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The Literary Society Sleuth Interviews Helen from Helen’s Book Blog (#6)

Psst! There’s a giveaway at the end of this post!

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Today I’m interviewing Helen Murdoch. She was a teacher for 14 years and is now the librarian. Be sure to check out Helen’s blog, Helen’s Book Blog! She’s in two book clubs and has been kind enough to answer the questions for both book clubs! Woohoo!

Well let’s do some snooping, shall we?

(The A and B answers are for her two different book clubs, respectively.)

How long has your book club been in existence?

A: A friend and I formed our book club in July 1991, after our 26th Birthday party had wound down for the evening.
B: My second book group just formed a year ago when my daughter’s friend’s mom got a group of us moms together.

Does your book club have a name?

A: We don’t have a name. We’ve joked about naming ourselves, but just get silly when we try and nothing has stuck so far.
B: No name; the idea hasn’t even come up

How many people are in your book club?

A: There are 8 of us: 1 public librarian; 1 high school librarian (me); a retired teacher; a caterer; 1 junior high teacher; 1 high school teacher; 1 University professor; a high school library assistant.
B: There are 12 to 14 of us, all moms with kids at the same elementary school though about 7 show up each month. We have a varied list of jobs from teachers to stay at home moms to members of the military.

Is your book club open to new members? How do new members end up in your book club?

A: We are kinda’ open to new members. We have 8 of us, which seems like a nice number; no one gets left out of the discussion. So, when someone moves away we tend to bring in someone new. If someone has an idea for a new member we bring it up to the group and let them know about the person to see if everyone seems open to her. Yes, I said her. We started out as a co-ed group but the men kept moving away so now we’re all women and we really like it that way!
B: We haven’t added any new members since we started.

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?

A: We meet on the third Thursday of each month, September through June. Most of us are in education so we don’t meet during the summer since we tend to travel (lucky us!).
B: We meet every 6 weeks on a Wednesday and have the year planned out ahead of time so we all know when the night is approaching. We meet at the same house each time as well.

What kind of books do you read?

A: We tend to read contemporary fiction, but sometimes do stray from that.
B: We read non-fiction (a nice complement to my other book group).

How do you choose books?

A: Each month we meet at a different person’s house. Actually, we’re pretty regimented about that: we rotate in alphabetical order by first name so we can remember who comes next. The person who hosts provides dinner of pizza and salad and has a stack of books for us to choose from. We read the book descriptions aloud and sometimes even passages from the books. Then we do an informal vote to choose which one we’ll read.
B: Anyone can bring a book that they want us to read and we do a little “book talk” of our book. After an informal vote we’re good to go with one and sometimes two books for the next meeting

Which book generated the best discussion?

A: Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi; Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (we even reread it years later); and the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
B: Three books have generated the most intense discussions: Along Way Home: memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah (outrage, sadness, heartbreak, triumph, etc); Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (because we had such mixed emotions and reactions to it); and Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

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?

A: We’ve only invited one author to a discussion, Val Hobbs, and that’s because she is local. I also work with her husband so know her a little. We had read The Gift and most of us liked it so it was a comfortable situation.
B: We haven’t had any authors invited.

Do you have one person who moderates the discussion?

A: Honestly, we’ve all been together for so long that we do a lot of “life” talking in addition to the book. No one person moderates; we all just jump in to talk about the book. Sometimes some of us haven’t read the book or haven’t finished it so that can limit the discussion as well.
B: We have one or two members that are more outspoken and they tend to determine the discussion just by their presence. We did start out with the person who chose the book bringing in questions to guide the discussion, but after a couple months realized we didn’t really need that.

Have you ever had a professional moderator moderate one of your meetings?

A and B: No

How long does the discussion last?

A and B: We meet from 6:30 to 8:00 or so. Honestly, the book usually isn’t the only topic of conversation 🙂

Do you eat food at your book club meeting?

A: Pizza and salad. Except when we’re at the caterer’s house when we get yummy left overs.
B: Usually just snacky foods like fruit, cheese and crackers. Sometimes something more substantial like sandwiches

How do you decide where the meeting will be held?

A and B: Oops, I kinda’ already answered that above…

Is there anything else about your book club you’d like to share?

I love going to my book group meetings, even if I haven’t enjoyed the book. Getting together with other women who love books and are fun to be with is a wonderful break from the regular routine of life. It is great to have a group (or 2) of women who catch up with one another on a regular basis. My mom is in a women’s group that has met every 2 weeks for 35 years so I have been the beneficiary of that inner-circle. It is great for a group to last so long that we see each other’s children grow up and we can support each other through triumphs and difficult times.


Thanks for answering all my questions, Helen! Your clubs sound like a lot of fun, and I know there’ll be a lot of jealous foks out there who can’t be in your book clubs! 🙂

If you would like to talk about your book club, send me an email at trish(at)heylady(dot)net. No blog necessary! You just have to be in a book club. 🙂


Previous interviews:

Leslie, my friend from high school
Ti from Book Chatter and her Valencia Library Book Group
Kelly from Yannabe and her OPRA Book Club
Heather from A Lifetime of Books and her book club Storie delle Sorrelle


I’ve got four copies of the Reading Group Choices 2010 booklet. It’s got great suggestions for book club picks, and I loved going through it and writing down books I wanted to read, whether or not I end up suggesting them to my book club!

To enter, leave a comment that has to do with something Helen said in her interview. The contest is open until Saturday, July 31st at 11:59pm PT. I’ll pick a winner on Sunday, August 1st. Good luck! One entry per person. Open internationally.


15 Responses to “The Literary Society Sleuth Interviews Helen from Helen’s Book Blog (#6)”

  1. Kathleen P

    I love the compare & contrast of the two book clubs. Also, great idea for the pizza! My book club meets at 7:30p so snacks and wine are usually the “menu”!


  2. zibilee

    Our club also has a lot of “life talk” going on, and at times, when the book doesn’t generate a lot of discussion, there is a lot more of that than anything else! I also agree that it’s cool that the bookclub can kind of be a quasi women’s group. He book clubs sound wonderful!!


  3. Elisabeth

    It is always so interesting to see what other book groups do.


  4. avisannschild

    Count me as officially jealous! I don’t belong to any book clubs (yet), but it always sounds like so much fun. No need to enter me in the giveaway.


  5. Helen

    Thank you for featuring me and my book groups! The blog address you’ve listed (Murdoch’s Musings) is actually my work/library blog. Here’s the URL for my personal book blog, which will be way more interesting for people since it won’t include school stuff:

    Thank you again!


  6. Darlyn

    I just come from Helen Book Blog when she said she been featured in your blog! So, this absolutely my first time visiting your blog! Actually, I never have a book club since I’m still studying and school always caught me up with lot of things. But really, having pizza and salad? That’s definitely awesome. You need something to much while talking good books. ;p

    p/s: It’s a lovely blog =)


  7. Terri

    I find it interesting that it is mostly women that stick with the book clubs. Very seldom see men’s book clubs.


  8. Meg

    I love the way each of Helen’s book clubs focus on different genres of books. I’m envious of the nonficction one, as I love nonfiction, especially memoirs and most of my friends do not.


  9. Suzanne

    Informative interview — thanks Trish and Helen!


  10. Bonnie Jacobs

    “…to see if everyone seems open to her. Yes, I said her. We started out as a co-ed group but…”

    Helen, I’ve had men in some of my book clubs over the years, and we women have often found them very opinionated and vocal about it. That means some (and I emphasize SOME) women say little or nothing at all, perhaps feeling intimidated by the men’s “authority.” The man in the club I decided to leave recently never read the chosen books and kept telling us he preferred books with more “action” in them rather than the girlie books we read. My question then is, Why not find some men and read books you like. I’ve decided, since this last experience, that I prefer an all-women book club. The “action” I prefer is inside our heads as we work on relationships, finding community with others, and growing through our reading and discussions.

    Hey lady, thanks for featuring Helen’s book groups!


  11. Aths

    I sure would love to be in one of Helen’s groups! I don’t belong to a real book club so I’m def jealous! Great interview, Trish and Helen!


  12. melanie

    If I could I’d be a professional book club member and belong to like 20 clubs. 🙂


  13. diana mack

    i think i’m the only person on the planet who didn’t like a long way down!


  14. Beth

    When I read that her first book club began almost two decades ago, I felt immediate remorse that 1) I didn’t begin a book club years and years ago and 2) that I’ve moved far away from people I have know for decades. Hearing that her second book club is only one year old and consists of members who have a very specific situation in common (children in the same elementary school) reminded me that I can begin now, looking around at my life and finding readers with something in common. That was very reassuring and motivating.


  15. Julie

    One interesting part of the interview was reading about which books created the most dynamic dialogue amongst the book members. Some I completely agreed with (Eat, Pray, Love and The Kite Runner); others were unheard titles for me or those that I didn’t expect to create such amazing conversations (Loving Frank). I also enjoyed the comparisons and contrasts of her two different book clubs.


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