Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Writers Should Join Book Clubs


What inspired you to become a writer? If you’re anything like me, your love of writing has its roots in a love of reading. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of weekend mornings curled up on the sofa with my mom while she read to me. We started with the L.A. Times comic section: Brenda Starr, Little Lulu, Nancy and Sluggo. Before long, we moved into books.

I yearned for the day I could read on my own, and once I learned to make sense of all those letters on the page, I never lost my love of reading. From Black Beauty and Jane Eyre, to Hemingway and Fitzgerald and . . . well, you get the idea.

Over the years, my taste in fiction narrowed, and I realized I was limiting myself to a couple of categories: women’s fiction, because that’s mainly what I write, and mysteries/thrillers because they’re so darn interesting and fun to read. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but a writer-reader really should diversify.

Writers need to read, not just the kind of writing they do or want to do, but all kinds of writing. Reading the work of other writers broadens your horizons and makes you think. It expands your perceptions. It feeds the muse and keeps her interested in you.

But how to choose what to read from the endless choices of good books out there? Publishers Weekly tempts me every week, and friends are always recommending their own favorites and often foisting them on me.

And that’s where the book club comes in. When I had a chance to join a local reading group, I jumped in and have not regretted it for a moment.



The “Brown Bag Book Club” (so named because it meets mid-day) is sponsored by Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, a delightful independent bookstore in La Canada, California. We’ve read current bestsellers and lesser-known novels, and without exception they’ve been wonderful reads. Most have been books I would never have chosen on my own but am ever so glad the book club selected them. I’ve entered worlds I never imagined and discovered the work of some amazing novelists. The experience has only strengthened my commitment to my craft and left me in awe of the writing; it’s made me want to write even more, and to do it better.

It sure doesn’t hurt that Sandy Willardson, one of our book club moderators, is a fantastic cook who brings a delectable dessert to each meeting. We’ve sampled a pumpkin mousse, gingerbread, a chocolate truffle tart topped with strawberry soufflĂ©. . . yikes, this is making me hungry. Not all book clubs are blessed with this little extra, but it sure helps break the ice!

An important side benefit of belonging to a book club: when we meet to discuss the month’s selection, and I hear the other members’ reactions, it gives me priceless insight into what they found compelling in the book, and what turned them off. It makes me think about my own values, and what I consider a successful novel. Does my writing measure up to my own standards? Probably not as much as it could, but the book club discussions are a significant wake-up call.

We live in a hectic world, and it’s usually hard to find time to work on our own projects, to write our stories and novels and to study our craft. It’s easy to forget that big old world of fiction out there, and belonging to a book club is a wonderful way of reminding oneself that writers need to be readers.

4 comments:

  1. Bonnie, so right you are! Love my reading group "Books and Cooks." You can tell from our name we also like to eat. One of the things I really like is the diversity of selections. Left to myself I'd only read mysteries. Hear, hear for book clubs! (or maybe it's here, here!)

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  2. Thanks, M.M. Glad to know we're not the only ones who think eating and reading go hand in hand, so to speak.

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  3. For writers, hearing what readers like in a variety of genres should help direct one's own writing in areas that just might snag a new reader to read our books.

    I like many types of books, mostly mysteries, but a good book is a good book, and they all have something that captures the imagination and keeps the reader turning those pages.

    I bet a book group knows a few of those basics that work every time. I know Aristotle had a list: plot, character, setting, dialogue, and the point (or heart) of the story.

    This was a fun article, Bonnie.

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  4. Dear Bonnie, your article prompts the urge to commit to reading on a regular basis. What's so difficult about finding the time to read and write? I keep wondering. I see that difficulty dogging my clients daily in my work as a writing coach. I myself experience "the lack of time" for my own writing/reading. One reason might be that our physical world--the playing ground where we meet each other (if not at the workplace or school, for lunch, at the grocery store, at the museum, etc.) is just so compelling. We have to play our games well to survive to our satisfaction on a physical level--you know, pay for that mortgage, the kid's college, the car, and so on. But when it comes down to it, what we do best as human beings is to CREATE and there is so much that is intangible about that. The world of story is endlessly compelling too, once one commits to it, but that physical world has got us by the scruff of the neck, it seems. I have immense admiration for anyone who reads, who turns off the TV, the noise from the world, all those endless taskmasters that call our names, and sits down with a book and jumps into those inviting worlds. I have never been in a book club. But despite my fear in taking on one more commitment, I dream of doing so; loads of laundry be damned! Thanks for the wake up call to the wake up call! Susan

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