Monday, January 5, 2009

Wine, Women and Words: Blogging about Book Groups

When I asked my husband to give his opinion about some of the blog names our group was considering, his reaction was, “The world is collapsing and you’re trying to think of a name for your blogging group?”
After I had a good laugh about his overreaction, I thought, even if the world is collapsing and especially if the world is collapsing, blogging about books and book groups makes perfect sense. Because reading books and caring about books brings a perspective and a pleasure that can make the outside world go away, at least for as long as it takes to finish the book.
I joined my neighborhood book group five years ago and through it, met some lovely ladies and found out about books I might not otherwise have read. We meet monthly in one of the members’ homes. The member hosting the meeting serves wine, water, soft drinks and snacks and we spend the evening gossiping, eating and drinking, and yes, even talking about the book.
There are book groups and then there are book groups. One of my friends is in a book group that reads Faulkner and is contemplating a field trip to his adopted hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, to learn more about the author’s work.
Then there’s my book group. We aren’t as structured. We read anything from NYT bestsellers to books other members have read, enjoyed and recommended. We start at 7 p.m. and sometimes don’t get around to talking about the book till 8 p.m. or later. Some of the members haven’t quite finished the book or haven’t read it at all. But we all show up because it fulfills some eternal need and offers a sense of camaraderie and feeling of community. And you can walk home, which is a big selling point. And of course, there are the wonderful books, about which we are very serious.
Biggest Book Group Outrage: One of my friends founded a book group 20 years ago and for one reason or another, dropped out. When she was at a point in her life where she wanted to rejoin, they said they had to take a vote to let her back in. She had maintained a small core of friends in the group but the others didn’t know her and said they were already at"maximum capacity." She was outraged to be turned away and I was outraged for her so I invited her to join my book group.
This same friend passed on a funny article she’d recently read about what can go terribly wrong with book groups. When I shared it with my book group, one of our members said, “Are we the only perfect book group?” I’ve provided a link to the article written by Joanne Kaufman, and published Dec. 5, 2008, in The New York Times’ Fashion & Style section, entitled, “Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?”
From the writers’ perspective, another column by Barbara Vey, contributing editor, Publisher’s Weekly, who writes for readers and writers on her blog, Beyond Her Book, in her December 18, 2008, post, When the Going Gets Rough...talks about why books are so important to readers. It’s inspiring and also worth reading.
For our January 2009 selection, our book group is reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a novel by David Wroblewski. But our favorite book for 2008, a disaster by almost any other definition, was The Book Thief by a young Australian author Markus Zusak. It is a compelling story of a young girl in WW II Germany told from the perspective of Death. It is brilliantly written, totally unexpected, and you’ll never cry as hard over any book you’ve ever read. It’s a celebration of life and of reading. From the moment we walked in the door, we couldn’t wait to start talking about the book.

Our challenge is to pick a book we’ll all love. We’re getting ready to choose our selection for the February meeting. I’d love to hear your recommendations and your comments about your book groups.
And, as a bonus, here’s the Best Book Group Cookie Recipe:
From the kitchen of Catherine Goetzke
Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 oz. bag chocolate chips, divided in half
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
1 cup broken nut meats (I always use pecans)
Combine water, butter and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in ½ chocolate chips until melted. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool.
Beat in egg and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts and remaining chocolate chips. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 325 for 9-11 minutes. After removing from oven, let stand on cookie sheets for a couple of minutes before removing to racks to cool.
Note: The dough is very soft and will probably look like it needs more flour. Don’t worry. As it cools, it gets stiffer.
Given the odd amounts of sugar and butter, etc., I find it’s easier to just make a double batch. They’ll get eaten.
Happy reading, writing and eating in 2009!
Marilyn Baron


J Perry Stone said...

Great blog, Marilyn. 'Cept now I'm feeling guilty because I eschew book groups. I use having little kids as the excuse, but the real reason is my aversion to those Gestapo members who would, like they did to your friend, "need to take a vote" on whether to admit me or not.


I'm sure if they let her back in, they'd make her take a test or something.


Tami Brothers said...

Hey Marilyn,

I love the idea of book groups, but my life is so sporadic that I know I’d end up falling behind. I’m also pretty picky about the books I read. I like the idea that you all have a say in choosing the books. The one and only book group I belonged to chose the books and over a 6 month period, I found that I hated them all. I love happy endings and the ‘serious’ group I was in didn’t want to sully the content with fluff. After hearing this I quickly dropped the group. After all, I had much better things to do.

I’m terribly sorry about your friend’s experience. It saddens me that this could happen, especially when someone founded the group. You are a true friend and I’m thrilled to be a part of this with you!!! Have a great week.

Tami Brothers

CiCi Barnes said...

I think anything that gets people together in comaraderie is a good thing, but as noted in your blog, Marilyn, there's always a glitch somewhere. Too bad that group lost out on a great lady, but good for that lady that she had a friend in you.

And, Tami, like you, I would have a problem with most groups who wanted the 'serious stuff'. I save my money for buying books in the genre I want to write in for the most part.

Book groups can be a good thing, but I'm sure to find the one that fits you, there's research involved. Kudos to those who have done so.


Linsey Lanier said...

Excellent blog, Marilyn. Makes me wish I were part of your group.

I enjoyed reading about the comaraderie. Sounds like fun.


Tammy Schubert said...

Great blog post. I'm especially interested in this recipe. When I have some free time, I'm going to have to make these cookies. Thanks for sharing.

Susan said...

Great post. I would love to be a member of a book club, but I've found that when you write I have less time to read, especailly outside of the pleasure I get out of reading romance.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn, I've been wanting to read The Book Thief! I find most of my favorite books by recommendation. Thanks. (You are the best!)

My first reading group was just women, but then we figured out that (shocking secret) boys read, too. The group I'm in now is co-ed. I dig reading books with my husband. He is a smart dude.

It is important for me to set aside time for both writing and reading. Even if I haven't finished the book I love to hear people talking about books and their experience reading. I'm hosting my reading group in January, and we are reading "Looking for Alaska" by John Green.

Ana Aragón said...

Great post, Marilyn.

I haven't belonged to a reading group in over 10 years. We had 12 people and each person got to pick the book of the month. So I always picked a romance! It was great reading authors and genres I wouldn't normally read.

I'm afraid to get involved in one now because of the little personal time I have to myself--I don't want to give up writing time, and my reading is usually taken up with things I want to read...or educational theory.

But I like Nicki's idea of the perfect reading group. To have a couples reading group or co-ed group--now that sounds like fun. One, it is something I could do with hubby that doesn't include fighting over the television remote and, two, there wouldn't be any problems with who gets in because, frankly, guys don't do well with that sort of thing!


Marilyn Baron said...

Reading may take away from writing time but every writer I've ever talked to thinks it's critical and I agree.

I read whenever I get a spare moment, even in line at the post office where there are 6 windows and usually only 2 people working there (one of them is always on a break). That way I don't mind the long lines.

Other books my book group enjoyed in 2008 include:

"Waiting for Snow in Havana" by Carlos Eire

"March" by Geraldine Brooks. I've loved every one of her books. "People of the Book" is her latest and it just came out in paperback.

"Dreamers of the Day" by Mary Doria Russell.

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

"Run" by Ann Patchett.

"My Name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok.

"World Without End" by Ken Follett.

I've also heard that "The Reader" is good. I just saw the movie and it was great.

Another friend is reading the new Wally Lamb Book "The Hour I First Believed" and is enjoying it.

Any other recommendations?

Marilyn Baron

Cinthia Hamer said...

Sorry to be chiming in so late, but I guess that's better than not at all.

Marilyn, I think it's great that your book group is such a wonderful success. Sounds like they're the exception that proves the rule.

From a writer's perspective, I think reader groups can be quite valuable. One person is intrigued by your book and gets the entire group to read it. Broadens readership and those readers may go on to suggest your book to others, and so forth.

Marilyn Baron said...

Susan's comments about liking to read romance brings me to mention some romance books I'm reading or am about to read:

I just finished the third in the Nora Roberts trilogy, "The Pagan Stone."

I'm reading "Fire and Ice" by Julie Garwood.

I have the new Jayne Ann Krentz book "Running Hot," that I'm looking forward to reading.

And tonight a friend in the neighborhood asked me to go with her to Wal-Mart to pick up the new Janet Evanovich book, "Plum Spooky." It is being released at midnight so I asked her to pick it up for me because I'd probably be sleeping.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Marilyn, the blog ate my comment on your cookie recipe yesterday. I looked back today, and it was nowhere to be found. So, here I am again. Looks yummy!

Anonymous said...

Hey Marilyn,
I love your blog post, and I also love my book club - there's only three of us and we end up drinking way too much wine. But, it is a great time, and I even inspired one of my best high school friends to start a book club in S. Fla. She is combining into a "wine and book club." So, she has different wines featured at each meeting - and I think they even try to tie them into the book's location or theme or something.
Thanks for getting me thinking about what to read next. I just finished "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe - great African culture book.
-Jamie Rich

Marilyn Baron said...

That will come in handy for your move to Cameroon.

And again, I loved your piece about "Marrying Faiths" in the Winter/Spring 2009 issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom.

Keep writing!