For the Love of Book Groups


I have a confession to make. A book lover’s confession. The kind of secret that could get me thrown out on my ass in certain bibliophilic circles around the city. I can’t stand William Faulkner, and before last May I had never attended even one book club gathering. That’s two confessions. Let’s stick with the second and just let the first one exist. (Although, I have to say here that Faulkner is the inspiration behind one of New Orleans’ best annual literary festivals.)

Last May I started working at Garden District Book Shop, one of the oldest and quirkiest independent book stores in New Orleans. (You just try and figure out how we organize our shelves. There’s logic to it, I swear!) An absolutely wonderful woman named Deb MacDonald had run the book store’s monthly book club for the last fifteen years, and due to unavoidable circumstances, she could no longer. She asked me to take over. If you were ever lucky enough to have met Deb MacDonald in her many capacities as book lover and reading promoter throughout New Orleans, you know there was no way I could tell her no.

I have to admit skepticism on my part at first. Many of these women had been attending this book group for the entirety of its fifteen-year existence. They’d formed friendships, deep attachments to one another, and certainly to Deb. I worried they wouldn’t accept me. I worried over what we would talk about. I’d attended dreadful lectures in the past where an overbearing audience member forced a writer to defend the moral choices of a character. Would we spend most of our time talking about our personal lives? What if they picked terrible books? And what was the role of a book club leader anyway?

What I encountered was a large group of incredibly intelligent and well read women who opened their circle of fold out chairs to me so that we could sit together and discuss our shared passion: books. In small and unrecognized ways, these women seem to me the backbone of the city. They are lawyers, artists, librarians, editors, teachers, and writers. Many have spent their lives in New Orleans, and many others have transplanted themselves and adopted this place as their own.

We’ve never unanimously agreed on a book, and I’d probably fall out of my chair in shock if we did. But we’ve consistently read incredible books I may have not picked up on my own. Whatever our opinions, we defend them in the circle with fire. During the best meetings, we change one another’s minds, broaden perspectives, shift ways of thinking. We also do a lot of laughing.  And just a tad bit of drinking afterward. It is, after all, a book club. In New Orleans.

I’ve come to think that perhaps this book club wasn’t a great introduction to the world of book clubs. If my time with it ends, my expectations of my next book club are now so high they can’t be met. This book club has offered me a community unlike any other. While it is similar to the MFA program I’ve attended in terms of a deep love for writing, the book group allows for a unique dynamic of such disparate individuals to come together and share a reading experience. There is a beauty in this that I didn’t expect.

I know throughout I’ve kept saying women. We just haven’t had any men in our book group yet, but we would certainly welcome them. And we always welcome new members. You can join us every second Wednesday of the month at 6:00 inside The Rink at the corner of Washington and Prytania. We always like seeing fresh faces. Or, there are other book clubs you could check out around town. You could also always start your own. I highly recommend it. A book club engenders deep friendships where there is always something interesting to talk about.

Do you all belong to book groups? Have they been good experiences?

72 thoughts on “For the Love of Book Groups

  1. I’ve always wanted to get involved in a “virtual book club,” basically a book forum that works the same way a face-to-face group works. pick a book, read and discuss, move forward.

    • YatPundit: does a pretty interesting virtual book club. The last one I checked out they were reading and debating Jonathan Franzen’s _Freedom_. I think the internet provides such a unique experience for a very cool book club.

  2. Ed, that sounds like a good idea! However, I’ve never joined a book club because I’m afraid I couldn’t keep up with the pace of reading. In recent years I just don’t seem to have the time to read like I used to.
    Jamie, I don’t like Faulkner either but I’ve never admitted it!

  3. I joined a book club about 5 years ago, and met some great women and built some very strong friendships. At first we picked a book, read it, and discussed it (and our lives ) over wine and food. Then we said, “Oh, it’s okay if you didn’t finish the book.” Then, “It’s okay if you didn’t read the book.” Now, we don’t even bother picking a book! We all read, and we discuss what we read, but really we just sit and talk and drink. But we still call it “Book Club!”

    • I love this. It hits on the important part of the book club dynamic. The books are wonderful, but the community is irreplaceable.

  4. I have always wanted to join a book club, and I’m so ashamed that I have never tried very hard to become part of one.
    Perhaps I should start one.
    Perhaps I should start one TODAY!
    See what you’ve done. : )
    Nice post!

    • Florence, best of luck on your book club. I hope you have better luck than I did with mine (Busy Woman’s Book Club). Fortunately, whether or not I am in a book club or not, my desire to read is not going to be dampened by others. I just finished “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and thought it was fantastic. Happy Reading!!!

        • @ Florence: Awesome! I’m a firm believer in taking action where it needs it. Good luck!

          @ Nicole & Bloggingbitsy: We almost voted on _The Help_, but so many women had read it that they didn’t want to vote for something they’d already read. I’m looking forward to read it.

        • Blogging Bitsy – I’d love to know what you think about The Help. Maybe we could create our own discussion board. If you’d like, email me at busywomansbookclub(at)gmail(dot)com. Happy reading!!!!

  5. i think id actually hate a book club…i dont like being told what to read and when to read it. the beauty of reading for me is stumbling upon some book at a used book store ive never heard of and getting into it.

    • I can definitely see this. I don’t think the book club is for everyone, but I can say that I was skeptical and now am a firm believer. Part of the joy is reading something I never would because women I trust wanted me to. But I think there’s something to be said for however we love to read.

  6. I just joined my first book club a few months ago, and it’s been so much fun. A great way to meet other people interested in books, and in talking about them! We usually start out on the book we read, and then eventually the conversation does turn into other areas–but equally interesting.

    I’ve never had significant reservations about having a book chosen for me. But I read very quickly, so in the month between meetings it’s not a big deal for me to add the book club book to the probably 12 others I’ll also read. And if I ever really hate a book that’s selected, I’ll read as much as I can stand…then come to the meeting and explain why I hated it and quit! But so far we’ve read books I mostly wouldn’t have chosen myself, but have still enjoyed. Which has been another fun side of the group!

    • I hope they keep the momentum going. I think it’s great you are still willing to try. And, worst case scenario, you still read no matter what you choose.

  7. I came to New Orleans while researching my first NF book in 2002 and suspect I visited that shop. My new book is out April 14, so I hope you’ll consider reading it!

    It’s a fun, funny/serious memoir about what it was like to go from being a newspaper reporter to working retail in a suburban NYC mall.

    I have never been part of a book group. Not sure how I would enjoy it, as I read so much already and so eclectically — as another commenter said, I prefer reading at my own pace.

  8. Your book club sounds absolutely wonderful. I have always been intimidated by the idea (even thoug I love to read!) , but I am intrigued by all the wonderful friends and people you have met through the club. I might just searching for a club in my area!

    • Jennifer Egan’s _A Visit From the Goon Squad_ broke my heart in all the right ways. Best book of year that breaks all the rules. _Freedom_ is amazing and worth the hype. Barb Johnson’s _More of this World or Maybe Another_ is life changing.

  9. I’ve been a member of one book group or another since 1990. My reading levels have gone up and down over the years based on birthing and raising children and all that entails. The reading I do for book group is usually different than my more haphazard “reading what I want when I want” kind of reading.

    One of the things I like about my group is that we get together in June and select our reading for the following year all at once. We layout the choices on a table and make piles by type–biographies, literary fiction, memoir, non-fiction, short story collection, and classics. We don’t read things that have little to discuss such as romance or mysteries. We also look for things that can be found at the library or at least in paperback so it’s affordable. We put everything in order and leave the night knowing our list for the year. It’s a collaborative process that allows us all to have at least one book we’re very excited about reading and a bunch of others that might even stretch our horizons a wee bit.

    We meet once a month and start with half an hour pure social and food time. Then we discuss the book–of course we stray off topic sometimes, but we try to always bring it back to the book. It’s a highlight for my month, and I often schedule vacations and such so that I’m in town for the meeting.

    I’m running off to look for Wolf Hall now. (And, Faulkner is better if you read him out loud with an accent.)

  10. Your post certainly got me thinking. I have been a voracious reader, and never really realized how much I always wanted to discuss books with people. Finding someone reading a much enjoyed book I have to hold myself back from accosting them to discuss it. And of course, they usually don’t want to talk as they are still ‘in’ the book and don’t want the distraction (and god forbid I see someone reading ‘Life of Pi’). A few years back I joined a new book group with a loosely connected group of acquaintances. The choices were interesting, and none I would have made, and I thoroughly enjoyed these new books. However, as time wore on there was less book discussion and more personal stuff and eventually I got frustrated and dropped out. However, I do miss the exchange of ideas and different perspectives. Maybe I will rethink this and try again, your writing has given me a yearning.
    Congratulation on being Freshly Pressed ~ great post!

  11. It’s amazing how literature can bring people together for years and years after it’s written. Books and writing were my first loves. This is such an inspiring and incredible post.

  12. Closest thing I’ve gotten to a book club would be Literature classes in college. 🙂 You make it sound like such fun! Congrats on a well earned Freshly Pressed.

  13. That is so wonderful that you have found (and run) a book club that works for you! I have yet to find one in my area so, for now, I have to stick with blogging about the books that I am reading and the foods that they inspire me to make!

    After all, what is book club without themed food?

  14. What a wonderful experience–mine has been the same! We’re all readers, but not friends outside of book club, so our discussions are always about the book with little distraction (which usually occurs when friends try to start a book club). Like you, I’ve read things I’d never have chosen for myself and feel thankful for the monthly discussion about great books.

  15. i’ve never liked book clubs. i think that you have to have the same opinions on the book, otherwise scones and shit are thrown around.

  16. My book club has met for nearly 20 years! We have differences of opinion but don’t throw things. 🙂 It’s fun to have lively discussions–sometimes the discussions make you think about things in a different way. Same with my writer’s group: different people, different ways of looking at the world, lots of great discussion. If you’re curious, check out our blog: its’ called WritersUncorked.

  17. Wow! Looks like I’m not the only blogger who wanted to join a book club, but for some reason never has. I am SERIOUSLY thinking of joining one now (really, I am!). I’ve been living in Italy for 5 years, so I kind of had to improve my Italian first. I think I’m up for the challenge now (just as long as I find a book club that promises not to choose books that are too hard for foreigners)!

  18. I wish I’d had a book group when I lived in New Orleans. It’s so inspiring for readers and writers. Now I’ve found a wonderful, bright, rowdy, funny group of women with whom to read and discuss. What a joy! Georganne –

  19. Book clubs are a great way of meeting new people, the one I go to we don’t pick a book that we all read, and instead we read what ever we want, and we can read as much or as little as we want / able to, and when it comes round to book club we all just talk about what books we have been reading over the past month, some read more than others but that doesn’t matter, and somehow we all end up talking about something different

  20. You work my dream job…literally. Not just any book shop would do. Someday I’ll make it to Words and Music Festival. For now, I’ll appreciate that I can at least attend Tennessee Williams Lit. Fest.

  21. A few friends and I started a book club three years ago, but no one wanted to actually read the book we agreed on, so it essentially died in the bud. I had more recent opportunities to join a book club at my last university, and though I was invited to join to come, I just didn’t feel like I could connect to them simply as young people who love books for what they are. I supposed it would be more like sitting through a terribly boring English class, but I wish I had at least given it a chance. Maybe I’ll search around and try to find another book club to join…thanks to this blog’s post, I will at least have a good idea of what to look for! 🙂

  22. Interesting post. Unfortunately, I am not the ‘book club’ type of gal. I know many who love it, but it doesn’t fit into my schedule. I do however, love to collect ‘antique’ books and articles. Also enjoy visiting bookstores and finding little treasures. Thanks for sharing!

  23. I read a good bunch of Faulkner back in the day, oddly enough because one of my favorite bands in the 80’s was The Reivers, of course named after the Faulkner novel. I can only say I truly enjoyed one book and that was, “Light in August” which is amazing.

  24. This was a very entertaining post! I’ve moved too often with my husband’s company to ever “settle” enough to join a book club, but if I had the chance to do so…I know I would have enjoyed it a great deal. Your book club sounds awesome!

  25. Don’t be ashamed for disliking Faulkner. I personally can’t stand Hemingway. I can respect what he did for (to?) literature, but wouldn’t want to read another of his books.

  26. Just out of curiosity, what is it you don’t like about Faulkner? I read one of his books — The Unvanquished — for the first time a couple of weeks ago and very much enjoyed it. But I admit the writing style’s strange and the sentences are long and sometimes it’s all just a bit … I dunno … messy, or something like that.

  27. Hi!
    Congrats on getting freshly pressed!
    I am a part of a virtual book club which is called an “online read group” (ORG)
    We started in November with The Interpretation Of Murder. And since then we’ve read some classics. Currently we’re reviewing The Life Of Pi. We have a discussion board on Facebook and certain rules (no slang etc) Its a little tough searching for books because I havent joined a library which consists of fiction predominantly. But it s really nice. Nice post 🙂

  28. I belong to a book group, and I’m very proud of doing so. My friends and I formed it in 2007, and it’s very nice to see that after 3 years of discussing books, welcoming new members, and watching old ones leave, we’re all best friends. When we start talking, we start talking on a book, only to find that later the topic has changed to something completely not related to books! Laughter dominates our meetings, and it’s great to be a part of a group of friends who you know share something in common with you: a love of books.
    Every week, we have a meeting on Saturday. The last meeting we voiced our opinions on Tuesdays with Morrie. It’s a great book, you have to try it out!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
    Ashley, aka TheEverydayMuser

  29. It’s kind of a nice coincidence that I happen upon this post. Just today, my friend and I have decided to start our own little book club because we always end up talking about books we’ve read, but we’ve never read the same books and I thought we could have great discussions if we were to actually read the same books.

  30. Hi
    Away down yonder in the hollow tree, who shall the wedding supper be ? from Mr.Frog went a courtin are the lines that came to my mind when I saw yr lines on New Orleans.

  31. Ipads, ebook reader, amazon kindle….i have used them all..since I am “tech freak” and i luv new tech stuff..(its an obsession 😛 ) But nothing actually satiates me like when I read some thing…specially from a new book…there is something special about it..the smell of the new pages…an excitement about what is on the next page…nothing can beat that..

  32. I was part of a book club at my local library, and I enjoyed it greatly. I had to leave because I found employment, but I do miss it. Granted, it was me, then a 22 year old and older women, but I had great fun. I found out about books I had not read, and they found out about books they would had not read. Also, every so often we basically had a session were we would read want we wanted and we would tell the group about it.

    I’d actually like to join another book group. I probably should. Its a lot of fun.

    Great post.

  33. Maybe once I can be certain where my life path is taking me this year, I’d like to be part of one. English Lit classes in college were so dominated by just that handful people and made me realise I like writing about books more than talking about them. Yet if I do join a book club, the reading material could be fodder for reviews.

  34. I’m a teacher, and the only Faulkner I’ve able to “win students over” with is the Miss Emily short story. We had a book club/study at our school, and it really bonded the staff. Enjoyed your musings.

  35. Awesome.

    I’ve been in a book club for almost ten years now. We’ve read over a hundred books. We’ve been through a lot together, including the flooding of the city and the death of our founder. (The two were not related.) The club remains one of the most enjoyable and stress-free aspects of my life.

    We’re linked in your post — the Octavia Science Fiction Club. Second Saturdays, 10:30 pm, Octavia Books. Feel free to join us.

    Morning book clubs tend to be a little lighter on the alcohol, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. As noted we are in New Orleans.

  36. While visiting New Orleans, I read Faulkner and Tennessee Williams…preferred Williams hands-down. If I’m ever there again, I’ll track down your bookstore!

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