Kathy Magruder of Lee Booksellers
Kathy Magruder of Lee Booksellers in Lincoln, NE has six different clubs meeting in her store, which range in theme from mystery to cooking. In this interview, Kathy discusses the methods she and her colleagues utilize to best work with them, as well as the numerous local groups registered with the store. She also describes some of the local programs in place that aid readers and advocate literacy, such as Book Blurb Night, One Book One Family, and various other grants and donations for low-income families.
Q: Does your store host any book clubs? If so, are they based on a certain theme or genre (i.e., mystery)? How often do the groups meet?
A: At the moment, we host 6 different book clubs in our store. Two are mystery book clubs, one is a cook's book club and the rest are general. All meet once a month, except for December (it's too crazy here in the store). Most groups meet in the evening but one meets at 9:30 am on a Thursday morning. That particular group tends to be older, retired women. The cook's book club actually chooses a cookbook or a particular theme for their meeting and brings food (which keeps the staff really happy). Also, the Unitarian Women's group has a book club that meets in the store every three weeks.
Q: How many members are in each group? How many men, how many women? What ages are most of the members? Are the groups open to accepting new members?
A: Membership is open and ranges anywhere from 3 to 20. I believe all the regulars are female, ages 30 and up. All bookstore-sponsored groups are open, but the Unitarian group is closed.
Q: Who leads the book discussions? Are reading group discussion guides used?
A: Usually the groups are self-sufficient and run themselves. Some of the groups use the reading group discussion guides in the backs of the books. Usually, there is not a guide for the mysteries, and I've never seen one for a cookbook.
Q: How are books selected? Is a new one chosen at each meeting, or are they chosen for a number of meetings ahead of time?
A: The groups usually select books a couple of months ahead of time. Often, they will troll the store looking for new titles or ask for recommendations from the staff. We prefer to have books chosen a couple of months ahead so we can have multiple copies in the store on the meeting before they discuss the book. This is usually when readers will pick up the next title.
Q: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the groups have read?
A: Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos (local connections), The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller..
Q: How are book club meetings kept interesting and fun?
A: We have hosted several authors at the book clubs and have had a couple of phone interviews with authors.
Q: What advice would you give to other bookstores that would like to start hosting book clubs, or provide resources for ones in the community?
A: Try to find out what interest groups are out there. We started a mystery book club, a cook's book club and are starting a knitting group. We are also considering a teen book club. Also, be aware of the time you schedule the clubs. Most of ours are scheduled at 7:30PM because it gives people a chance to go home after work and eat dinner. We have a club that meets during the day for those who would prefer not to drive at night. Pick a really good book for the first meeting, something that will appeal to a wide range of readers and will have a lot of discussion topics. Then, LISTEN to the group, ask what they like to read (a great intro is to ask each person to name either what they are reading right now or the best book they've read in the last couple of months), and structure book picks around their interests. After they've met a couple of times and are comfortable with each other, start recommending books that push their boundaries a little; people don't want to pick a book that they've all read, they want something new.
We also offer several programs for local book clubs. Twice a year, we host a "Book Blurb Night." We invite all the local book clubs who are registered with us (more on this later) and also open it up to the public. We limit the number of attendees to 50-60. I usually pick between 15 and 20 books that I think might be of interest to book clubs and talk briefly about each one. I try to pick about 1/3 nonfiction to 2/3 fiction, and I try to stay with paperback. We also collect all of the galleys and ARCs that we get, put them out on a table, provide bags and ask (beg) participants to take as many as they can carry. (I also gave them a handout recommending ReadingGroupGuides.com this year.) Several of the staff are also always available to booktalk recommendations to individual book clubs, either here in the store or at the book club's location. We also ask the local book clubs to register with us. We ask for a contact person and then a list of books for at least 4 months. We also give the book club a 20% discount. We actually do this so we don't get stuck having only one copy of a book and 10 people requesting it and needing it by Tuesday! It's a great way for us to have the books in stock BEFORE everybody needs it. We keep a stock of this month's book club picks on one spinner rack up in the front of the store --- easy to find for both staff and customers. We also keep a master chart of what club is reading what book.
Our community also has a One Book, One Lincoln community book club that picks one book a year and, over a period of two months, has group meetings all over town. We try to have a staff member volunteer on the committee to pick the book and we also host a couple of discussion meetings in the store.
Q: What general advice would you give to book club members? Any specific ideas for making reading selections?
A: Don't read the same kind of book over and over. It killed the original Oprah book club. One of our local clubs has a yearly template: January - Nonfiction religious, February - Literary fiction, March - historical fiction, April - mainstream fiction, November - kids book, etc. Even if your focus is something like mystery, read a cozy one month and a hard-boiled the next. Mix it up. My cousin belonged to a group that read only Pulitzer Prize winners; well, that can only last so long! Many of our local clubs pick six months to a year in advance and most of them schedule a meeting to pick books. Have everyone bring at least one recommendation, scour reviews (from the Sunday paper, People magazine, online, from Grandma, from anywhere), and don't get too caught up in keeping it literary. Cozy up to a real book lover, usually found working in a bookstore or library and ask for recommendations. All book lovers love to talk about their favorite authors and books.
Q: How can book clubs better utilize resources at their local bookstores?
A: Ask the bookstore staff for recommendations. Ask if the bookstore has any programs for book clubs (discounts, special events); if they don't, brainstorm and see if you can come up with any cooperative ideas. Ask if they have any promotional material available (there are all kinds of promotions available from author visits to reading guides). Once, both of our Penguin sales reps came and spent an evening booktalking to the crowd.
Q: Does your store offer anything special for book clubs?
A: We give a local registered book club a 20% discount if they give us their reading list several months in advance. This helps us have the book the club is reading in stock when the club wants it.
Q: Is there anything else unique or noteworthy about book clubs (either ones that meet in your store or ones that you know of) that you would like to share?
A: We have one local book club that meets only once a year. They invite me to come and talk about books, then they pick 10, order 3 copies of each, and split into three circles. Each member of the circle gets one copy of one of the ten books, reads it and passes it on to the next member in the circle. By the end of the year each of the ten members in each circle has read all of the books. Apparently the group never actually gets together to discuss them.
Several of the local schools have a One Book, One Family book club that was started (and is facilitated) by one of our staff. Schools or local businesses provide grants or donations to provide books and food for these clubs, which consist mostly of low-income families. The grants buy a copy of a chosen book that is given to a parent/child combo, then parent and child come together to the meetings after both have read the book and discuss. Other local businesses provide food. Usually there is a teacher in charge of the group at the school.
Q: Are you a member of a book club? If so, what do you enjoy most about the experience from a reader's perspective? Does being in a book club enable you to better suggest both titles and discussion ideas to reading groups?
A: I belong to two book clubs. I love it when we read something that I've never read before. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen often since I spend so much time recommending books to book clubs that my clubs usually want to read those books!
Q: What books currently on your shelves are you interested in sharing with book groups?
A: Night Here's my latest Book Blurb list:
Atkinson, Kate - Case Histories
Bruen, Ken - The Magdalen Martyrs
Child, Lee - One Shot
Dallas, Sandra - New Mercies
Hambly, Barbara - The Emancipator's Wife
Holland, Barbara - When All the World Was Young
Holmes, Hannah - Suburban Safari
Johnson, Harriet McBryde - Too Late to Die Young
Kimmel, Haven - Something Rising (Light and Swift)
LaRose, Lawrence - Gutted
Lord, M. G - Astro Turf
Perez-Reverte, Arturo - Captain Alatriste
Rosenthal, Amy Krouse - Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
Russell, Mary Doria - A Thread of Gracev
See, Lisa - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Traig, Jennifer - Devil in the Details
White, Karen - The Color of Light
Q: What galleys and advance reader's editions that are in your store right now are you interested in sharing with book groups?
A: We give 'em all away! We have literally hundreds.
special reading groups around the world, spotlighting a different group
each month. We hope that you enjoy reading about their experiences and
might find some new ideas to try with your group. If you belong to a group
that you think should be spotlighted, click here to answer our interview questions.