The Metro Atlanta Book Club
Terri Seay belongs to the Metro Atlanta Book Club (MABC), a relatively new group that is diverse in both membership and focus. In this interview, Terri describes the club's tightly-knit relationship and encourages social gatherings to promote closeness among members --- which, in turn, enriches the quality of their discussions. She also characterizes the MABC as an enriching and eye-opening experience, and revels in the places books can take people.
Q: Does your group have a name and/or a theme? How long has your group been in existence?
A: he Metro Atlanta Book Club (MABC) was created just this year, but has garnered the attention of metro Atlantans from all over. We do not have a particular theme except to choose books with topics relevant and interesting to our group.
Q: How many members do you have? How many men, how many women? What age are most of your members?
A: MABC prides itself on the diversity of the book club. We seek men and women of all ages, ethnicities, religious affiliations, and economic status. There are 15 members at this time, but we are growing rapidly. I usually receive 3-4 emails per week requesting information regarding membership. Four of our members are men and the other 11 are women, and our ages range from 19-33. This diversity is conducive for lively literary discussion and open debate. We are privileged to have such a unique group of people to share our ideas.
Q: How often do you meet? Where do you meet?
A: MABC meets twice a month. The first meeting of the month is scheduled for book discussions. During these meetings our members are encouraged to engage in open dialogue about our selection for the month. The second meeting is scheduled simply for social interaction. We host these meetings at local jazz clubs, lounges, and restaurants. The MEET-AND-EAT sessions are great because we have the opportunity to develop a relationship with other members outside of the meetings. These friendships create a strong bond between the members, which not only enhances our honest discussions, but also helps with membership retention. Everyone feels they have a place in MABC.
Q: Do you eat at your meetings? What do you eat? Who brings the food?
A: Our book discussion meetings are held at the bookstore that offers our members books each month at a discounted rate. We schedule our meetings in advance and they reserve space in their café. We are able to enjoy light refreshments from the bookstore.
Q: Who leads the discussion? Do you use reading group guides?
A: No particular person leads our book discussions. We like to allow everyone to contribute to the discussion as they see fit. However, I serve as the moderator during our meetings. I often spark dialogue through a certain set of prewritten questions that pertain to the book or the topics relevant to the book's theme. These questions then spark our conversation, which carries us for several hours
Q: What kind of books do you read?
A: We read books from varying genres, both fiction and nonfiction. Our diverse book selection reflects our diverse group of people. One month we might read Cry, The Beloved Country, while another month, we might read Animal Farm or The Lovely Bones.
Q: How do you choose your books? Do you choose one new book at each meeting, or do you choose the books for a number of meetings ahead of time?
A: After each month's meeting, I send out an email requesting titles for the following month's book. From our member suggestions, I open a poll on our website. The poll stays open for a few days and members are allowed to vote on the book of their choice. The winning book is, of course, the book selection for the next month. The members enjoy having ownership of the book selection process and it's exciting to vote on what we will read next.
Q: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the group read?
A: Our favorite book and discussion seems to have spawned from Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. It was interesting to hear everyone's perspective on the main character's idea of heaven, and compare it to our own.
Q: How do you keep things fun?
A: MABC keeps things fun by not limiting ourselves to a certain genre and by opening our book club up to different types of people. The variety of books and people ensure that no meeting is ever the same. And we never grow tired of any one type of book because it changes each month.
Q: What advice would you give to other reading groups?
A: I would encourage other reading groups to also host social gatherings. It has made a huge difference in the number of active members and has improved our book discussions. Our members feel safe to discuss topics openly and honestly because they have developed a close relationship with other members in the group. I would also encourage other groups to not implement fees. I have found that fees discourage potential members from joining, and may also limit your membership to a specific economic group.
Q: Do you have any horror stories, amusing anecdotes, or other special tales to tell?
A: One amusing tale: Our members participate in the democratic process by suggesting and then voting on each month's book. One new member did not submit suggestions, but was of course upset when the suggestions of other members did not meet his standards. He then took it upon himself to submit a lengthy email explaining why the books were terrible, and compiled a list of books he thought "were of better quality." I told him I would save his suggestions for next month, but this was not good enough...needless to say, he is no longer a member. It was a great comic relief, though, after seeing how upset one can get over a book. The new motto: "It's not just a book!".
Q: Is there anything else unique or noteworthy about your group that you would like to share?
A: Our group, though not large, is truly a family. We are unique in that we are people of such different worlds, yet we can come together and enjoy each other's company in both academic and social settings. I think I speak for myself as well as the group when I say that it has truly been an eye-opening experience to get to know some of the people this book club has brought into my life. Books really can take you places!
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