers Become BFFs in an Hour—or Why I Love Speaking With Book Clubs
Writers can’t exist without readers. Without you, we’re the trees that fall in the forest, where no one hears the sound. I love discussing literature with people, and particularly because most of my books tend to be about royalty, it is so much fun to meet other people who care about (and frequently, know so much about) the people in my books, that we can schmooze about them as if we’re on an intimate footing with the sovereigns of yore. I love comments like, “Can you believe what her mother did to her?” or “So why do you really think they didn’t consummate their marriage for seven years?” as if we’re gossiping about the neighbors down the street.
Writing is a solitary business. Most of us, even as we might be tuning out the family or office or coffeehouse cacophony, remain locked inside our imaginations and mired in research as we create our next opus, although I happen to love research and cheerfully admit to being a history junkie and a research wonk. And with my heavy writing schedule, even with the best of intentions to make time to socialize with friends, it rarely happens. When my husband isn’t home, the only time I get to speak to another human being (I’m not much of a phone person) is the hour per day that I spend in a gym class. And you can’t get too much conversing done during Pilates or Zumba!
Book Clubs are the ultimate win-win. Far from solitary, they’re a communal experience, a welcome social outlet and one of the best reasons for an author to slap on some makeup and slip on a pair of heels. And I’m up for any excuse—er, reason—to dress well. On the flip side, how often do readers have the opportunity to speak directly with an author about the book itself, about the characters (or whatever else is on their minds) and about her process as a writer? No matter the age range of the participants or their geographical location, I am always impressed with their level of erudition. As an author of historical fiction, nothing excites me more than readers who know their history. I get a thrill when something in the book comes up for discussion and they already know that I based the scene on actual events and in some cases used the historical figures’ own words in my dialogue. During our chats we discover, as we talk about fraught mother-daughter relationships, sibling rivalry, deaths in the family, or marital (and extramarital) issues that, unsurprisingly, because human nature doesn’t change, we can all relate in one way or another to the lives of the characters, even if they lived and died hundreds of years ago and wore crowns and gowns all day instead of scrunchies and yoga pants.
Another reason I love to address book clubs is because our chats afford me—and my readers—the chance to go beyond the Readers Guide questions published at the back of the novel. Most of the time I’m not given the opportunity to write those questions myself; and nine times out of ten, what’s in the back of the book wouldn’t be the questions I’d ask readers. The guides are jumping off points for groups that need to get the party going, but when I’m reading someone else’s novel, whenever I see a guide at the back of the novel suddenly I’m jettisoned back in time to high school where there will be a test after I’ve finished the book, and those are the questions I need to bone up on. For me, it changes the reading experience from one of pure pleasure to the pressure to take away certain things from the novel so that I can answer those guide questions. Reading should always be a joy; and readers, whether they enjoy a book individually or as a group should feel pressured to get the answers right to those guide questions. I have to laugh because I’ve read Readers Guide questions in some of my own novels and thought, “I can’t answer that—and I wrote the book!” So I like book group readers to ask me whatever’s on their minds, whether it’s about the book, my writing process and/or career, or the publishing business in general—or “Where did you get those shoes?” I’ll answer almost any question because, for me, meeting with book clubs is all about building and maintaining a closer relationship with my readers. I’ll always ask a few questions, too.
Whenever I chat with book clubs, I’m always eager to hear my readers’ impressions regarding certain scenes and characters, and some interesting moments have come up when a reader has an interpretation of an event or a character motivation that I didn’t consciously realize was there.
Every time I visit with a book club, not only it is a fabulous social experience—and the time passes so quickly that none of us wants it to end—but it’s a marvelous learning experience for me as well. For one thing, it turns the solitary “me” of writing into the communal “we” of the shared experience in discussing the book. And there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending an hour or two with likeminded people talking about our mutual passion for literature. It gives me such pleasure—and such hope—for the future of books!