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Book Club Interview (#3) with Heather from Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books

I was thrilled when Heather from Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books agreed to be interviewed in regards to her book club. This is a MUST READ since Heather gives tips on how to conduct a good book club discussion.

How long has your book club been in existence?  We got started back in May 2005, just over 4 years ago.

Does your book club have a name? Our name is “Storie delle Sorrelle” (Italian for “Stories of the Sisters”). We wanted a name that was unique but also reflected our purpose … and it had to sound cool. One of our members even had tote bags embroidered with our group name for us.

How many people are in your book club?  Well, that depends.  My official email list has 21 names on it but several gals haven’t made an appearance for over a year.  I’d say there are 15 committed members.

Is your book club open to new members? How do new members end up in your book club?  In the past we’d accept new members no matter how they came to us.  Sometimes one gal would bring a friend, sometimes new people would find us through our blog (storiedellesorelle.blogspot.com), one gal I met in the book section of a thrift store.  But new members didn’t join very often.  Last summer we put the brakes on new membership though.  Within three months we’d added 5 new people and we agreed that we all needed to get to know each other better before allowing anyone else to join.

When do you meet? Is it a set day every month, or do you work it out so it’s on a different day but convenient for everyone?   To better accommodate conflicting schedules we do a weeknight meeting one month and a weekend meeting the next month. 

What kind of books do you read?  There are no rules as to which books we read.

How do you choose books?  When we were a smaller group each person got to pick one book to read during the year.  When we got bigger we had to come up with something new.  Here’s how it works now.  Three times a year members nominate one book each.  Once we have a list of nominated books we all rank them in preferred order and I tally the results.  The three most popular books are chosen for the next three meetings.  To make it fair, if your nominated book was chosen this time you can’t nominate one the next time around.  We’ve been doing that for a while now and it is working really well.

Which book generated the best discussion?  We had a two-part meeting for THE POISONWOOD BIBLE because there was so much to talk about, a great discussion of THE GLASS CASTLE, and controversial discussions of MY SISTER’S KEEPER and WHAT OUR MOTHERS DIDN’T TELL US. 

Do you invite authors to join your discussion when you discuss their book? How do you handle having the author in on your discussion if some or all of the members didn’t absolutely love the book?   We’ve had one author visit us in person and another join us by phone.  Both times there were members who did not like the book.  The in-person meeting went very well as the author was genuinely interested in our opinions.  The phone chat (which I missed) wasn’t such a hit; the gals said the author gave lots of one-word answers and didn’t seem very interested in being there.  My suggestion for author chats is to encourage members to share two or three things they liked and two or three things they didn’t like about the book.  That way the problem areas can be discussed (hopefully) without the author feeling attacked.

Do you have one person who moderates the discussion?  Yes, that would be me.  All the time.  I’d love to share this responsibility but my club is spoiled and they buy me off with flattery.   But seriously, every successful book club needs a dedicated leader even if it isn’t the same person for every meeting.  Before every meeting I do the following:

1.       Read the book (duh), preferably finishing at least a week before the meeting
2.       Find discussion questions online and print them out
3.       Research the author – What is his/her background?  What other books has he/she written?  Why was this book written? Etc.
4.       Find any controversies or news-worthy info relating to the book – if it is really good, print out copies for the group
5.       Send the Evite with meeting details and the hostesses chosen food theme, then follow up to make sure everyone relpies

Finally it is book club day! At the meeting I …

1.       Get the discussion started on time
2.       Keep the conversation on topic (very difficult at times)
3.       Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak
4.       Choose which discussion questions to raise and what background info to share
5.       Close the meeting with reminders about the next book and meeting

Have you ever had a professional moderator moderate one of your meetings?  No, but if that job ever comes up I’ll take it.  If you want to pay me to moderate YOUR meeting I’ve got four years of excellent experience!  And really, I SHOULD be getting paid, considering all the work I do. 🙂

How long does the discussion last?  That all depends on the book but a usually discussion is at least an hour, maybe longer.  We’ve had two that were shorter and many that were longer.

Do you eat food at your book club meeting?  Of course we do!  I’m Italian – it would be a sin not to have food.  We don’t go overboard though.  The hostess picks a theme and everyone brings something to share.  Sometimes the theme matches the book but it doesn’t have to.

How do you decide where the meeting will be held?  Several members love to host and others do not (like me).  With such a large group there is never a problem finding a hostess.  In the early fall we meet at an outdoor restaurant for Happy Hour – that’s something we all look forward to every year.

Is there anything else about your book club you’d like to share? Our group is fun and unique … we have 3 mother-daughter groups – sometimes we dress up to match the theme of the book – one member only does audio books – gals have called in on speakerphone so they wouldn’t miss the meeting while out of town … and there are so many more things I could share!
 
One final note … Running a book club is a lot of work but it can be very worth it.  I’m moderating a panel at the Baltimore Book Festival in September all about starting and improving a book club.  If you have any do’s or don’ts you’d like to share with me I’d love your input – I want this panel to be as helpful as possible.

A big thank you goes to Trish for allowing me to talk about my club on her blog today.  Just as Trish is passionate about book blogging and the network it creates, so I am passionate about book clubs and the opportunities they offer.  I’m always glad to have an excuse to talk about my club.  Thanks Trish!

Thank you, Heather! Oh, how I wish I lived near you so I could join your book club…

If you want to read more about Heather’s book club, go check out this interview in the Baltimore Literature Examiner. Heather was interviewed by our very own Anna from Diary of an Eccentric.

Heather will be moderating a panel discussion on book clubs at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 26, 2009 entitled The Book Club Toolkit: Tools and Tips for Starting and Improving Your Book Club. It should be a great discussion! I will be on the panel, and we’d love to see you there!

18 comments »

18 Responses to “Book Club Interview (#3) with Heather from Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books”

  1. Corinne

    Fantastic! What a wonderful interview! She’s got some really neat ideas – I especially like that creative way of choosing books when you’ve got a large group. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  2. Kathy

    Great interview. She sure has some good tips to share!

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  3. sarah pekkanen

    Hey Trish,
    How long will you be in Baltimore? I live not far from there and would love to meet up if time allows!
    xo
    Sarah

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  4. Maud

    Great interview. I, too, like the way the books are chosen for Heather’s book club. I think it is important to choose books that lend themselves to discussion, and of course, as Heather says– it is always difficult keeping everyone on subject. But that is what is amazing about books– they bring us to so many different places!

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  5. Kim L

    Great advice! I’m part of a book club at work, but things have really started to peter out as members have retired or left the company. Wow, hosting is a lot of work! Luckily we just take turns, whoever picks the book gets to pick the restaurant, and we usually only discuss the book for a short time, then socialize the rest of the time. Props for organizing everything!

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  6. Rose City Reader

    Very interesting review! And I think you have inspired a blog post of my own — maybe you have a meme in the making. I occasionally blog about my book club, but I think I will borrow some of your questions and be a little more organized about it. My book club has a secret name, though, so I won’t be sharing that. 😉

    Great meeting you at the Book Blogger Retreat in Portland last weekend! Thank you again for organizing such a fun bookish event.

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  7. Heather J.

    Thanks Trish! This was a fun interview for me. I hope your readers find some useful tips in there. And I can’t wait to meet you when you come to Baltimore for the Book Club panel!!!

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  8. nat @ book, line, and sinker

    i am still looking for a good book club in my area…i tried meetup.com but the group fizzled after a few meetings. the tips in this interview are so helpful–maybe i’ll try to start my own book club…wanna join me?

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  9. Barbara

    nice article, Trish. I’m always on the look out for good advice and suggestions for reading groups. Looking forward to the Baltimore book club panel and meeting you and Heather!

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  10. bybee

    Great questions and great ideas! I love reading about other book groups.

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  11. Beth F

    This sounds like a fabulous book club!

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  12. A Hazra

    Really wonderful and insightful interview. Her way of choosing books is really nice.

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  13. bethany (Dreadlock Girl)

    What an excellent book club!!! This was a great interview. I was wondering how other groups choose books and I like their system. In our group we have some members who would rather not choose a book, really we are small enough to just agree on a book. This month it is Shadow of the Wind and next month….Catching Fire!!! 😉

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  14. Stacy

    Great insight and tips! I am currently without a book group, but have been in several and wish I could be in Heather’s group!

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  15. zibilee

    Your club sounds awesome! I have just started a book club and am trying to get it off the ground. The biggest problem we have is picking the books (each of the readers is so different, and we have trouble pleasing everyone) and staying on topic. I hope to be able to get things running a little more smoothly in the future. Thanks for the great tips!

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  16. Book Club Girl

    Great interview, I’m always interested to hear how other groups choose titles, this is an approach I’ve not heard of before. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    great interview. I really love hearing more about Heather’s group. Anna and I just started our small group and we’re meeting in my little apartment for now. Heaven for bid it becomes a group of 20+ people…we’ll have to find a new venue.

    I wish I could be there on Sat. But I already have plans to take mom to d.c. to see her favorite author..James Patterson.

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  18. Jessica

    I love reading about other people’s book clubs. I’m struggling with finding a face-to-face book club that fits with my social AND book needs. 🙂

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