Monday, April 03, 2006

If Reading Is Your Hobby-- Start A Book Club

Most people enjoy reading but some of us do it more than others. If reading is one of your favorite things to do, starting a book club is a good way to share your love of reading with your friends and family.

The most difficult part of starting a book club is finding other people who are interested in reading the same types of books as you do. I know from personal experience that a book club will, not flourish if the readers can't agree on what type of genre of books top read. It is true that many book clubbers agree to read various genres and each member will eventually get a turn to choose what the book club selection will be. In my experience, however, we had a group of casual readers who liked to read "fluffy", chick-lit types of books and then a few readers who preferred heavier, thought-provoking books such as The "Da Vinci Code". Our group quickly became defunct when several of the readers just couldn't get through a thick, wordy book. Indeed, we had to keep pushing back the date for our book club meeting because they a few readers couldn't get through the book-- in fact, they just didn't want to. It's never fun to feel forced into reading something, so that is my first advice: pick a group of people with similar reading interests and make sure that everyone really wants to read the selected books.

Book Club Title Ideas

The great thing about book clubs is that there is always new reading material coming out. Check the bestseller lists for hot reads. Current best sellers like "Gone" by Jonathan Kellerman, and "At Risk" by Patricia Cornwell are good choices for most groups. Some other good book club title suggestions include:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. This is a heavy read for intense readers-- also make sure that fellow club members don't have any religious reasons for not wanting to read this book.

Her Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. This book deals with serious family issues when a family member is diagnosed with a terrible disease.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This fantasy novel is about a man who randomly pops backing time-- and also into the future.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This epic book was the subject of some controversy a few years back when the author scoffed at being picked a one of Oprah Winfrey's book club selections (usually considered to be an honor for most authors) but that scuffle doesn't take away from the greatness of the book. A masterpiece about the complexities of families--- and of parents growing old-- this book will make for some intense book club discussions.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. A woman dies unexpectedly and only her dog was a witness to it, so her distraught husband attempts to teach the dog how to speak so he can "tell" him what happened.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold. This haunting book is told from the point of view of a murdered 14 year old girl. It is gritty and brutal and moving. In my own experience, I was dying to use this book in my own book club, but a few book club members couldn't get past the sad theme.

"Chick Lit" books. The chick lit term was coined to describe lighter fare books aimed at the young female demographic. In recent years, popular books like "The Nanny Diaries" by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss, "Bridget Jones Diary" by Helen Fielding and "The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisburger have proven to be fun and very popular book club reads.

Oldies but goodies. Just because a book is a few years-- or even a few decades-- old doesn't mean that it isn't suitable for your book club. Classic books like Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women", "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck, "Emma" by Jane Austen and "The Last of the Mohicans' by James Fenimore Cooper are some suggestions for classic titles. Or what about revisiting a book that you haven't read since high school? Titles like J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye", Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" , Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", and John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" are all classic books that you may not have read ion a few decades.

Book Clubs for Kids

Even though I am adult, I still love reading children's fiction. My own children are still young and don't read yet, but I can't wait until I can begin having a book club with my daughter. It's great fun to share your hobby of reading with your children. Children ages 9 and up can especially dig into young adult titles and these will be books that you can enjoy too. Here are some of my favorite book club titles for children and teens:

Children's Book Cub Title Ideas

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This book, about two children that runaway from home to the Metropolitan Museum, is a classic. It's a Newberry Award winner from the 1970's, but the theme is still timeless. You and your children will love reading this adventurous book.

Mandy by Julie Edwards. This book, written by Mary Poppins alum Julie Andrews (Edwards is her pen name) was one of my favorites growing up. It is about an orphan named Mandy, who dreams of a better life. Always creative and nurturing, Mandy happens upon a little, abandoned cottage that she tries to make her own secret place.

The Bully of Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. Young readers will like reading about Martin Hastings, a misunderstood boy who always seems to get himself into trouble.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Raold Dahl. Your kids have probably seen the movie, which starred Johnny Depp (the original version of this movie, from the 1970s was titled "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and it starred Gene Wilder), which is the story of a poor boy named Charlie who gets to fulfill his life long dream-- to take a tour of a world famous chocolate factory. This book is another classic and one that I would highly recommend as a children's book club selection.

The Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling. Unless you've been living under a rock the past few years, surely you have heard of this popular book series. The Harry Potter books are great book club reads-- and adults and children alike love this fantasy type series. If you're a novice to the series, start with book one, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and work your way through the entire collection.

Your Book Club Meeting

No matter if you are involved in an adult book club or a children's book club, you should set a date for your book club meeting. This means that everyone needs to finish the book by this date. Most book clubs shoot for one book a month, so set a target date of 4 weeks to read the book. You can then meet to discuss the book. This can be a casual meeting at a book store or at someone's home. It's always nice to serve some snacks and make it more of social event. Very ambitious book clubbers can meet for a once a month book club dinner. Potluck style dinners are best-- that is, each member can bring a hot dish, salad or dessert and you can enjoy a feast while you discuss your book. My most recent book club meetings were always held at restaurants, so the club members could enjoy a nice, relaxing dinner out as we discussed our book.

So what do you talk about at the book club meeting? It can get very easy to get off track. If your book club meeting is with a bunch of your girlfriends that you only see once a month, you may find yourself talking about the latest gossip instead of talking about the book! To avoid this problem, set a loose format up and try to stick to it. It could be that you start off with a snack and some talk about the latest news and then you can retreat to the living room to talk about the book.

Book club discussion questions. I have found that the best way to probe into the book is to ask some hard and fast questions. I like to hear how others have interpreted the books -- their opinions may be completely different from mine. Here are a few key book club questions that can work in just about any club situation:

Were the characters in the story well developed? Who was your favorite character and why? Did this character remind you of anyone that you know?
What was your favorite part of the book and why?
What was your least favorite part of the book and why?
Was there a character in the book that you feel that you did not get to know very well?
Were there any issues in the book that you felt were unresolved?

You can also ask each participant to read a passage from the book and then ask the group a question about it.

Other types of book clubs. If you have found that your friends just aren't into the idea of starting a book club, you have several other options. Most libraries and bookstores sponsor monthly book clubs. Talk show diva, Oprah Winfrey, sporadically sponsors her own book club selections and she usually devotes an entire show to the discussion. You can log into her website's message boards to participate in online book club discussions about her most recent selections (some recent books include the controversial James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" and "Night" by Elie Wiesel). In addition, you can always go online and find an online book club for just about any of the most popular bestsellers and authors.

No matter which way you choose to do it, a book club is a great way to expand upon your hobby of reading. Sharing your thoughts and ideas with family, friends and even strangers will make your book club experience an enriching one.

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