Episode 22

All About Book Clubs!

Welcome to the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly show that answers your questions about life, love, and literature! My special guest host this week is the wonderful and informative Swapna Krishna. Swapna is a veritable book club expert, so I recruited her to discuss four listener-submitted questions about how to start a book club, how to maintain peace among members, how to pick books for meetings (scroll down for some of Swapna’s suggestions!), and much, much more. We get into the real nitty-gritty of book clubs, so don’t miss it!

Swapna is a freelance editor, writer, and book reviewer. She’s been blogging for six years at S. Krishna’s Books and lives in Washington, DC. She also writes for Book Riot and Panels! You can find her on Twitter @Skrishna. Thanks for joining me, Swapna!

This episode was sponsored by Random House Audio and Kobo.

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QUESTIONS DISCUSSED:

Dear Book Nerd:

I have recently started a book club in an effort to open myself to experiencing books I would not come across by my own volition. However, despite the fact that I am finding new literary adventures, I find myself becoming frustrated. The group started out strong but has began waning when others aren’t interested in the book we are discussing. I am torn between the need to stress to the members that they should be vested in everyone’s choices, not just their own and the desire to just dissolve the group and going back to choosing books on my own. What is your opinion of reading in a book club vs. reading on ones own? Do you think it’s best to walk away from the experiment before anyone’s feelings get really hurt over the lack of participation? I need your guidance. Book Nerd, you’re my only hope.

Sincerely, fellow book addict,

Karla

Dear Book Nerd:

I’ve recently relocated to a new city and in the hopes of making new friends, have decided to join a few book clubs. I’ve signed up for a few on meetup.com but haven’t gotten up the guts to attend any yet.

The problem is – I’m pretty socially awkward and have never been part of a book club. I work with literary journals, review books for a review website, and am a school librarian, but I’m still worried I’ll somehow embarrass myself. I know it’s silly, but new group-based social situations are mildly terrifying to me so I am over analyzing it a bit.

Do I need extensive notes on each book for the meetings, or just a general idea of how I felt when reading them? Is it okay to have not finished a book if you really weren’t enjoying it? I ask because a lot of the book clubs here are focused on classics, which I sometimes (but do not always) enjoy.

Basically, I am wondering if book clubs are a good place to meet new people and what are the best ways to prepare for the first meeting.

Thanks for your help!

Sincerely,

Kimberly

Dear Book Nerd,

First, I love the podcast, and anxiously await each new episode, as it is one commute that is guaranteed to be lively and interesting! I love your guest hosts and frequently have to go back to write down books that you have mentioned! I live in a very small community in the South, and the tri-county area seems totally devoid of book clubs. My local branch has said they would start a book club in the fall, once they get past the kids’ summer activities. I have a few concerns: one, that there will not be enough interest in a book club and two, that the books picked will tend more towards New York Times bestsellers, as opposed to Pulitzer or National Book Award winners (I read genre fiction most of the time, I just want to discuss the deeper stuff). So my questions are, how do I safely start a book club on my own? Is it appropriate to set parameters – for instance, I am a single mom in my 40’s, going to grad school – is it politically correct to try to stay in that same population? I have thought of putting an ad on Craigslist, but hoped there were a safer way to find fellow bibliophiles in my area. I have so many friends, but very few are readers or have similar tastes, and unfortunately, those who do read similarly, live in other states. (I have even attempted to bribe my friends with food – to no avail!) I really want to find some people I can talk books with, whose eyes will not glaze over as I describe the latest treasure I have found and read! Thanks!!

Lonely Reader

Dear Book Nerd,

Let me begin by saying that I love the podcast! I love everything books and I highly enjoy listening to others talk about books. One of my favorite podcasts was about the little boy who wanted to read aloud from a Stephen King book to his elementary school classmates! Kudos to his mother for allowing him to read whatever he wants to read regardless of “the rules.”

Let me get to the point. I have some questions regarding book clubs. (I am hopeful that you will do a podcast soon regarding book clubs.) I am a part of two very different book clubs and I need some help when it comes to the guidelines of said book clubs. I feel that the point of a book club is to read and discuss a book that I or someone else may otherwise have not read and the point is basically to encourage and increase the amount of reading being done by all involved. I hope that you can give me some pointers.

Book Club 1 – I love to read and am constantly trying to push books on my friends, coworkers, students, what have you. My friends know me as the book nerd and always humor me when I gush about the latest book I’ve read or want to read. I’ve actually managed to wrangle some of my friends into starting up a book club with me (my first). I suggested the first book and they all loved it. It actually has inspired some meaningful dialogue at our bi-monthly meetings and now we all look forward to our book club meetings with genuine excitement (yay!). I am the unofficial leader and typically set meeting times and locations for our meetings. (I try to match our location meetings to coincide with what we’re reading; for example, we met for Italian food when we were reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. So fun!) Anyhow, we are currently reading a book that is a little difficult to follow and I’m not getting the same enthusiasm from the other members as I did from our first two books. I do not decide what is to be read; I simply suggest since I’ve got a long list of TBRs. I then allow everyone an opportunity to research their own suggestions or to go with a book on my suggested list (I definitely take the other members’ taste into consideration when suggesting books). They don’t hate what we’re reading now, but I just don’t want to lose momentum. Do you have any suggestions?

Book Club 2 – My second book club is made up of high school students. I am a special education teacher at a high school and am also the advisor of the school’s book club. I have a great bunch of students that are super enthusiastic about reading. So enthusiastic, that they have the tendency to finish books when I’ve only assigned them to read, say, four chapters before the next meeting. I love the enthusiasm, but it is a little bit frustrating when I only want to discuss the assigned reading and kids are blowing their tops because they know the ending of the book already! It’s unfair to kids that can’t afford the time to read extra and it’s difficult to stick to discussions about the assigned reading. We end up adding extra chapters to read so the “slow readers” can finish and we can finally discuss the entire book. I notice that some students feel bad because they aren’t “caught up” and they have to deal with spoilers at our meetings. (This was an issue with Book Club 1, and we decided that we would NEVER READ AHEAD. We found that it is hard to predict what will happen as a group if you’ve read ahead, and everybody hates the person with the “I KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN” face. We are so strict, that one member threw her book in the trunk of her car to keep from reading ahead.) This has made my high school book club a bit of a disorganized mess and it is frustrating to all of the members. How do I ensure that kids stop where they are supposed to stop? How do I ensure that joining this club will not add a load to the students already heavy load of homework, projects, extra-curricular activities, etc. The club is supposed to be fun and we’re supposed to be reading for pleasure. Any advice?Book clubs are supposed to be fun and encourage reading. Maybe there are no rules, but the ones decided by the members, but I could really use some guidelines.

P.S. Some of my high school book clubbers are rebels! Can you believe that they have to hide their reading from their parents? One student told me that when she gets in trouble at home, her mother says “It’s because of those books you read! They give you ideas!” Isn’t that hilarious? I never thought I’d hear the day when a parent would want to discourage their child from reading!

Pusher and gusher of books,

Cecilia

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SWAPNA’S BOOK CLUB SUGGESTIONS:

All of these books are available in paperback and below 400 pages.

Fiction

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (above the 400 page limit, but the best book club discussion we’ve had)

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns – Margaret Dilloway

Gold – Chris Cleave

Short Girls – Bich Minh Nguyen

The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar

Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok

Secret Daughter – Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Nonfiction

Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts – Neil White

Sticks and Stones – Emily Bazelon

The Girl from Foreign – Sadia Shepard

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Zealot – Reza Aslan

The Astronaut Wives’ Club – Lily Koppel

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