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BookBrowse interviews Barb Watkins recently moved to Michigan, leaving behind her book club of eight years. However, it wasn't long before she formed a new club! In this interview she chats with BookBrowse about her current book club and the mother-daughter club she started with her 4th grade daughter. about all aspects of their book club.

Book Club Interview (see full list)

Barb Watkins recently moved to Michigan, leaving behind her book club of eight years. However, it wasn't long before she formed a new club! In this interview she chats with BookBrowse about her current book club and the mother-daughter club she started with her 4th grade daughter.

Hello Barb, thank you for taking the time to chat with BookBrowse about your book club experiences. First of all, I understand that you recently moved to Michigan, leaving behind a book club that you'd been in for years. This must have been quite a wrench. How did you go about finding a new book club to join?

I kept mentioning to people I met that I was interested in finding a good book club. It took about a year to find the book club that I'm currently in. A good friend and I formed it by asking friends that we knew from our neighborhoods and church activities. We tried to ask people we knew had both the interest and time to read.

A photo of 5 of the 7 members of "Book It" (Barb is in the middle).

Is there something in particular that you enjoy about book clubs?

There are two things, in particular, I love about book clubs; exposure to books you wouldn't normally read, and the discussions encourage you to look at what you've read from perspectives you haven't considered.

Please tell us a bit about your current group

Our group consists of 7 women, and we only started this past fall. We first got together for an organizational meeting, and have since gotten together four times for book discussions, meeting approximately every 6 weeks. The name of our group is "Book It" suggested by one of our members and we all felt like it fit the group. Not everyone in the group knew each other before we started, which I really like because it not only gives you an opportunity to meet new friends, but it can make for more varied discussions.

What are your meetings like?

We each take turns hosting the meeting with the hostess selecting the book (usually with some input from the group), leading the discussion, and providing refreshments. We met on weekday evenings during fall, but switched to Sunday afternoons in January and February (because it's nice not to have to go out on cold, dark nights then!) We'll switch back to evenings when it warms up a bit. None of my book clubs has ever met over summer, although we usually try to see a movie or have an outing to a restaurant, just for fun.

We usually take about a half hour to gather, chat, have some refreshments, and then launch into our discussion. I've had book discussions last anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours, depending on the book and the group.

Tell us about the sort of books you read?

I think it's important to read from different genres over the course of the year; historical fiction, novels, non-fiction, humor, short stories, etc. We try to pick books that we think will result in a good discussion, often covering a topic that someone wants to learn more about.

Best discussions: Life of Pi generated the longest and one of the most interesting discussions. One of the most intriguing aspects was discovering which members saw the book as an allegory and how that changed the book for those who hadn't pick up on it. Surprisingly to me, The Da Vinci Code generated a lot of discussion too. The hostess showed a half hour video, produced by A&E about what was fact and what was fiction in the book. And Girl with the Pearl Earring's discussion branched off into discovering more about Vermeer with lots of interesting facts brought in by a complementary web site. Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Women resulted in a good discussion about poetry (something that few of us read on a regular basis) and each of us brought in favorite poems to share.

Least Enjoyed: Although we had a good time discussing Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, we all found the book was too long to finish in the time allotted and so limited our discussion to the first quarter of the book. On the Road by Jack Kerouac was not a favorite of the group, but the hostess' husband spiced up the meeting by bringing in a friend, playing the bongo drums, and doing a jazz rap about suburban wife book clubs. And although we enjoyed the facts we got out of reading Isaacs' Storm by Erik Larson, we had a difficult time generating anything to discuss and found ourselves going over the story rather than generating any thoughts.

I think it helps to choose books that allow for interpretation, rather than just relaying facts. I find it helpful to look at reading guides before I select a book. You can often tell from the questions listed if the book is going to generate discussion or not. I also check to see if there are any complementary web sites or additional info on the topic that will add to the discussion, as well as check online lists of books recommended for book clubs.

Has your group held any notable special events?

In my last book club, our December meeting was a gathering where each member brought a friend and we had a grab bag with books as gifts. We all really enjoyed it and I hope to try it with my new club too. It's nice to have a month where you do something socially, without a book to discuss, such as a party, movie night, or dinner out.

I think many readers will be particularly interested to know about the mother-daughter group you were part of in your old city. Can you tell us a little about this?

The mother-daughter book club that I was involved in before I moved was a wonderful experience. We started when the girls were in 4th grade and continued through 5th grade (which is when we moved). Again, a friend and I started the club by asking other moms in our daughters' grade we thought might be interested. We ended up with 22 people in the club (11 daughters, 11 moms) which was a bit large, but it worked just fine. The first meeting was a planning meeting to find out when the best time would be to meet for book discussions, how we would select our books, etc.

We met about every 6 weeks, avoiding school holidays or large homework project times we knew would come up at school. The daughter who hosted (we each took a turn) chose the book and came up with a half dozen questions about the book. We learned that 30-45 minutes of discussion time worked well. And we also learned not to serve snacks until the discussion time was over, as they tended to be more of a distraction for the girls during the discussions! The hostess gave each girl a chance to respond to the questions asked, but the girls volunteered answers only when they had something to say. The discussions went amazingly well. Occasionally a mom would intersperse with a comment or additional questions, but on the whole, the meetings were run by the girls.

Barb is not in this picture (as she took it!). Her daughter is the first on the left in the front row.

Could you tell us some of the books you read and which you'd recommend to other mother-daughter book clubs?

Here are some of the books we read in the mother-daughter book club. I can't say there was one that the girls didn't enjoy and they all generated great discussion and often led the girls to read further books by the same author; the top four were my daughter's favorites.

  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler and Sarah Gibb
  • Esperanza Rising by by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • The Report Card by Andrew Clements
  • The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
  • The King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis
  • The Doll People by Ann Matthews Martin, Laura Godwin, Brian Selznick, and Ann M. Martin
  • The Girl with the 500 Middle Names by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Janet Hamlin
  • Zenda and the Gazing Ball by John Amodeo, Ken Petti, and Cassandra Westwood

Thank you, I know that such a comprehensive list will be useful to many. Do you have any specific advice for starting a mother-daughter club?

Keep the reading level to one that all of the girls in the club will be comfortable with. Make sure that the girls run the meetings, not the moms! Ask your school and local librarians for suggestions of books to read that are age-appropriate and good for discussion.

Do you have any advice for somebody thinking of starting or joining a book club in general?

  • A book club takes commitment from each of its members. I think the most challenging thing about getting a group to work is finding a group of people that really enjoy reading and can devote the time needed to read the book selection. When I don't have the time to read an entire selection (because let's face it, life takes precedence sometimes!), I try to find an annotated audio copy to listen to, an online synopsis, or at least an hour or two to skim the book. Then you can at least enjoy the discussion of the book and even participate a bit.
  • Keep the discussion groups to 6-10 people. If you have a larger group, break into smaller discussion groups.
  • In general, choose books that are under 300 pages and available in paperback, or from the library.
  • Choose a variety of genres.
  • Devote a portion of each meeting to discussion time – don't let the whole meeting go by without talking about the book (which can happen more easily than you think!). It can feel awkward, at first, to start the discussion portion of the meeting. But once you get it going, it usually takes off on its own.
  • Have the person that chooses the book be responsible for coming up with discussion questions. Check online resources, such as bookbrowse.com and readingguides.com for reading guides.
  • We've found it works well to have every person take a turn as host and ask that person to choose the book and run the discussion.
  • Keep a list of what you've read! It's really interesting to look at it when you've been together awhile.

Thank you, Barb, you've given us a wealth of good ideas which I'm sure will inspire many of us!

This interview first ran in February 2007

© BookBrowse.com October 2010.

If you feel that your book group has something unique to offer, and you would like to tell others about it, please contact us with brief details, and maybe we can feature you in the future.

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