It’s lucky enough when an author visits a reading group, but how about when the author is an active member of the group?! Lorenzo Carcaterra, author most recently of THE WOLF (which hits bookstores TODAY!), let us know that he meets regularly with The Red Table Book Club, a group started by his daughter, Kate. Of course, we had plenty of questions for the father-daughter duo, and they were kind enough to share their experience with us. Here, Kate answers some questions about The Red Table Book Club --- named for the dining room table in her parents’ apartment --- including the group's history and she shares the books they’ve read together and enjoyed. Lorenzo also adds his thoughts on being a published author in a group of passionate readers.
Make sure to read all the way until the end for some great book selections from members of The Red Table Book Club!
ReadingGroupGuides: How long has the group been meeting?
Kate Carcaterra: My friend Allie and I started the book club in August of 2012. While she no longer participates in the club, we really owe the founding of it to her, and both she and I are delighted to see it so successful.
RGG: Your dad is in the group. How did that come about?
Kate: We had the second meeting at my parents’ apartment so that we could have more space for a now much larger group. I ordered bagels and invited my parents to join us and participate. The book I had selected was UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. While my parents, who hadn’t read the book, at first sat quietly and listened to others speak, it wasn’t long before they dove into our heated discussion as well, offering their own insights. To this day, it was one of our most successful book club meetings --- everyone had something to say. We all decided that the large red dining room table, bagels and my parents were an essential part of our book club and the direction we wanted it to continue in.
RGG: Tell us a bit about the members.
Kate: The members are all friends of mine from different points in my life and, of course, my father. Including myself, we have three high school teachers of different subjects, a lawyer, an economist, an architect, a manager of teacher coaches, a fundraiser, a knifemaker, a classicist and a published author. Because of the diverse interests of our group, we read many different types of books. My mother (Susan Toepfer), who will always be such an essential part of this book club, was an editor. Sadly, she passed away last year, and we all miss her strong voice, unique perspective and passion for literature. We remember her every time we start a new discussion.
RGG: What are some of the other books that you have read?
RGG: How often do you meet and where?
Kate: We meet at my father’s apartment around my mother’s big red table about once a month if possible.
RGG: Who leads the discussion, or how is it facilitated?
Kate: We used to have whoever chose the book facilitate the discussion, but we haven’t had one clear facilitator lately. The conversation just happens naturally. But, we may go back to that…we’ll see!
RGG: Are you good at staying on topic, or does the conversation drift?
Kate: We can get off topic and, honestly, when my mother was present we were much better about not doing that. She was very good at keeping us focused and always pushed the discussion further. But, that having been said, it really also depends quite heavily on the book chosen. UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, CATCH-22 vs. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN and UNORTHODOX were four of our most lively discussions. Everyone just had a lot to say about the books and the topics they addressed, and we were all challenged by each other to dig deeper into what we had read.
RGG: You mention that you had Murray’s Bagels. Are there always refreshments? Who provides?
Kate: I arrive at my dad’s place a bit early in order to get things set up. I order the bagels and do some grocery shopping ahead of time. Other members reimburse me or dad or bake or bring something of their own. And my dad often helps set the table and puts away the dishes at the end.
RGG: Share with us what it is like to be a published author while in a book group. Do others look at you as “an authority?”
Lorenzo: I find the book club fascinating in so many ways --- I love watching the interaction between a group that not only have been friends with my daughter for such a long time but also bring so much passion and humor to the discussion of each book that’s been chosen. I am in no way viewed as an authority and would not even presume to act that part. I am, by far, the oldest of the group, and am always curious by what each one looks for in a book, why they choose a particular book and whether their expectations are met by having read it. For me as an author, it’s a learning experience, to be in a group that so clearly loves to read and love books, to see what they look for, what they like, what they don’t. I think they look at me as a member of the club who just happens to write books. Which in itself is pretty cool.
RGG: Are there other writers in the group?
Kate: There are several of us who really enjoy writing and one member, Matt Speiser, recently signed with a literary agency. It won’t be long before we’re reading one of his books, too!
RGG: Does discussing another author’s work with a group affect your own writing as you hear what resonates with people?
Lorenzo: It doesn’t affect the writing or what stories I choose to tell. But I do pay close attention to what resonates with the group, especially with the novels that have been chosen. Which character they like best and why; what aspects of the plot didn’t work for them and what did. These are very bright young people and if you pay attention you learn what is in a novel that the group as a whole embraces. For example, one of the novels chosen, BEAUTIFUL RUINS, I absolutely loved. There was nothing about it I didn’t like, thought the author hit all the right notes and delivered a wonderful story. I was relieved and pleased that group felt the same way; that our instincts as to what makes a good story were in sync. That pleased me because the book worked and everyone in the room felt a connection with the story. And that’s part of an author’s job --- to connect with an audience.
RGG: Have you discussed your books with book groups as a visiting author, or with your own group?
Kate: We recently read INVISIBLE CITY and one of the members invited the author, Julia Dahl, to visit and participate in our discussion. It was a wonderful opportunity for us all to sit down with the author herself! (Lorenzo will be sharing a piece about that discussion, which you can read on the site next week!)
RGG: What are you reading next?
Kate: Since our next meeting isn’t for a couple of months (because of summer plans etc.), we are reading two books. In addition to my father’s new novel, THE WOLF, group members are each selecting and reading something they’ve wanted to read for a while now, but haven’t yet had the chance to do so. We will all read our selected book (in pairs or on our own) and when we meet in early October, we’ll have a chance to share what we read. This might also help us to select our next book --- one of the most exciting parts of every meeting!
Below are the books that the members have selected --- feel free to read along with them!
THE TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders
STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett
THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE by John Irving
CLASSICAL SPIES by Susan Heuck Allen
THE LOST by Daniel Mendelsohn
GOING CLEAR: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
THE VISIONIST by Rachel Urquhart
EYES ON YOU by Kate White