Books You've Read in a Day
Have you ever read a book in a single day? Read on to find out what book captured the attention of contributor Jamie Layton, the manager of an Outer Banks bookstore, and inspired her to finish it in one sitting...
I'm a fast reader, I'll be the first to admit it. The lead article of the monthly e-newsletter I write for the bookstore (subscribe at duckscottage.com
) is a compilation of reading recommendations based on customer reports, critics reviews and, primarily, my own reading. Some months even I'm amazed at the number of books I've gotten read. That said, though, it is still a rare thing for me to start and finish a book in one day, but that's just what I did yesterday.
To be fair, my family from Pennsylvania has been here for a few weeks so, after working a morning coffee shift at the store (every single one of our college kids is gone), I grabbed this month's Duck's Cottage reading group selection off the shelf and headed straight to a beach chair in Kitty Hawk. Our reading group is getting ready to discuss The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
by Maggie O'Farrell
; it isn't a thick book (288 pages), which is why I waited until I only had a week before the meeting to pick it up. That said, I still never expected to finish it before I went to bed that night.
Maggie O'Farrell's contemporary novel, set almost exclusively in Edinburgh, focuses on Iris, a young woman who runs a vintage clothing store and lives in a converted attic. She has little memory of her father, who died when she was young; primarily telephone contact with her mother, who lives in Australia; an odd relationship with a man she calls her "step-brother" though I'm not sure their parents ever married; and a new, married lover. A letter arrives followed by phone call after phone call from the Cauldstone, a mental hospital just on the other side of town. Apparently, they need some assistance with one Euphemia Lennox. Iris, having never heard of this person, is finally convinced to pay Cauldstone a visit where she learns that Euphemia is the paternal great-aunt she never knew about. Cauldstone is closing and attempting to relocate all of their patients, including her aunt, who has been a resident for over sixty years.
O'Farrell does a wonderful job interweaving the stories of Euphemia/Esme, her sister Kitty, Iris' grandmother, now an Alzheimer's patient with little recollection of the past thirty years; and Iris. For a good part of their childhood, Esme and Kitty lived in colonial India raised more by their amahs than by their cold, disconnected parents. Several plot twists will be predicted by more astute readers but are satisfying nonetheless. I wish I could say more about this book, but it is such a slim read and so finely crafted I really can't without ruining it. Suffice it to say, it is definitely worth consideration for your book group or just for a pleasurable day of reading on your own!
Besides the compelling story, O'Farrell has used an interesting trick that surprisingly works in a book with over 200 pages. No chapters, not one. Interspersed throughout the novel at appropriate divisions are center spaced asterisks, dividing one person's story from another's, but no real breaks. Which perhaps is why I never took a real break (well, except for a shower and dinner) and finished the book in eight hours. It was a perfect late-summer book for our group and is going to be an interesting discussion as it brings up some moral personal questions rather like The Memory Keeper's Daughter
. And, of course, it now has a special spot on the list titled "Books I Read in a Day."
What titles have YOU read in a day or one sitting? Inquiring minds want to know --- please comment!
What's So Great About a Book Club?
Book club members no doubt have a variety of opinions on why they enjoy being in a reading group. Here is Trish Collins' take...
Click here to read Trish's previous post about the trying time she had finding a book club to call her own.
Most readers have probably been reading longer than they've been in a book club. And a book club's not necessary for the enjoyment and discussion of books. So what's so great about a book club?
The best thing about a book club was made clear to me a couple of meetings ago. The book we'd chosen, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
, was disliked by everyone except for the lone member who'd recommended it. After we went around and talked about what we liked and disliked about the book (actually...most of us talked about what we didn't like, not what we liked), this lone member talked about what she DID like. As the discussion progressed, the lone member defended the book and tried to get us to see deeper into the book. Towards the end, she read some passages and talked about what she thought the author was trying to get at...passages that, while I had read them, I had thought to be silly and dumb. Now I see I just missed the point.
I don't like An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
anymore now than I did the second I finished it, but I do appreciate it more.
After leaving the book group, I really thought about how I read. Am I really getting what I should be getting out of the book? I read for pleasure, so I don't think about a book to the point where I could write an essay, but perhaps I should linger a little longer, not jump to the next book quite so fast, let my palette savor what I've just read. How many other times have I missed the point?
I've decided that the great thing about a book club is I get a little more insight on a book. It gives me the opportunity to slow down and really think about what I've read. It's okay if I missed something, because someone else will probably bring it up. It makes me appreciate what I'm reading just a little bit more. The food, the giggling, the book talk, all of that takes a back seat to what I really love about a book club: understanding and appreciating what I've read just a little bit more.
What's so great about your book club?
Joshua Henkin: Shouting Matches and More
Guest blogger Joshua Henkin explores his fascination with reading groups and shares some of the memorable moments he's had visiting with book club members from coast to coast --- including one meeting that erupted in a shouting match over a plot point in his most recent novel, Matrimony. Joshua, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, is also the author of
Swimming Across the Hudson.
These days, when my four-year-old daughter sees me putting on my coat, she says, "Daddy, are you going to a book group?" And when I cancel yet another racquetball game, my racquetball partner says to me, "Good god, what's with you and book clubs?"
What is with me and book clubs? Since the publication of Matrimony
less than a year ago, I've visited book clubs in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania --- and in Michigan, California, and Oregon. And those are just the ones I've visited in person. If you count the book clubs I've visited by phone and online, I'm up to almost sixty --- north of the Mason-Dixon Line and south of it, and in all four time zones. "You're a book club slut," a friend of mine said, and all I could do was shrug.
I have a policy. I won't drive more than two hours each way to visit a book club. But then a book club calls, and they really want to meet me, and, yes, it's a two-hour-twenty-minute drive, but what's an extra twenty minutes?
As I get into my car, I wonder: Is this simply wanderlust, my longstanding love affair with the American highway, with the late-night stops for gas, potato chips, and caffeine? Have I been seduced by the food and drink that gets served at book clubs so that when I think of the best meals I've had this past year, images comes to me of a dining room in Portland, and a deck overlooking the New Jersey shore? Is it that I, one of three sons, want nothing more than entry into this female world of book clubs, where men, it seems, aren't allowed unless that man is the writer? (I've reversed things with my own family. I have a wife and two small daughters. Even our golden retriever is a girl!) Is it that writers are voyeurs at heart, and what writer would turn down the chance to enter someone's living room and talk to a group of people he's never met?
It's all those things, certainly, but it's a lot more than that. Only at book clubs do I encounter people who have read my novel so carefully they remember details I myself have forgotten. I've been forced to think about the writing process, about the different choices I made in writing Matrimony
, and I've become a better, more thoughtful writer because of that. From Greenwich to Detroit to Marin County, I've been asked sophisticated, probing questions by highly intelligent women, and I've learned more from these women than I have from the critics. I've been praised, certainly, but I've also been prodded and called to task. At a terrific dessert place in Westchester, over sangria and key lime pie, a woman said to me, "In all honesty, I didn't really like your book." The other book club members rushed to my defense, and I, in turn, rushed to my critic's defense. Every reader's opinion is valid --- certainly as valid as the author's opinion. Once a book is out there, it's out there.
A book club in New Jersey made a different dessert for each state where Matrimony
takes place, and I had to match the dessert to the location. I'll avoid spoilers, but there's a moment in Matrimony
that has generated a great deal of controversy among book groups. The wife did something, the husband did something back: Who was right? A literal shouting match erupted at one book club, and I was forced to play referee.
At the end of a book club meeting in Michigan, the hostess said to me, "Joshua, if you could give us one piece of advice about marriage, what would that be?"
I sat tongue-tied, surrounded by women almost twenty years older than I am, all of whom had been married for more than twenty-five years. I had just made it to forty and had gotten married only five years earlier. Perhaps I hadn't chosen the right title for my book.
Not long ago, I received a call from a woman whose book group I had visited. She had a sister in Seattle, she explained. Was I interested in going out there and meeting with her book group?
"But I live in New York," I reminded her.
"The girls are great," she persisted. "I'm sure they'd really like you. And my sister's an amazing cook!"
Alas, I had to explain, there are limits to my endurance. But there's the phone. And there's Skype and other video conference programs. I haven't learned how to use them yet. I'm like the woman in that Roz Chast New Yorker
cartoon: HOW GRANDMA SEES THE REMOTE CONTROL. Every button says, "Press this and your house will explode!"
But I'm willing to learn. Perhaps the future of book clubs will involve authors and readers communicating by computer. You'll get to meet my wife and daughters. I'll still see your living room, but you'll see my living room right back!
--- Joshua HenkinJhenkin@slc.edu
Garth Stein: The Art of Visiting a Reading Group
Today's guest blogger is Garth Stein, who ruminates on an author's responsibilities when visiting book clubs --- and shares interesting details like how he came up with the name Enzo for the canine narrator in his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. For a chance to win a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, along with a beach bag filled with summertime essentials, enter Bookreporter.com's Beach Bag of Books contest.
has become so small, it seems, with the Internet. Messages that used to take weeks to deliver, now take seconds. What used to be a long and formal process of contacting an author via his or her publisher is practically non-existent.
I get around a dozen e-mails a day from readers of my book. And I respond to each of them (though my response process sometimes harkens to the old days
and takes a couple of weeks or more). Through this process, I've discovered something that many authors --- like my friend Jennie Shortridge
--- already knew: readers are thirsty for insight from the authors of books they enjoy, and they are happy to invite authors to join their reading group discussions.
Reading is a solitary sport
. Whether we read alone, read in a group, or have someone read to us, the images and ideas that are evoked by the text are completely individual to us. I like to say that writing is a dialogue, not a monologue. The writer is not shouting commands: "you will now see a red car
!" The writer is suggesting things from his or her experiences, and the reader must bring his or her own set of experiences to the table to complete the deal. In other words, the answer to the age old question about the tree falling in the woods
: if there's nobody to hear it, then no, it doesn't make any noise. With a book, if there's nobody to read it, it, too, remains forever silent.
With this in mind, the job of an author visiting a discussion group isn't to provide answers, but to share a little insight. To give a little perspective. One of the questions I'm most frequently asked, for instance, is about the meaning of the zebra. (Those of you who've read The Art of Racing in the Rain
know about the zebra.) Well, the zebra
means a lot. But it means different things to different people. It would be unfair and unrealistic of me to expect every reader to glean the same exact message from the zebra. And so I am deliberately aloof in answering questions about the zebra. Instead, I'd like to hear what you, the reader, thinks.
But there are other questions that give some fun background. For instance, I'm often asked where the name Enzo
comes from, and I have a funny story to tell about that. It's information that isn't in the book; when I tell people the story, they gain insight into the book. It doesn't change the book's meaning, and it certainly isn't knowledge that's necessary to understand the book. It's simply some extra fun.
I love participating in discussions when I have the time. I prefer iChat
, as the video makes me feel like I'm on the Starship Enterprise
or something, but a speakerphone works just as effectively. I usually tell the group I'm visiting with that I'm available for twenty minutes, but I always end up staying on for thirty or more because we get caught up in the discussion!
The bottom line is, most writers love to chat with a group of people who have read their books and are curious about the book and the writer. I mentioned that reading is a solitary sport. So is writing
! After the book comes out, a writer really wants to know that people are reading it, enjoying it, and telling others about it.
So read your books and then take advantage of our small world: go contact the author and ask him or her to join you for your discussion. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many writers are happy to oblige!
Lisa See's Thank You to Book Clubs
Earlier this month Lisa See wrote about how book clubs have changed over the years. In this encore guest post she explains why she owes a debt of gratitude to book clubs. Lisa is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
These days, every writer --- and publisher too, for that matter --- will tell you that it's important to reach out to book clubs. But few people talk about how important book clubs are to writers. I don't mean that a book's success or failure can hinge on whether or not book clubs buy our books. (Don't get me wrong. This is a wonderful thing and very important, and I'm grateful to all the book clubs who have bought my books.) I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the inspiration and courage book clubs give writers to sit down, be vulnerable to emotions (and possible criticism), and write from the heart.
Let's go back in time about five years. I think I had a pretty good reputation as a writer. I was "critically acclaimed, meaning I got good reviews but not many people read my books. When I sat down to write Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
, people --- friends, other writers, folks in publishing --- told me, "No one's going to read that book." They had all sorts of reasons: it took place in the past. It took place in China. It was about women. Worse, it was about women's friendship. It was sometimes heartbreakingly sad. And that footbinding stuff! Yuck! No one's going to read it.
All that doom and gloom was actually quite freeing. If you think no one's going to read your book, then you can write whatever you want, and I did. Well, to my great surprise, everyone was wrong. Now I can look back and say with absolute certainty that the success of Snow Flower
was due 100% to book clubs. Over these past four years, I've visited or talked by speaker phone to something like 200 book clubs. It's been in these conversations --- which are sometimes about the book but more often about life --- that readers in book clubs have inspired me. They've encouraged me to go deeper, to feel deeper, and to write deeper.
This was a great help as I started writing Peony in Love
, which is a historical novel base
d on the
true story of three lovesick maidens in 17th-century China who together wrote the first book of its kind to have been written and published by women anywhere in the world. I suppose you could say this was another one of those subjects that "no one was going to read," and in many ways I was going out much farther on a limb. Peony in Love
has many of the same elements as Snow Flower ---
footbinding, women, China, the past --- but I also chose to write the novel as a Chinese ghost story, which is about as different from a western ghost story as you can get. But more than anything, I wanted Peony in Love
to be an exploration of the different aspects of love: pity love, gratitude love, respectful love, erotic love, mother love.
In my conversations with book clubs about Snow Flower
, we often talked about the different aspects of love. What I learned from women in book clubs is that nearly all our actions and relationships connect to the various aspects of love and their offshoots --- hate, jealousy, envy, boredom, desire, anger, etc. Again, these weren't conversations about plot or characters, but about our lives: how we felt about our children, our husbands or boyfriends, friends, work, responsibilities to parents, loss, failure, birth, marriage, and death. But it's one thing to talk about and be inspired to write about these things and quite another to actually sit down and write about them.
A few centuries ago, a Chinese woman writer said that writers have to "cut to the bone" for their writing to be good and meaningful. I believe that's true. At the same time, it's difficult, challenging, and often grueling to do it. After all, who wants to wake up in the morning and say, "Ah, today I get to cut to the bone and go to some very dark and sad places just like I did yesterday and just like I'll do tomorrow"? I don't mean to sound like a big baby, but this is hard, hard, hard, and it takes an emotional toll. Because, you see, writers live these experiences as we write them. They aren't something separate from us; they are us. But again, it's women in book clubs who've inspired me to do just that. They push me. They cajole me. They tease me. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. They give me inspiration and encouragement, and for that I'm forever grateful, honored, and deeply indebted. As one of my characters might say, Ten-thousand thank yous.
--- Lisa See
Rules or No Rules?
Does your reading group have a set of ground rules? Heather Johnson tells us why her book club, which has been going strong for three years, recently instituted some rules --- and what they are.
My book club has been growing since we began in Summer '05. Recently, though, we've had a growth spurt, adding 5 new members over the past several months (with 3 joining last month alone). Our regular attending members now number 18, and there are others who always intend to come but never make it.
We realize that the influx of new members has the potential to change our club drastically, for better or worse. To avoid the "worse" we decided to spend some time establishing guidelines that we could all live with. Here's what we decided on:
1. Three times a year we'll stay a bit longer at our regular meeting to choose the books and set meeting dates for the next four months. Everyone can bring a book to suggest; the four books with the most votes will be chosen.
2. No one is obligated to host. We're happy to meet at a quiet restaurant, church, or other space.
3. New members are great, but we don't want to get too big. For now our membership is open, but we may decide to close it at a later date.
4. A reasonable reading goal is 100 pages per week. The time between meetings will vary based on the book we're reading.
5. If you can't finish a book in the allotted time you are still welcome to attend the meeting. But if you are consistently not reading, do you really want to be in the book club?
6. We are definitely interested in meeting/speaking with authors and are willing to rearrange our book schedule if the opportunity arises.
We also discussed having a family party once a year. The group was split on this one --- exactly half said yes, and exactly half said no --- but when I asked who would be willing to plan and host, no one stepped up...so we nixed that idea!
These guidelines are something new for us --- I never thought we'd be a "rule" group. Does your club have "rules"? If so, are they similar to our guidelines? Do you find that they are restricting or that they help keep things running smoothly? Obviously we're hoping for the latter. We want to preserve what we love about our club while adding fresh perspectives at the same time. Wish us luck!
Book Clubs and Romance
Ellen Higuchi knows all about romance. She's a Romance Expert for Borders, and five years ago she launched a Romance Book Group at the company's Los Gatos, California, store. Here she talks about how the group came to be and how it has a different take than a traditional book club. She also shares some recommended reads.
When I was asked by my store manager to start a romance book group, I was a little leery but kind of excited. I wasn't comfortable with public speaking or leading discussions. But...I've been a romance reader since my mid-teens, and I didn't know anyone else who was as obsessed with the genre as I was with whom I could discuss books and authors and plots. If there were others like me who'd be interested in meeting regularly to talk about a hobby that took up a lot of my spare time, I was willing to give it a go.
As a Romance Expert for Waldenbooks (and now for Borders), I received many Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) of upcoming romance books. Hmm, what a great lure to attract people to the new book group! We started in early 2003, with only four or five regulars, with the intention of discussing a particular topic each month and reporting back on ARCs I had given out the previous month. After a few months, our meetings had evolved into mini-review sessions of new and future releases.
Now we have an average of fifteen regular attendees who review between twenty and thirty books every month. Some of our members read a book or two a month; others read 15+. We read everything: historical, contemporary, paranormal, romantic suspense, time travel, erotic romance, and category romance, as well as books outside of the romance genre that have strong romantic elements. However, most of us have very definite likes and dislikes when it comes to reading romance. Some prefer romantic suspense but will read anything. Some will read anything but a paranormal; others love them. Because of this diversity in our preferred subgenres of romance, we realized early on that the traditional book group format of everyone reading the same book every month wouldn't work for us. There would always be some members who had absolutely no interest in reading whatever title we chose. We discovered that reviewing many books rather than having everyone read the same book was a great way to find new authors as well as good reads outside of our own favorite subgenres within romance.
What do I do with all the feedback? Because I'm a Borders Romance Expert, I send the reviews to the Borders romance buyer, Sue Grimshaw, at our corporate headquarters every month. She also loves the genre and is a voracious romance reader, but with the number of romance books released it's impossible to read everything. She can use our input on books and trends to keep up with the opinions of actual readers. And our opinions are brutally honest, ranging from, "I loved it! I reread it right away" to "It was awful --- I threw it across the room after three chapters." Through all the feedback, we've also gotten to know each other well enough to be able to recommend specific books or to give specific ARCs to members who we know will enjoy them.
At about half of our meetings we have guest authors, who in the past have included Jasmine Haynes/Jennifer Skully
, Shelley Adina
, Veronica Wolff
, Jami Alden
, Bella Andre
, Monica McCarty
and Candice Hern
, as well as many others. They have all graciously spent time with us and, of course, autographed copies of their wonderful books for us, too.
Each monthly meeting is a wonderful opportunity to share opinions and laughs, and to talk about romance books with an amazing group of women who share a love of the genre. If you're in or around Los Gatos, California, on the last Thursday of the month, please stop by and join in on the fun!
Recent recommended reads:Border Lass
, Amanda Scott (September, 2008)Cry Wolf
, Patricia BriggsCutting Loose
, Susan AndersenDark Light
, Jayne Castle (September, 2008)Death Angel
, Linda HowardFlashpoint
, Jill ShalvisHidden
, Eve KeninThe Ideal Wife
, Mary Balogh
The Last Stand trilogy (Trust Me
), Brenda NovakThe Mane Attraction
, Shelly Laurenston (November, 2008)Mercury's War
, Lora Leigh (September, 2008)Power Play
, Deirdre Martin (October, 2008)Promises Reveal
, Sarah McCarty (October, 2008)Some Like It Wicked
, Teresa MedeirosSweet Spot
, Susan MalleryTribute
, Nora RobertsUndead and Unworthy
, MaryJanice Davidson
Kimberla Lawson Roby: Book Clubs --- So Much Fun and also a Great Learning Experience
Today's guest blogger is Kimberla Lawson Roby, whose novels include Sin No More and Love and Lies. Her most recent book is the novella One in a Million. Ever learn more than you'd expected about the other members of your book club? Kimberla has...
After writing a number of books over the last twelve years, there is one thing I am now absolutely certain of...book clubs are the best thing to ever happen for authors and readers. It is the reason I love them so and can't help holding a very special place in my heart for book clubs throughout the entire country. It is the reason I try my best to visit privately with at least one book club in every single city I travel to during my tours and the reason I have been a member of a book club myself for nine years.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that most book club meetings offer mouth-watering hor'dourves, other tasty dishes, and delectable desserts, but even more so are the very detailed and sometimes extremely emotional reading group discussions that center around that chosen monthly reading selection as well as the personal lives of each member. Over the years, I have seen and heard just about everything imaginable --- side-splitting laughter, joyful and/or sorrowful tears, and yes, some very intense debating.
For example, I'll never forget the time my book club (ten women) decided that it would be nice to invite our husbands and boyfriends to read the monthly book selection and then join us on a beautiful Saturday evening in July for the actual discussion. I remember how we were all very excited about doing something different and how the men in our lives seemed just as thrilled about it as we were. Actually, my husband was so thrilled, he offered to take the meeting to a whole new level and turn it into a reading group cookout! Which was fabulous because whenever it was my turn to host my particular meetings, there was NEVER any cooking being done on my part. No, for me, it had always been catering all the way, so having grilled meats and homemade side dishes was truly going to be a welcomed change. As a matter of fact, when the day finally arrived, my fellow members couldn't wait to tease me about the fact that I was finally serving something that hadn't been purchased from or prepared by some stranger!
But what a wonderful time we had from the beginning. We started out on the deck, all eighteen of us (one of our members and her husband were out of town for the weekend) and we enjoyed great food, great conversation, and just the idea of being in each other's company. But then, after an hour or so, we began discussing the book, and when the subject of living wills, insurance policies, and future spouses came up (once a current spouse was dead and gone), well, that's when our happy conversation took a turn in another direction.
It was amazing to hear one wife state matter-of-factly that she had no intention of leaving anything more for her loving husband than the amount it would take to bury her and take care of their two children until they were adults. The reason: she wasn't about to leave anything extra for her husband and any future wife he might consider taking on. This, of course, might have been fine, except based on the mortified look on her husband's face, it was pretty obvious he'd never heard her say this before. Then, there was the husband who said that if he died, he didn't want any new love interests of his wife ever stepping foot inside his home or spending time with his children, not for all eternity. Of course, everyone laughed out loud and even more so when my husband asked him, "And as a dead man, how exactly are you planning to enforce all of this?"
I must say, though, that unlike some of the other spouses in attendance, I wasn't surprised by my husband's response because we'd both decided a long time ago that when the inevitable does happen and sadly one of us does pass away, we wholeheartedly want the other person to be well taken care of financially and if possible, find happiness with someone else. But the good news is that even though we had agreed on this heartfelt life and death philosophy, years before this particular meeting took place, it was our book club's general discussion that made it all become more of a reality for me.
It was this discussion that further confirmed my belief that book clubs really are the best thing to ever happen for authors and readers.
---Kimberla Lawson Roby
Amy Bloom's Dessert Lasagna Recipe
Yesterday we shared Amy Bloom's recipe for lasagna. Now we have an even more intriguing recipe that you can dish up at your next reading group gathering, one that's sure to be as talked-about as your book selection: Amy Bloom's Dessert Lasagna. Amy Bloom's Insanely Complicated Dessert Lasagna
1 fresh pineapple, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3-6 tablespoons coconut cream (depends how gummy the cream cheese is)
1/4 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup diced ripe mango
For strawberry sauce:
3 ounces strawberries, chopped
7 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup sugar
Stand one half of pineapple upright. Position a large sharp knife at top of pineapple, at outer edge of core, and slice downward to cut pineapple into two pieces. Set aside piece that does not contain core for assembly of dish, and cut core out of other section. Repeat with the other half of pineapple. Dice enough of cored sections to produce 1/4 cup diced pineapple.
Puree cream cheese and coconut cream in a food processor until very smooth, then transfer mixture to a large bowl. Beat heavy cream in a chilled bowl with whisk until it just holds soft peaks. Fold whipped cream, mango, and diced pineapple into cream cheese mixture and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Make strawberry sauce:
Place strawberries in a food processor or blender and sprinkle with sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, then process until smooth. Strain and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Preheat broiler. Starting with wider sides, cut 6 thin slices from each half of reserved pineapple using a mandoline or sharp knife, for a total of 12 slices. Trim slices so they are evenly rectangular, lay on a greased baking sheet, and sprinkle with sugar. Broil until sugar melts and browns, about 10 minutes. (If you have a torch, you can use it.)
To assemble one "lasagna": Lay 1 slice of pineapple, sugar side up, on a plate. Spread with coconut whipped cream, then top with another slice of pineapple, sugar side up, and more coconut cream. Finish with a third slice of pineapple, sugar side up. Repeat to form 3 more "lasagnas." Decorate with strawberry sauce and serve.
This is either very impressive, or, if you get a little sloppy, like something out of Friday the 13th. Good luck!
Amy Bloom's Lasagna Recipe
If you're looking for a decadent dish to prepare for your next reading group discussion, Amy Bloom has shared her lasagna recipe with us. Amy is the author of several books, including the novels Away and Love Invents Us. Click here to read Amy's essay "La Divina Commedia," in which she talks about her life with lasagna.
Amy Bloom's Lasagna
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine (any cheap chianti will do)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (add a few shakes of red pepper flakes, if you like it Diablo)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, veal, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and wine. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water (with a spoonful of olive oil in it) to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with olive oil spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Deborah Rodriguez: Unexpected Book Club Bounty
Deborah Rodriguez spent several years living in Afghanistan, an experience she recounts in Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. In today's blog post she talks about her quest to locate a copy of the Oprah's Book Club selection
The Good Earth...and the similarities between reading groups and beauty salons.
Living in Afghanistan for five years, I had only heard about book clubs from watching re-runs of Oprah. But in September of 2004, I decided I wanted to be part of one of America's favorite pastimes, so I unofficially joined Oprah's Book Club. I googled Oprah and saw that everyone was reading The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck.
So I emailed a girlfriend in the States and asked her if she could send me the book. She was delighted to do it until she went to the post office and discovered how much it cost to send one small book to Afghanistan. I was out of luck.
Living in a war zone is stressful, and as the days went on, I started to get desperate. I just wanted to do something to make myself feel normal. I asked all the expatriate customers in the salon if they had a copy of the book, but no one did. In fact, my search seemed sort of ridiculous; after all , no one was living a very normal life --- some of the women traveled to the salon in a three-car convoy with armed security men and others arrived right after a roadside bomb had exploded. And here I was, hunting for a book!
It seemed that I wouldn't be able to read The Good Earth
after all, but I decided to try one more thing. When I wore the black hijab, my friends called me Ninja Deb. It didn't matter. I put on the black hijab with only my eyes showing (a look my friends referred to as my Ninja Deb attire) and begged my husband to take me to Pakistan. My excuse for the trip was that I needed supplies for the beauty school. I had run out of shampoo and peroxide and really wanted to get a facial machine. But I had also heard about a wonderful bookstore --- I was sure the book had to be there.
I was excited and thought we would rent a nice van. I planned to take a nap while the hired driver drove and wake up in Islamabad. I soon found out that this was a far different plan than my husband had. I was pushed into a bus, told not to speak for the next 12 hours, and to try to blend in. Me, the chickens, goats and the other ninjas were all trying to blend in.
Twelve hours later we reached the Khyber Pass, a no man zone, a frontier tribal area and one of the most dangerous places in the world. We weren't so much traveling on a road as a rocky trail that no bus belonged on. The Afghans say that it is much better than it used to be, but I can't imagine how. I was sore for weeks after that trip!
Every bump and bruise was worth it when I walked into one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Row after row of books, it was the biggest bookstore I had ever seen, and most of the books were in English. I was in Pakistan and in a huge English language bookstore.
I was introduced to books by writers that few of us have heard of, written about places that I couldn't even pronounce. I had landed in the Mecca of books. I spent hours and hundreds of dollars and bought every book I could lay my hands on. I felt like a starving person at a banquet. The Oprah book club book was not there, but it didn't matter anymore.
I have found that beauty salons and book clubs are much the same. In the salon, I can't always get a group of women together to read and talk about literature. But over time, even when we have just one copy of a book, we pass it from woman to woman. Then, when a customer who has read the book comes in for a haircut or a pedicure we can discuss the book. It was a wonderful part of my days in Kabul.
I took many trips to Pakistan and created a wonderful library. There was always something good to share and to read. In the end, I never joined Oprah's Book Club. But like so many times before in my life, I changed the rules, made my own way, and started a book club of my own.
Labels: Deborah Rodriguez, Kabul Beauty School
Lisa See: How Book Clubs Have Changed
Today's guest blogger, Lisa See, shares her first book club memory --- accompanying her parents to a unisex discussion group in the 1960s --- and how she has seen book clubs change over the years. Lisa is the author of numerous books, including the novels Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love
. To read an interview with Lisa, click here.
When I was a kid --- oh, about forty years ago, and how scary is that? --- my mom and step-father used to drag me along to their monthly "discussion group." It was a book club made up of couples --- all graduate students. My step-father would complain all the way to whoever's house we were going and all the way back about how so-and-so was a jackass or how the book selection was "moronic." My mom complained she never was as sleepy as she was at those meetings, digging her nails into her palms to stay awake when everyone was trying to prove that he or she was the smartest person in the room. I lingered on the edges, listening, and watching as everyone --- as my mother has put it --- "tried to fake their way into the adult community."
This was the Sixties, so people had things like giant looms in the living room and homemade macrame for curtains. We'd eat a potluck of tuna casseroles, hotdogs and beans, and other dishes that graduate students could afford to make. As the decade wore on, the members of the group became far less interested in discussing books than smoking pot, drinking too much tequila, and committing adultery. Fun for all!
Jump ahead to 1995, when my first book, On Gold Mountain
, came out. I was invited to talk to my first book club, which was comprised of parents from my son's elementary school class. (Let me say right here then I hadn't known this book club existed because my husband and I hadn't been invited. Not that I hold a grudge or anything.) The women wanted to talk about the book, the characters, and the underlying themes. But the men had something else on their minds altogether: "How much money do you make?" "How did you get an agent?" "How does your husband feel about you shilling yourself?" "Did your editor help you write the book?" "Who takes care of Alexander when you're writing?" Yikes!
All I can say is thank God for Oprah. She single handedly changed the dynamic of the book club. Overnight men decided --- for the most part --- to stay home. I can't say how many book clubs I've visited in person in the last thirteen years, but it has to be in the hundreds. These last three years, I've limited myself to visiting two book clubs a week by speaker phone. By now, I think I've spoken to book clubs in nearly every state, as well as in several countries. Boy oh boy, have they changed!
I've visited book clubs made up of women who were either pregnant or had
children under the age of two, who only wanted to talk about the pregnancies and births in Peony in Love
. I've talked to numerous book clubs with just mothers and daughters, and a few with granddaughters too. I've seen a growth in book clubs with specialized membership: hospice-care worker, church, country club, retirement, Jewish, Mormon, lesbian, and sailing --- all of them women-only book clubs. Even the one that started in my son's class sent the men home. When I visited for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
, the ambiance had changed completely: better food, better wine, better discussion, more tears, and far more laughs.
This isn't to say that women in book clubs these days don't still drink or do some of that other stuff that I remember from my childhood. Alcohol seems to play a major role in a lot of book clubs. I spoke to one book club that called itself The Winos. Another had an ongoing contest to see who could make the best margaritas. And of course how can women gather together and not eat? On the down side, there are still those occasional know-it-alls who try to monopolize the discussion.
The single biggest change I've seen and the one I love most --- and maybe this will sound funny coming from a writer --- is that the book is usually secondary to the experience of women talking to each other. Often women tell me that they spend about twenty minutes talking about the book and the rest of the meeting talking about life. I understand that. We're all so busy, yet we all desire companionship and a place to let down our hair. When and where else do we get to be with other women to boast, complain, commiserate, and laugh at silly stuff? I may be popping in to talk about my books, but what we're really talking about is life. I feel very privileged to get to be a part of those conversations.
A Mother/Daughter Book Club
Today, Pamela Fierro of Virginia Beach, Virginia, talks about what inspired her to start a Mother/Daughter book club and how the lively discussion group has since become an annual summer tradition for her twin daughters and some of their friends. Pamela is the author of Everything Twins, Triplets & More,
Praying Through Pregnancy, Your Pregnancy Devotional and Mommy Rescue Guide: Twins, Triplets & More, and her writing has appeared in
Tidewater Parent, and other magazines. Since 2001, she has been the Guide to Twins & Multiples at About.com, where she writes articles and blogs about raising twins and the world of multiple birth.
When my twin daughters were nine years old, I became increasingly discouraged by their lack of interest in reading for pleasure. Alternatives for their time and attention were too appealing: video games, television, the computer, sports, activities and friends. I'd been a member of a book club for several years and thoroughly enjoyed discussing books in a social forum. Why not share that joy with my daughters and perhaps spark their interest in reading?
I invited several friends who liked to read and had daughters the same age as my own. Thus the Mother/Daughter book club was born.
We chose Journey to the River Sea
by Eva Ibbotson as our first book. It was a magical experience! Despite their initial reluctance to read it, my girls loved discussing the book with their friends. The moms loved hearing their daughters speak their minds. The girls were fired up about the book, analyzing characters and plot twists, identifying literary techniques and proposing alternate endings.
A tradition was born. Since that summer of 2005, we've met annually, usually twice over the course of the summer. As the girls graduated from elementary school and went on to different middle schools, the summer book club gives them a chance to reconnect.
It can be difficult to find suitable books. They have to be engaging enough to induce the girls to read in the summertime, when the pool and beach (and now boys!) are a distraction. Since our first book, we've read a fairy tale (Princess Academy
by Shannon Hale) and a mystery (Twisted Summer
by Willo Davis Roberts). We've also done two books that the moms remember reading as kids: The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster and The Outsiders
by S.E. Hinton.
For this summer's book selection, we ventured into science fiction. Our book was Life as We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer, an apocalyptic story about an asteroid crashing into the moon and the struggle for survival in the wake of the disaster. Told in diary form by a teenage girl, the story was instantly gripping. All summer, the girls have been buzzing about the book, eager to share their thoughts but careful not to give away the ending.
On the night of our 2008 Mother/Daughter book club, the house came alive with the squeals and giggles of nine thirteen-year-old girls, pigging out on chicken nuggets, brownies and sodas. Meanwhile, the mothers nibbled on bruschetta and sipped glasses of wine. We settled down in the family room for our discussion, the girls sitting close together, almost on top of each other with the easy intimacy of teenage friendship.
For the next two hours, the book ceased to be just a pile of printed papers. The story of Life as We Knew It
blazed into life, illuminating the room like the glow of a lit candle. As is our custom, each girl came prepared with a question to pose to the group, so everyone had a chance to direct the conversation. The girls debated the what-if's, why-not's, and what-would-you-do's as they dissected every tangent of the story. Their questions were insightful and provocative; their answers were thoughtful and imaginative. I'd contacted the author, Susan Beth Pfeffer, by email and she graciously replied, becoming a part of the conversation by sending a message to the girls as well as autographed book plates.
And for a while, mothers listened to their daughters share their surprisingly mature --- and sometimes silly --- insights about serious issues, like the role of religion, whether things matter more than people and how much mothers should control their children. For a time, the daughters actually listened to their mothers too, forgetting their disputes about chores and homework and curfews and hairstyles, and relating to them as fellow readers.
Like a candle extinguished, the house is dark now. All is quiet. The girls and their moms have gone home and all that's left are some dirty dishes and the memories of our discussion. But I look forward to the next Mother/Daughter book club, treasuring the opportunity to witness and share the moments when a book touches my daughters' hearts, sparking a love of literature at least for a few hours on a sultry summer night.
Mindy Schneider: Lunch at Camp was Never this Good...
While many of you are getting to know Mindy Schneider now through her memoir, Not a Happy Camper, I actually have known her since she was a summer intern with me at Conde Nast. At that time she was very happy that I never turned her in to the higher ups for her poor typing skills. What she did not know is that we kept her on for her dry wit. Her verbal words per minute were more valuable then her typing ones. Well, somewhere along the way she learned to type, enough to write
Not a Happy Camper at least, but she never lost the sense of humor. This book is a memoir that any camp veteran will love. But then maybe someone can explain why I, who never went to camp, found it just as much fun. Mindy is someone who should be invited to book clubs who love to laugh --- at themselves and at life. Read on for what she has to say...
It's always such an odd thing to meet people who've read your book and like it. What if you disappoint them in person? So far I've been hearing that I'm exactly the way people imagined I'd be. So is that a good thing?
Recently I had the pleasure of being the guest of the Rough Draft Book Club, a group of women from La Canada, California, who met at a cafe in nearby Montrose. Really nice women I'd be happy to include among my friends. And my salad was pretty good, too.
Right away I was asked if I get tired of hearing other people's camp stories and the answer is, "Absolutely not!" I love hearing about similar experiences as well as the ones that were even more surprising than mine. For instance, one member talked about spending her summers on a relative's farm with twenty-five kids. Since showering was a major ordeal, they'd often board a truck and go rinse off under a man-made irrigation waterfall adjacent to a cow pasture. Without soap. Made my camp sound luxurious by comparison.
Most of the women in this group are not Jewish yet had no trouble relating to the book as many summer camps have some sort of religious orientation and rituals. I'd wondered about that when I was writing it, and I'm pleased to know my brief explanations (after mentioning challah
, I added that it was the traditional braided egg bread, etc.) sufficed without boring those who already knew the details. One club member even mentioned that although she's not Jewish her son goes to a kosher camp just to be with his best friend. No mixing meat and milk? No cheeseburgers for the whole summer? That's a true friend.
We all agreed that the mattresses at camp were horrifying, but none of us thought about it until years later. Apparently, today they're pretty nice, but is it really camp if you're not suffering a little?
One of the Rough Draft members, as well as a former college professor of mine with whom I keep in touch, suggested I read Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
's A Day of Small Beginnings
, so after lunch I went across the street to my favorite book store, Once Upon a Time, and ordered a copy. The owner of this beautiful little shop, Maureen Palacios, hosted my first book reading in June of 2007.
Incidentally, I'll be speaking at Once Upon a Time
on Tuesday, August 12th, when their book club meets. Thanks to Maureen, my paperback has actually sold out there! Yet another reason I love that place.
What is your favorite summer camp memory? Share it in the comments section here or in the guestbook at not-a-happy-camper.com
Jennie Shortridge: Book Group Biology
Does the success of book groups come down to biology? Read on to find out why Jennie Shortridge thinks so. Jennie is the author of several novels, the most recent of which is Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe.
I love book groups. I'm not actually in one, but I have felt very much a part of many dozens of them, at least for one night each. As an author of three novels that encourage meaningful discussions --- Riding with the Queen
, Eating Heaven
, and my latest, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
--- I have the profound good luck to be invited to book groups all over the country.
As an observer and participant, I've come up with a theory why so many of us love the concept of meeting with (mostly) other women once a month, talking about books and issues important to us, laughing and letting our hair down a little before we go back to our too-busy lives. Beyond the obvious reason (it's fun!), I believe it all comes down to biology.
Yes, biology, which is also at the center of my new novel. The book group theory in a moment, but first let's take a peek at the biological underpinnings in Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
Middle-aged "good girl" Mira Serafino teaches her high school health science students about their own biological drives, but fails to accept her own "bad girl" desires. When her college-sweetheart husband seems to be exercising his own biological imperative with another woman, she runs away from her small hometown. She goes against all biological norms and expectations; she does not stay and protect her brood: her grown daughter Thea, who seems to hate her; her father, who appears to have replaced her; and her grandmother, whose old-world ways don't feel very supportive in Mira's time of need.
Can you imagine running away from your family? Starting a new life, giving in to your deepest desires? As I've spent time with book groups across the country, by phone and in person, I've learned that many, many women fantasize about doing just that! I thought I'd created an unusual character in Mira, and perhaps I have. She doesn't just fantasize about it --- she does it, and in doing so, finds the way to her authentic self. She learns to accept that both love and biology have a place in her life.
So, back to my biological theory about why we love book groups. In prehistoric hunter-gatherer times, men regularly left the family circle to procure big slabs of protein while women took care of everything else close to home: gathering the nuts and berries, the leafy greens and clean water, and tending to the young and old and infirm. They did this cooperatively, with other women, and developed a vast capacity for empathy as a result. Sisterhood. Girlfriend time. It's in our blood, our genetic material, our DNA.
In modern life, we rarely get that kind of time, and book groups provide a chance to gather, to discuss great books and the intellectual and emotional concepts they engender. Sure, we nibble on nuts and berries, or whatever it is we've all gathered to share, but we do so much more.
We empathize with each other and with the book's characters, even when they are very different from us. We disagree and argue, and commiserate and comfort. We accept each other's differences. We feel a sense of belonging, in our book group circles, something that's increasingly difficult to experience as every aspect of our lives becomes less about people and more about technology and speed. But on book group night we slow down again and move to more human rhythms. We regain our humanity, and reclaim our biological imperative for community.
I'd love to participate in your book group, too. Go to www.jennieshortridge.com to find out more, or just email me at email@example.com
Patricia Wood: Getting the Book Club Ball Rolling
Guest blogger Patricia Wood took a friend and fellow author's advice after the publication of her first novel, Lottery, and began talking with reading groups about the book. Many discussions later, she shares several things she has learned along the way. Patricia lives on a sailboat moored in Hawaii, and you can visit her blog here.
When my debut novel Lottery
was released last August, my author-friend Holly Kennedy
took me aside and said, "You HAVE to do book clubs. They're such FUN!"
"Book Clubs? Fun?" I visualized a bunch of retired English teachers who enjoyed Proust, played bridge, but made great desserts.
"No really. Try it. You'll have a blast." Holly was very convincing.
She got the ball rolling by suggesting Lottery
to the readers who had just finished discussing her novel The Penny Tree
. She explained I was a virgin author and they would be "my first."
You know what? Holly was right. It WAS a blast. I was wrong about everything except for the desserts.
Since then, I've done nearly 80 book clubs in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and (soon) Germany. From up close and personal (where I get to eat those yummy desserts) --- to virtual (where I just hear them eaten in the background). I've had book discussions on a patio, using speakerphone, on Meetup, at schools, on Yahoo, aboard boats, in homes, at community centers, in libraries, at Universities, by ichat, in restaurants, via email, on blogger, on websites, by Facebook, on Skype, and at one technologically challenged meeting from speakerphone to ichat to Skype and back to speakerphone again.
I've learned several things along the way that made me rethink my assumptions about book clubs. For instance, it's good fun even if not everybody likes your book. Odd isn't it? My best discussions have been with readers who had issues with Lottery
. The debate can be astoundingly interesting. Sometimes we agree to disagree, other times a reader goes back to re-read and change their perspective or I may even say gee, you're right! I wish I'd thought of that!
We talk about the process of writing. Readers are fascinated to learn an author mindfully makes specific literary choices. I describe how, when I'm writing a novel, I try things out, write my story from different perspectives, and see what more closely aligns with my vision. For example, I wrote my novel Lottery
from the point-of-view of Perry, a man with cognitive challenges. Perry sees people as rather flat and one-dimensional ("good" or "bad" with little or no shades of gray). I was faced with a dilemma. How to create well-rendered characters with an unreliable narrator? How to allow the reader to "know more" than the protagonist? What literary strategies could I use? I believe this kind of insight has been the most fascinating to book clubs --- a way of looking over a writer's shoulder. From my perspective as an author, it's been especially illuminating to see what has and hasn't worked in Lottery
with certain readers and why.
Book clubs say when they invite an author to their meetings it sheds more light on a book's themes and content without guesswork on their part. They enjoy finding out what inspired the author to write the book. It did, however, surprise me to discover being there "in person" is not always best. Discussions are sometimes more comfortable and less confrontational on speakerphone. Readers are inclined to be less nervous about discussing a book and braver about challenging the author when not face-to-face. This adds texture to the debate --- always a good thing. Additionally it allows readers to be able to pass notes back and forth, make rude faces, or just go away and leave the author talking to an empty room. Okay I don't know if any group has done this to me, but they could...
Technology makes it possible for me to be seen reclining in my cockpit, palm fronds dancing in the warm ocean breeze as I sip my Mai Tai, although when it's January and the book group is from Maine it can be more fun for me than it is for them. I'm certainly lucky technology has not evolved to the point where one can throw things via the Internet.
For me, I feel my art does not truly come into fruition until the circle is completed: I write the book. The reader reads the book. Then we talk about it together. Book groups help me complete this circle. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
Note: I'm still figuring the best method that book clubs can ship their desserts from the mainland to Hawaii so I get them in time for the discussion. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.
D. L. Wilson: An Author's First Experience with a Reading Group
Yesterday contributor Heather Johnson talked about her reading group's first-ever meeting with an author, D. L. Wilson, to discuss his debut novel, Unholy Grail. Today we hear from Wilson, who shares his perspective on his first-ever meeting with a book club.
Becoming a published novelist was a long and arduous journey. Learning the craft and how to release one's creative muse turned out to be much more demanding than I ever imagined. After my first novel, Unholy Grail
, became a reality and I was entrenched in creating my second novel, a bio-terrorism thriller, I learned the awful truth about being a debut author. Writing the manuscript is not the be all and end all of becoming a successful author.
Once your novel nears its publication date, a debut author must focus on attracting readers. There are no huge marketing and promotional budgets provided to most debut authors. I was very fortunate to have my publisher receive a great blurb from international bestselling author Clive Cussler: "Unholy Grail
is a tale rich with intrigue that grips the imagination. A must read." Even with that I still had to learn the ropes. Those ropes involve: creating a website, blogging, MySpace and Internet book-related sites, Internet interviews and reviews, print media, broadcast media, writing and reading events, and book signings only to name a few.
Even though I was late in jumping onto the self-promotional bandwagon, when Unholy Grail
reached number 9 and number 8 on the Nielsen National Bookscan ratings I thought I had reached author's nirvana. That's when I realized there was a whole other world of reading groups and book clubs that could give me that all-important insight into how I was connecting with readers. Nirvana for me was developing satisfied readers. I researched a number of reading groups via the Internet, and Storie Delle Sorelle
caught my attention. They had a very professional Web site, a varied reading list, and seemed to have a broad spectrum of members. I was especially intrigued by the member comments which showed they spoke their true impressions of the books they read. On a 1 to 10 rating scale (1 is poorest and 10 is best) the ratings for The Da Vinci Code
ranged from 1 to 10 and James Patterson's Mary, Mary
ranged from 3 to 9.
I contacted Storie Delle Sorelle's founder, Heather Johnson, and volunteered to meet with the group and discuss their impressions and answer any questions related to writing Unholy Grail
. Heather polled the group, and they agreed to read my novel for their July meeting. I stressed the importance that they give me their honest opinions. That would be the only way that I could improve my writing and hopefully broaden my readership. I asked Heather to request the members to write down 3 things they liked most and 3 things they liked least. That would guarantee getting input that would assist me in improving my writing.
I found the meeting to discuss Unholy Grail
to be a tremendous success. The readers lived up to their reputations, even entering into healthy discussions about factors they disagreed upon. Two members were concerned that the book may challenge some readers' Christian beliefs, but other members countered that the author did great research providing a balanced view of myth and doctrine, and you can't hide the truth. Their comments provided me with valuable insight into areas I had experimented with to develop an intriguing thriller.
One member had been initially concerned about the short chapters, but very quickly became hooked on the style. Another area of experimentation was developing sub plots in alternating chapters that eventually culminated as critical elements of the primary plot. The members agreed that this structure maintained their interest and resulted in a fast-paced, great read. The group also discussed characterization, dialogue, and content, which provided me with constructive suggestions to attract a broader readership beyond the suspense/thriller genre.
The bottom line was a wonderful discussion with fascinating readers that gave me great insight into areas I can focus on to improve my writing craft and creativity. I certainly intend to connect with more reading groups and book clubs to help me raise the bar for my upcoming suspense/thrillers. I will be delighted to discuss Unholy Grail
in person with reading groups in my area or participate in teleconferences. After all, becoming a successful author is based upon providing a satisfying experience for readers.
I can be reached through my Web site at: dlwilsonbooks.com
or through e-mail via a literary service at: YardleyLit@aol.com
---D. L. Wilson