Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Clubs Matter: Guest post from She Reads: Melissa Hambrick

Every month, we tie a blindfold on one of our book club members. Then we spin her around in circles until she cries uncle, and send her topsy-turvy around the bookstore in a drunken stagger to pin the bookmark on the title. Wherever it lands is the book we choose.

Perhaps a bit extreme and slightly off the wall? Maybe. But choosing the perfect book for your club isn’t really a science, even though it feels that way sometimes. Everyone wants to get a turn—different people like different genres, and what is deeply literary to one may feel like slogging through mud to another. When one person loves a fun read, another might think it’s fluff. So an old-fashioned party game could do the trick in a pinch.

How do you discover those amazing reads that become book club classics, especially with Oprah now off network television? Here are a few things we’ve tried—maybe some will help your club come together:

Goodreads: A great website that connects you with fellow bibliophiles, Goodreads is the online equivalent of a friend pressing a book into your hot hands and saying, “You have GOT to read this.” On this site, I’m friends with several people who are in my book club, as well as friends from all over the country.  I’m even friends with a couple of authors now, after reading their books and giving them a nice review and rating. I can see what my friends are reading, and pick and choose from books they’ve read that look interesting. I’ve also been able to offer out questions to some of my favorite authors who come to Goodreads to do online chats…but so far, Ann Patchett has not taken me up on an offer to come join our book club here in Nashville, although I think we made a pressing case for it.

Online Book Clubs: Sites like and (home of The Pulpwood Queens book club) are fantastic repositories for previously undiscovered authors and novels. Often, they offer author interviews and background about the book or author you might not read anywhere else. There are usually great giveaways and sometimes, as with, getaways as well—like their annual Girlfriend Weekend. And couldn’t we all use that?

Other Books: For a while, we had a couple of rules for picking our monthly reads. First we said it had to be in paperback, because hardbacks were kind of pricey—and then that went by the wayside when everyone in our club ended up getting Kindles and Nooks. Another one of our rules that carried on for a while is that our next book had to, in some way, be a jumping off point from a previous book—either in theme, or setting. It makes for an interesting progression and great comparisons from month to month.

Food: Ah yes, part of the holy trinity of book club—the written word, inspiring conversation and amazing food. Although a book may inspire a menu, it’s possible to let your favorite foods inspire the choice of book, too. I’d also recommend The Book Club Cookbook ( that pulls together two of my personal favorite things seamlessly. I think our club may soon have a themed dinner with recipes from some of our best-loved novels from the past few years using this book!

Bookstores: Our book club has been known to wrap up a wonderful evening by going to the bookstore as a group and wandering around. No one gets blindfolded. But once we get going, it’s hard to stop, of course—all of us girls and all of those books. It feels decadent. We’re like kids in a candy store. You might also consider signing up for newsletters or social media feeds from retailers big and small. For those of us here in Nashville, Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s new bookstore) sends out some great recommendations on their Facebook page, while I’ve also discovered some great new releases from Barnes & Noble’s emails.

Resign yourself to this: you’ll never make everyone happy. Few and far between are those books, like The Help, that everyone seems to love equally. More often than not, you’ll be a club divided—but isn’t that what makes for a great conversation? I’ve discovered some great authors and some of my favorite books by stretching myself beyond what I would have chosen on my own.

How does your book club make their reading picks?

As an added bonus of booky goodness, we've included a video of Ann Patchett on the Colbert Report (a nice American friend explained to our Canadian who doesn't watch TV what the Colbert Report is, but she still couldn't view the video because she lives in Canada. If you aren't in the US, likely you won't be able to view the video.) Enjoy!


The Book Whisperer said...

Great blog!!!

Laura S. said...

Hi, Melissa! I really like that idea of pin-the-bookmark on the book to choose one for your book club. It sounds fun! I'm not in a book club but my mom is and I've recommended quite a few books to them! They often choose their books from recommendation and word of mouth. I'll have to tell them about pin-the-bookmark on the book!

Have a great week!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love this. Forwarding it on to my book club...The Book Thieves.
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Melissa, thank you for such an informative post. As the leader of a book club, I'm always looking for ways of finding books for us to read. This has been really helpful. I can't wait to visit some of the sites you name, especially the book club cookbook site.

Patti Hill said...

I love the idea of stringing the book selections thematically. Thanks for the great post, Melissa.