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June 20, 2008

Book Clubs and Cookbooks

Posted by carol
Looking for a way to spice up your summer book club gatherings? Jamie Layton offers an appetizing alternative to the usual discussion fare...

Every year, for whatever reason, the combination of summer heat and beach chair reading sends me straight to the food writing shelves. By the end of a typical summer I've added several new titles to my collection in addition to a stack of cooking magazines accumulated in the bottom of my beach bag. I can't decide if cooking vicariously through others is what appeals to me, or if the fresh ingredients of summer inspire me to at least think about trying my hand a bit more in the kitchen or if I just prefer to read about other people slaving away in hot kitchens while I toil away by the pool.

What I do know is that books like Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef and The Reach of a Chef, Ruth Reichl's essays, Kathleen Flinn's memoir The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and Dave Shalleck's Mediterranean Summer, authors like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver who render advice on how to eat better for you and the planet...these are all summertime brain candy for me, and I've found the genre to be a good seasonal match for my book group as well!

A dilemma facing many book group participants is hit full on as summer nears and they start gazing at the pile of titles they've been saving up for their personal "summer reading list." Add to it three months of book club selections and many are left feeling as if their summer will be all work and no play. While I am the first to admit that for a true reader very few books can ever truly be considered "work," I'm pretty sure y'all know what I'm getting at: you're in the middle of a great book. and suddenly you realize that you have to read your book group pick by next Monday!

Here's an idea which allows plenty of time for personal reading while still enjoying summer with the club. One summer, our June selection was a shorter read that didn't take anybody much time. Then in July, instead of having an "official" book for the month, we held a cookbook discussion. Everyone brought both their favorite cookbook and a dish from the same. We had a wonderful spread, plenty of time to eat, drink, socialize (our meetings are typically very book oriented) and when we did gather as a group, each member got a chance to tell the reason behind why they brought the cookbook they did. We heard some beautiful stories and found some new "must haves" for our own kitchen shelves!

Our book for August was also relatively short so, in essence, people had about six weeks off during the summer to read whatever they wanted; it was a refreshing break for all. While cookbooks worked great for us, you could also have everyone bring whatever else they've been reading lately or their favorite travel book. Most any genre works as long as your members understand that you're asking them to bring something they've already read. Otherwise, no break!

Any reader can get burned out, and if a book club member is left feeling like they don't have enough time for reading on their own you run the risk of losing that member. Everybody needs a vacation, and giving your club one without losing the continuity of a monthly meeting is a perfect way to keep your members interested, inspired and invigorated. (And to give credit where credit is due, I did get the original "cookbook meeting" idea from the WADWCC Book & Movie Club at Duck Woods Country Club.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I have three back issues of Cooking Light, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Eat, Pray, Love waiting for me back at the beach. Bon Appetit! (And happy reading!)

---Jamie Layton