LitClub:  Zodiac Book Group
Houston, Texas

club zodiacclub zodiac-lg1

DESPITE THEIR NAME, their eyes look not to the stars but to the written page. They love to read and talk about what they've read—and they've been doing so for nearly 20 years.

Why the name Zodiac?
When we first met and introduced ourselves to one another, it turned out that every single one of us had a different Zodiac sign. That seemed pretty unusual, so we thought it would be fun to call ourselves the Zodiac Book Group.

Unfortunately, the name is a little misleading for people looking for groups about the Zodiac. We have our own blog, which gets a lot of miss-hits...but we like our name too much to change it.

Are you all still original members?
No, only 3 of us are left from the original 1996 group—though, at this point, most of us have been in the club for a long time. After all, we've been around for quite a while.

How many members at this point?
Right now we have 11, which works well. We were down to 6 once but didn't always have enough people for discussions when members were absent.

Any larger than 11 is too big—we ended up having side conversations and cross-talk. So now we add new members only if someone leaves the group.

So what have you read lately?
Here's what we've been reading over the past year:

Sweet Tooth
Oleander Girl
Whose Names Are Unknown
Abortionist's Daughter
Orphan Train
Guernsey Literary and
  Potato Peel Pie Society
The Lacuna
Sandalwood Tree
Chango's Beads and Two-Toned
Night Circus

Any favorites?
Loving Frank
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
These were our favorites because everyone really liked the stories, characters, and plots; also because sometimes we learned something about history that we didn’t know.

Any disappointments?
A Confederacy of DuncesNo One in the WorldThe Human StainThe Wolves of Andover (We liked Kathleen Kent's earlier book, The Heretic’s Daughter). We were disappointed because the books didn’t live up to expectations, possibly because they were over-hyped to begin with.

What about books that led to particularly good discussions?
The Year of Magical Thinking (This one got really rowdy!) ♦ The ShackThe Road
Life of PiThe Sense of an Ending. All these generated good discussions because the group was polarized and strongly opinionated on why they did or didn’t like them. We love it when there are disagreements about a book—those are the most interesting meetings!

How do you choose your books?
We choose new books when we're almost finished with the current selections. That gives us about a year’s worth of books in advance. To do this, everyone brings one or two suggestions to the group, and from those we narrow it down through discussion to one from each person.

We try to stick to titles that are in print and available in paperback, only because they're lighter to read in bed than hardcover! Some of our members read eBooks or listen to audio books—very modern of us!

We read the books in various orders: sometimes alphabetically by title, author....or by member names, and sometimes by length (longer books over holidays, shorter ones when there's less time between meetings).

Although we generally read fiction, we've thrown in biographies, memoirs, and historical accounts. Over time, we've found that it's often harder to generate discussion about a biography or history book. After all, you can't exactly criticize the author for the plot or the ending!

Our tastes run from the classics, modern fiction and chick historical fiction, murder mysteries, and magical realism. We rarely read novellas, short stories, or science fiction, just because none of us has a deep interest in these.

After all these years, we've noticed that once in awhile, we've had some "accidental" themes—we've read several books dealing with slavery, long-suffering but plucky women, Middle Eastern culture, and the Holocaust.

Any rules?
We don’t have any hard and fast rules. You don’t have to have finished the book, or even read it, to attend. The only caveat is that we will inevitably talk about the ending of the story so there will be spoilers. Donna usually prints up a reading guide, if one is available (LitLovers is one of the better sources!), but anyone is welcome to bring related materials that will add to the discussion.

You've celebrated any number of club anniversaries.
Yes, we've found a way to celebrate our longevity by celebrating every 5th anniversary—August 2001, 2006, and 2011 so far. (In 2016, we'll celebrate our 20th year!) We also celebrated our 200th book, Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan! (See top 3 photos.)

Donna, the group secretary, usually hosts the anniversary meetings and gives out small gifts to all of the members. Nothing extravagant—just trinkets and knickknacks that relate to the theme of the previous year's books. She wraps them up, and members pick one at random, unwrap it, and try to guess which book it represents. Some of the items require a big stretch of the imagination depending on Donna's success prowling the stores, but it makes for a fun evening. Finally, we always have an anniversary cake and wine to complete the party.

Any activities outside regular club meetings?
We’ve attended Author Talks sponsored by Houston’s Inprint Brown Reading Series. We saw Joan Didion discuss The Year of Magical Thinking and Jeffrey Eugenides discuss Middlesex. If a movie version of a book comes out, we’ll usually plan a group outing to see it. After the release of Cloud Atlas, Donna hosted a viewing party at her house.

Overall, how would you describe your club?
Most of us have moved here from other places, including Canada, but there are a couple of members who are native Houstonians. Over the years, people have come and gone: we lost JoAnn, a beloved member to cancer in 2009; others have moved away.

Currently, several members are librarians; 2 are pubic health researchers, 2 are financial advisers, and one is a sales rep. We are composed of ladies of a "certain age"—a few of us are retired, semi-retired, almost retired, or free agents. The main thing that brings us all together is a love of reading. Plus, we get to socialize with a great group of women, and we read things that we wouldn't normally pick ourselves.

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