Tips for Choosing Book Club Books

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There’s plenty to discuss in The Deepest Secret.

“What’s our next book?” — the dreaded question facing every book club. Here are some suggestions to help increase your chances of choosing a book that will inspire a fun and enlightening discussion:

  1. Decide if you’re a democracy or a dictatorship. Will your group vote on the books, or will each member be given the chance to make an executive decision on your monthly selection?
  2. Don’t worry about whether everyone will like the book. Some of the best book club discussions happen when not everyone likes the book. And sometimes a member who came into the meeting with a negative opinion of the book goes home with a new appreciation for it.
  3. And don’t worry about liking fictional characters. You’re not befriending them, you’re discussing why they behave as they do.
  4. Don’t be afraid of nonfiction. I think nonfiction books often provide the best material for discussion.
  5. cover-2Unless you’re a very literary group, choose books that focus on interesting issues. Your book club meeting most likely isn’t going to resemble a college English seminar. You’ll  probably have more fun talking about the ethical problems presented in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks than the imagery in The Age of Innocence.
  6. Pick a book that is the right length for the amount of time your group has to read it. Don’t choose The Luminaries if your group is meeting in three weeks.
  7. Don’t choose The Luminaries (or anything of similar density) if your group is the type that discusses the book for 15 minutes and then moves on to more important things — like where you should meet next month.
  8. 9780547554839_hresBeware of books that one of your members describes as “uplifting” or “feel-good”. There won’t be much to talk about.
  9. Take advantage of all the resources that are available online and in your community. There are countless websites devoted to book clubs, including lists of suggested books. Your local library and bookstore will be happy to make recommendations for you, and to let you know what other groups are reading.
  10. Ask your friends (especially out-of-town friends) what their book clubs have read and how successful their choices were. Post “Any great book club books you can recommend?” as your Facebook status.
  11. Consider organizing a book exchange.  Have everyone bring a book he or she has recently read and trade books. At the next meeting, briefly review all the books and if one stands out, choose it for an in-depth discussion.
  12. Leave some flexibility in your schedule; don’t choose books for the whole year.
  13.  If your group is having a hard time finishing books — or agreeing on book choices — read a short story or an essay. You could even spend the year reading The Best American Short Stories 2013 or The Best American Essays 2013.
  14. Think about choosing books that have won major prizes (National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker) or have received good reviews in publications you trust.

cover-1I always look to Publishers Weekly for book recommendations; if a book gets a starred review in PW, I pay attention. Carla Buckley’s The Deepest Secret got a starred review, which doesn’t surprise me; the reviewer called it “superb”, and I agree! I read the book last fall, because I was going to meet Carla at a dinner hosted by Random House to introduce authors and editors to Chicago-area booksellers. The Deepest Secret is the story of Eve Lattimore, a parent who makes a terrible error in judgment — and then compounds that mistake by keeping it secret, in an effort to protect her chronically ill son. Much more than a page-turner, The Deepest Secret is a morally complex exploration of parental love. It’s a rare and wonderful treat to read a suspenseful novel that is also character-driven. Book clubs will argue about the choices that Eve, her family, and friends make; there are no easy answers.

I started reading the book the day before I was due to meet Carla. I arrived at the dinner nearly 30 minutes early (very unusual for me) and sat in my car reading the book until the appointed time. When I saw people starting to enter the restaurant, I stashed the book in my purse and joined them. I introduced myself to the first person I saw — who turned out to be Carla Buckley! I told her that her new book was truly “unputdownable” and that I hated to tear myself away from it; I’m not sure she believed me until I showed her my book, with a page dog-eared about halfway through. Carla (along with another terrific author, Jenny Milchman) will be coming back to the Chicago area on May 8 — please join us (with or without your book club) for a great discussion. No need to choose the books — they are already chosen for you! Jenny is the author of two suspense novels: Cover of Snow, a psychological thriller about a young wife in upstate New York investigating her husband’s mysterious suicide, and Ruin Falls (due in April)  about a mother desperately searching for her missing children. (Cover of Snow, Jenny’s debut novel, also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.)

 

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Author Events — Behind the Scenes

ArmchairBEA LogoExampleHello Armchair BEA Participants!

I’ve been coordinating author events for a small independent bookstore for many years. I can honestly say every author we’ve worked with has been delightful and interesting. Authors are the nicest people! Since becoming a blogger less than a year ago, I’ve discovered that most of them like to interact online. I think when they are procrastinating or have writer’s block, Twitter and Facebook call to them.

I’d like to point out something about the etiquette of author events. Most of our events are free. The publisher sends the author on a publicity tour, at no cost to the author or the bookstores involved, with the expectation that books will be sold. Bookstores that exhibit a poor track record of sales at their events won’t be offered many more authors. So if you want to continue meeting authors at events in your community, you need to show your support by buying books at the events. Nothing irritates an independent bookstore more than attendees who show up with books they’ve previously purchased on Amazon to be signed by the author. Does Amazon bring authors to your community?

Thanks for listening . . . and here’s a post from October, 2013, about one of my favorite recent author events. In this case, Carol Rifka Brunt arranged her own travel. She came all the way from England for several appearances in the United States. We were thrilled and honored to host her!

Lunch with Carol Rifka Brunt

This week I was fortunate enough to meet Carol Rifka Brunt, author of Tell the Wolves I’m Home. It’s always an amazing experience to meet the actual person whose writing you’ve admired. I’ve met many authors over the years, and I’ve almost never been disappointed. At first, I was surprised to learn that it isn’t enough for an author to write a successful book. Once the book is finished, author has another job: to market the book. If the author is lucky, his or her publisher will provide a lot of marketing support, including a publicity tour. But often the burden is on the author to arrange and publicize events.

ImageCarol Rifka Brunt is a case in point. Carol’s first novel landed on the New York Times bestseller list and has received rave reviews from all sorts of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. Nonetheless, Carol was on her own when it came to organizing events promoting the book’s paperback release. Her friend Rebecca Makkai (Lake Forest resident and award-winning author of The Borrower and many short stories) suggested she contact Lake Forest Book Store. We were excited to hear from Carol, since we had read Tell the Wolves I’m Home and were enthusiastically recommending it. She told us she planned to speak at Western Michigan University on October 14 and wondered if she could visit Lake Forest afterwards. Of course, we immediately scheduled a luncheon and started spreading the word. Here’s what Carol posted on her blog:

Unlike a lot of authors, I haven’t done any readings or live events to support or promote Tell the Wolves I’m Home in the US. One reason for this is that I live in the UK, which makes it kind of logistically difficult. Another is that I’ve been lucky enough to have readers pick up the book and spread the word without me having to set foot to pavement, which is fantastic. In fact, Tell the Wolves just hit the New York Times bestseller list–a minor miracle for a geeky little book like this–and I haven’t been in the US once since it first came out in June 2012.

But although events haven’t really been a necessity, I have to say that I think I’ve missed out on one of the really enjoyable parts of being an author by not getting out there–meeting readers.

Readers in the Chicago area were thrilled to meet Carol — 50 of us gathered at Authentico in Lake Forest for a luncheon to hear Carol speak about her wonderful book. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the story of a 14-year-old girl, June Elbus, whose beloved uncle has just died of AIDS. June adored — almost worshiped — her Uncle Finn, whose last work was a portrait of June and her older sister. The portrait becomes a virtual character in the novel, as June and her family come to terms with their loss and with an unlikely friendship that June develops. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a perfect book club selection — it’s immediately engaging, it has layers of complexity without being dense, and it’s thought provoking. There are no heroes or villains in this story — only people trying to do their best in a difficult situation.

Carol read a lovely passage from her book, talked about the art that inspired her, engaged the audience in a discussion, and answered questions. I think those of us who had already read the book wanted to read it again after hearing Carol speak — and I suspect those who hadn’t read it couldn’t wait to get home and start reading. Spending time with Carol added another dimension to the reading experience — so we thank her for doing so well at her second job: book promoter.

Carol’s website is full of interesting information and links to reviews: http://www.carolrifkabrunt.com.