Book Club Blues—straying from the book

Monday, 07 December 2009 15:07

book club blues-2Here's a query from the mailbag—from a reader who has a fairly common book club issue.

What do you do with members who stray from the book and talk about…well, whatever comes to mind? We have a couple of members, one in particular, who can't stay focused on the discussion.

This is not an unusual problem for a good many book clubs. A fair amount of socializing is expected...and desireable...but not when it gets in the way of a potentially rich book discussion. Here are some approaches:

1. Delineate social time from book discussion time.

  • Set a strict time limit for socializing—say, 45-60 minutes. Then….ring a bell… make an announcement…clear away food dishes…move to a different room.

2. Keep it light-hearted

  • Turn it into a game. Whoever talks off topic gets a token—a poker chip, a pebble, a raw potato, a burnt candle nub…whatever. The person with the most tokens at the end of the meeting—or year—wins a booby prize.

3. Survey member expectations

  • Discuss among yourselves what you want out of your club—more social interaction or book discussion. If members are divided, then perhaps you need separate clubs. It should be done without rancor or hurt feelings. Everyone has different expectations. It’s life.

Other ideas? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Happy Endings—are they good for us?

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 09:28

happy-sadThis comment caught my eye, from a Publishers Weekly review of Bridget Asher’s The Pretend Wife

It’s more than a little disappointing...that Asher inserts an improbably happy ending.

Ouch. I’m not sure which word is more distressing in that sentence: “disappointing” or “improbably.” And here’s another comment on happy endings, this one from Josh Henkin, author of Matrimony:

Nothing is more depressing than a happy ending that feels tacked on, and there can be great comfort in literature that doesn’t admit to easy solutions, just as our lives don’t.                                       From I Laughed! I Cried – 9/19/08.

Fortunately, Henkin isn’t discounting happy endings per se, only those that feel forced or “tacked on” (i.e., improbable). Still, there’s the suggestion that happy endings are “easy solutions.”

Some questions for Book Clubs . . .

  1. What kind of books do you like to read? Ones with happy endings—always ... mostly ... sometimes?
  2. What about the great works of literature…so many end on unhappy notes? Does that mean books with happy endings aren’t considered good literature?
  3. Do all happy endings feel manipulative, or as Henkin says, ”tacked on”? Can books end happily in a natural, unforced manner?

 

Just ♥ Words — prepositional adverbs

Friday, 20 November 2009 11:04

grammar-policeEnglish—what a great language to have fun with!  Here’s a silly little grammatical conundrum for which I have no explanation . . . except that it’s idiomatic.  Nonetheless, rules are rules—and rules must be obeyed.

Don’t You Just ♥ Words?

You can say
Take the garbage out.  —or—  Take out the garbage.
And you can say
Take it out. —but not— Take out it.
___________

You can say
Butter Mom up.  —or—  Butter up Mom.
And you can say
Butter her up. —but not— Butter up her.
___________

You can say
Turn the lights on.  —or—  Turn on the lights.
And you can say
Turn them on. —but not— Turn on them.
  

Verbs and prepositional adverbs—you would think they’re like infinitive verbs—to be or not to be—you’re to never split one of those.  I mean “you’re never to split one.”  (But we all do.)

But prep-adverbs are different from infinitives. If you use a pronoun, you have to split them up”—not  ”split up them.”  Strange.

It's a wonder anyone ever learns English.

 

Learn a Little Lit—the point of point-of-view

Tuesday, 10 November 2009 13:51

pencil-pointOlive Kitteridge  got me thinking about point of view—who gets to tell the story. Elizabeth Strout’s book shifts from character to character, a narrative technique that lends her work its depth and beauty. 

We see Olive, not only as she sees herself, but as she’s seen by the community.  The pay-off is a richer, far more complicated portrait of Olive than if she alone—or any single narrator—had told us the story.

Point of view, or perspective, is one of the most important decisions an author has to make.  Whoever tells the story shapes the story.

A little game:  take a couple of novels, change the narrators…and see what happens. Try this as a book club activity. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Remains of the Day:  what if Miss Kenton told the story rather than the butler Stevens?  We’d miss the rich irony of a hopelessly naive narrator.  In fact, if we weren’t inside Stevens’s head, he would seem a pitiless monster of a being.

  • Gilead: if we were to see the story through shifty, unreliable Jack Boughton, the story’s prodigal son, we would never experience our own sense shame as we, along with Reverend Ames, willfully pass judgment on a misunderstood character. 

More on point of view at a later date.  In the meantime take our free LitCourse 8 on Point of View.  It’s fun…quick…and informative.

 

Book Club Blues—members who dominate

Sunday, 01 November 2009 15:19

bcblues-3Here's a query that showed up in my mailbox recently. It's a common problem for a lot of book clubs—The Dominator.

How do you handle a member who tends to dominate the book discussion? We have someone who hogs the conversation. Worse, she always feels free to interrupt others.

This is by far the toughest problem facing any book club...and one with no easy solution. Still, here are a few approaches to try:

1. Use a special token. Pass an object—a branch, painted stone, or small pillow, say—around the room. ONLY the member who holds the token may talk. Those who aren’t holding the token cannot interrupt. You could even limit the number of times a person can hold the token. (I personally don’t like the token method, but groups who use it say it works.)

2. Limit comment time. Use a timer to restrict comments. No one should talk more than two (2) minutes for openers—and certainly no more than one (1) minute to comment on someone else’s ideas. The goal for all is to learn to talk succinctly so that there’s time for everyone to voice an opinion.

3. Take charge of the discussion. The leader can interject with comments like, “Great, Bill. Thanks. But let’s give others a chance” or “Can we hear from someone else?” or “What do the rest of you think” or “Mary, you haven’t said anything.” It takes an active, fairly skilled, leader to move the discussion from one person to another, without letting a single individual dominate. It’s not easy.

4. When all else fails…be direct.

• Initiate a one-on-one conversation, either face-to-face or phone—never, never email. Choose someone who has diplomatic skill.

• What to say? Assure the person that he/she is a valued member of the club, but some feel they don’t get to have their ideas heard...or that while the group appreciates the person’s insights, there’s a tendency to over-do. Ask him or her to give others a chance...or not to interject so frequently...or to limit the length of his/her comments.

• The worst case scenario is to ask the offending member to leave the group. This is painful, but for the sake of the overall group it may be necessary. If the problem isn’t resolved, members may start dropping out and finding other groups. Suggest—kindly—that the member move on.

Is this a problem in your club? Any suggestions?

 

Devil in the White City—the fairest of fairs

Sunday, 25 October 2009 09:38

Were you like me, wondering what the World’s Fair looked like in Erik Larson’s book?  The book’s photos didn’t help much. Take heart:  Below is a photo that appeared in today’s New York Times, front page of the “Week in Review” section.  Now we can see what all the fuss was about!

worlds-fair

 

 

 

 

Book Club Blues—members who don’t read the book

Friday, 23 October 2009 15:40

bcblues-4I get some interesting emails—many are about problems a lot of book clubs face.  Here’s one I got recently:

What do you do with members who haven’t read the book…but who still love to talk and talk as if they have? Should clubs have rules that say if you haven't read the book, you can't come to the meeting?

Set some guidelines at the outset
At the beginning of every book discussion, the host or discussion leader should ask if all members can agree to the following propositions:

• It is realistic—not everyone can read every book; we all have busy lives. Therefore, non-readers should always feel welcome to attend.

• As a matter of fairness—those who have read the book should get first dibs on talking about it.

•As a matter of courtesy—it’s incumbent on non-readers to LISTEN and comment briefly or rarely.

Any other ideas? Here’s the spot to share them.

 

From the mailbag—spooky novels

Sunday, 18 October 2009 10:44

halloweenOooooh...!  Halloween’s coming up. A reader asked me to come up with ideas for spooky mystery novels. The writer herself suggested Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. Good one!

Here are some I came up with—mostly older works:

 

  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 1938  (an all-time favorite)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, 1847  (the mad women in the attic)
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, 1859-60 (scrumptious)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle, 1091-02 (the great Sherlock and Watson)
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, 2003 (we have guides for the complete vampire series)
  • Anything scary by Stephen King… Any particular suggestions from anyone?

If anyone has some other ideas, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

 

LitLovers meets The Birth of Venus

Thursday, 08 October 2009 11:31

birth-of-venus-santa-croceAh, poor me...I just returned from Italy. Life is so hard.

While there...I was reading Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus—which I’d just happend to pick off the bookshelf at the house where I was staying. And here’s what happened…

Dumb me. I left my purse on the Florence Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus, which takes you around the city. Had to sprint—shoes off—through a piazza to head it off at the next stop. No mean feet, so to speak (not so young…nor so thin). But happy ending. Got the bus, got the purse.
 
Here’s the cool part:  the piazza I cut through was in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce—the very place, in the book, where Savanarola banned women from public life  (i.e., those running barefoot around town). And I’d just read that chapter of the book the night before. Ah literature...ah, life! 

Anyway, my trip was slightly different from Liz Gilbert’s…my version was Eat, Run, Eat. Just as much fun...but no book, no movie.

 

On the air with NPR

Tuesday, 01 September 2009 11:42

radio micShort update—I’ve just received a terrific invitation to be a guest on a local NPR station in Hampton, Virginia.  We’ll be discussing book club issues—the how-tos of starting and running a club, and handling difficult issues. 

The show is HearSay with Cathy Lewis.  Maureen Corrigan will also be on, as well as Susan Coleman who is leading Virginia’s Big Read!  Call letters are WHRV 89.5 FM. 

Most of you won’t be within reach, but for those in Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina…tune in on Thursday, September 3, 2009, from 12 noon to 1pm.

 

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