This morning I had a new and wonderful life experience: I attended a book club. And the book being discussed was mine. You won’t know it when you read this post, but after I wrote those first two sentences, I stopped typing and let the fact of what I’d just written sink in. It’s still sinking in. As positive as the experience was, it was also disorienting: a cross between being Tom Sawyer walking in on my own funeral and meeting a group of clairvoyants for tea. Because suddenly, women I’ve never met before were talking about characters I’ve carried in my heart and mind for years—characters they also seemed to know and care about. It was a dizzying experience, and I recommend it.
As I prepared for my first book club engagement, I did some research: Checked out resources on book clubs (there are many terrific tools available and I list some at the end of this post) and I checked in with authors I like and admire.
I’ve mentioned the writer Erik Larson in earlier posts. He’s the author of numerous fine works of non-fiction and has sold millions of books. Yet, when I read his web site I was surprised to find the following comment about attending book club meetings: “I cannot be present during the actual critique of my book(s). I’m too thin-skinned and things might get ugly.” When I read that statement, it made me laugh. Then it made me think. This could happen. And then what? Would my years of writing workshops help keep my feelings in check? Would I grow defensive? Or worse? I immediately made a mental note: Keep your wits about you. Do not drink during a book club. Later? It may be necessary. But during the meeting, it’s water only.
A few days ago I had lunch with a fellow author who told a funny story about his first book. One day he saw a woman in the library returning it—a first in his early career—and he couldn’t resist asking how she’d liked it. Thinking he was a fellow reader and not the author (jacket photos are not usually big area of interest for most readers) she shook her head and answered, “Oh…I thought it was a little slow.” Of course we both laughed. But again I made a mental note: Do not solicit feedback from strangers who might make me cry.
After living in an apartment for years, my husband and I bought our first house. We had no idea what to expect from the experience, and I credit our devoted and savvy real estate agent for averting more than one catastrophe. I was so in love with the idea of owning my own home that I wanted to buy every house I saw. At one property, a band of uniformed women were washing what looked like blood from the walls of a guest room. I wanted to check the closets. My agent decided it was a crime scene and rushed me back to her car. So when we finally found the house we would come to live in (a sweet little 80-year old bungalow that had just been rehabbed) I didn’t understand my luck. The owner agreed to accept our bid the night we saw the house, then had his agent hand over the keys so we could visit the house as we went through the loan process. The gesture made me love the house a little more. I have never forgotten that kindness. Or my good fortune.
So today, as I spoke with a group of engaged, intelligent, careful readers—women of diverse backgrounds and interests who share a serious love of reading—and I listened to their insights and questions, I remembered again how I felt the night I got that key.
Book club resources you may find helpful:
• The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience, by Diane Loevy
• The Book Group Book, (edited by) Ellen Slezak
• The Reading Group Handbook, by Rachel W. Jacobsohn