groups: add this to your list
Book groups are as unique as the
titles they choose to read. Some groups are by invitation only,
tapping waiting lists only when members die. Others are geared
toward women, or mystery lovers, or formed randomly through newspaper
ads. No matter how they come to be, it was apparent at the March
23 book festival panel discussion on "Tips for Book Groups"
that these groups are plentiful locally.
crowd at the New Dominion Book Shop spilled into the upper and
lower staircases and the landing, after all the seats were taken,
eager to hear the advice of panelists Mariflo Stephens, Mickey
Pearlman, Karen Jaegerman Collins and Ruth Klippstein.
a writer who teaches at Hampden-Sydney College, has been hosting
book groups at New Dominion "long before Oprah," she
said. "I choose works that will generate a lot of talk."
when she thought her group -- many of whom are retired professors
-- was reading too many modern works, she assigned a classic,
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. "We all suffered through the
Anna Karenina bruise on our chest" from reading the heavy
tome while reclining, she said.
also a writer, thought her mother's 40-year book group membership
was an anomaly. She discovered her assumption was wrong while
interviewing people for two other book projects and seized on
the opportunity. The outcome was What to Read: The Essential Guide
for Reading Group Members and Other Book Lovers, now in its second
edition. Pearlman has included Gone with the Wind on the book
list, but has no plans to add Bridges of Madison County, she said.
a U.Va. alumna, became a book-group member through a newspaper
ad. About 30 people showed up for the first meeting, she said.
They decided to read Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia
Marquez, which eliminated about two-thirds of the group. As it
has evolved, the group has learned that just because a story's
good doesn't mean it generates discussion.
try to select books that will get people to talk," said Collins,
who describes her group as "thankfully leaderless and structureless."
They meet about once a month. Over coffee and dessert they choose
books for the coming two months.
said nonfiction doesn't generate a great deal of discussion, but
readers find it worthwhile. Her group also reads poetry and short
stories, with each member choosing favorites to share.
is a 12-year veteran of a book group, rooted in a Scottsville
commune. Made up of women who read only women writers, it, too,
is a structureless group, though one person takes the lead each
month by researching the writer and the chosen book.
The group also takes advantage of writers who visit nearby colleges
or who live in the area. Local writer Susan Tyler Hitchcock has
visited, as has writer Sue Hubble, who recently spoke at U.Va.
"We served her lunch," Klippstein said. Her group also
holds retreats, and once a year chooses a young adult book to
are some other tips the panelists had for book groups:
Read book-group books differently than when just reading for
pleasure. Collins and Stephens do a lot of dog-earing and underlining
in their books.
Ask the members of your book group to prepare three questions
on each book they read.
Read favorite passages aloud at book-group meetings.
People who want to read John Grisham shouldn't be in a group
with those who like Toni Morrison.
Don't talk about the plot.
Don't ask, "Did you like the book?²
Explore the writer's use of symbols and space. Pearlman noted
that small spaces, such as traveling in a car or being in a
kitchen, often serve as de facto prisons for female characters
Avoid the "cousin Carol² syndrome, where book-group members
draw similarities between the character and real-life persons.
It can chew up 30 minutes of what should be reserved for discussion
of the book.
study biographical data about the writer and look for connections
with the characters about which he or she is writing.
pass a bookstore or library or book page in the newspaper without
skimming or taking a copy of the book list.
recommended several books, including Lois Lowry's The Giver. The
best-selling young adult book for the past three years, it ponders
what the perfect Utopian life is. Also touted was The Red Tent,
by Anita Diamant. "The ultimate book-group book,² according
to Pearlman, it imagines the life of Jacob's only daughter, who
has only one paragraph written about her in the Bible. The nonfiction
work they endorsed was Black Dog of Fate, by Peter Balakian, a
history of the Armenian Holocaust of 1915 in which 1.5 million
Armenians were killed in one day by the Turks.
Eudora Welty, who read at the New Dominion Book Shop in 1989,
Stephens said, "A good book is like an iceberg. What you
see is interesting, and there's probably something beneath the
surface that should be examined.²
next year's festival, March 21 through 25, a book will be selected
for area groups to read and be ready to discuss at the book-group
panel. The author whose book is chosen will also be invited to
Go to http://www.vabook.org/
for the latest in book festival programming.
local history has its highs and lows
changing face of book publishing