BookBrowse interviews Judy Mathwin joins us to talk about her Book Swap book club. Instead of the traditional one-book discussion, members share and swap favorite books over potluck salads. about all aspects of their book club.

Book Club Interviews

Judy Mathwin joins us to talk about her Book Swap book club. Instead of the traditional one-book discussion, members share and swap favorite books over potluck salads.

We love this book swap (and salad) idea! Would you describe how a typical meeting begins?

We meet about 7 or 8 times a year and always gather at my house on Sundays. Everyone brings a book or books to swap, a salad bar ingredient to share, her own salad bowl and fork, and I supply salad greens, salad dressings, and drinks. Often we have cookies or muffins, thanks to the bakers in the group. We congregate in the kitchen, catching up with everyone for about 45 minutes; then we each make our own salad from the kitchen table "salad bar" and move into the living room to eat. Our salad bar is best described as eclectic. We never have any idea what others are bringing and the resulting salads are always different and delicious. Conversation is lively, varied, and always engaging.

And then the Swap?

The actual Swap takes place after we enjoy our salads. We go around the group with each Swapper giving a brief synopsis of her book. It can be a book she read and loved, one she hasn't read and hopes someone else may enjoy, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, bio, essays, anything. After everyone has shared her book(s), we take turns picking the book we want. The selection order varies from swap to swap –- birthday month, alphabetical by first name, etc. First time members get to pick first. After the first round, we then get to select whatever is left. If someone wants her book back, she puts her name inside the front cover. If more than one person wants to read the book, names get noted inside the book. If a swapper is the only one who wants to read the book, she doesn't have to return it and can pass it on as she wishes.

How long does a meeting usually last?

The swap usually lasts about 2½ hours. Great fun. Clean up for me takes about 10 minutes: chairs back, dressings in the refrigerator, serving spoons and cups washed, done.

Where did the book swap idea come from?

One of the things on my "To Do List When I Retire" was start a book club. But I didn't want to have to be smart or clever or insightful or traditional. I wanted it to be non-pressured and fun, and I wanted to expand my circle of friends. I also love to offer and receive book recommendations -- some of my very best reads have come that way. Another thing I love is salads but I weary of all the chopping. Last thing -- I love the idea of a community of women, a most powerful and affirming entity. All things came together with my Book Swap idea.

How long have you been together?

We've been together about three years. I'm not sure because now I feel like I've known these great women for a very long time.

Once you came up with the idea, how did you form the group?

Initially I invited about twelve women to come; some did, others didn't. Members have since invited their friends to join us, who are now my new friends. Our ages range from the thirties to the seventies, all with varying backgrounds and interests (art, family, volunteer work, pets, travel, politics, etc.) in addition to a shared interest in reading. Some of us are retired, some still working, some married, some single, some widowed. We usually have about ten women at each gathering.

Can you tell us a little more about your members?

Our group members include a stay-at-home mom, an educator, a pastor, a grad student, an expert on the arts and aging, an artist, an attorney, an executive coach, a librarian, an editor, a techie, an art gallery docent, a Habitat for Humanity organizer, and an educator. We've shared contacts, expertise, information, tips, ideas, and new ways of thinking about things. We are a very friendly and welcoming group. New members are warmly received, intermittent members happily welcomed back, and regulars always good to see. We bring and happily share a wide range of expertise.

What kinds of books do you read and swap?

We seem to bring mostly fiction – mysteries, current, classics, best sellers, unfamiliar authors. There have been some great non-fiction selections also such as Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich and The Road From Coorain, by Jill Kathryn Conway.

What do you do if no one wants a particular book?

No problem. At the end of the swap, we gather up the leftover books and they are donated to our local library or a charity. Most of us bring more than one book to swap and we often have leftovers.

Do you have a favorite Swap discovery?

Perhaps my biggest surprise book was Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast, by Bill Richardson. I had never heard of it and absolutely loved it. I've since recommended to many others and bought it as gifts.

What book swap book are you reading right now?

My last swap read was the hilarious Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. (Thanks, Shelley!) I just finished reading and loving The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty and plan to offer it at our next swap.

Is it difficult to part with books that you love?

Not at all. I can get it back if I want by just putting my name inside the cover. Plus, I'm not much of a saver. "They make more" is my philosophy.

Does your group mind veering off the topic of books?

This always happens and is part of the joy. For example, we've discussed volunteer opportunities, current events, politics, death, family, work, movies, and travel, and I don't think any of us will ever forget our chicken discussion.

Chicken discussion?

We discussed whether any egg that a chicken lays has the potential to become a chick; whether the chicken could only lay an egg (or eggs) after the rooster has his way with her; whether every time a rooster has his way with the chicken all the eggs are fertilized; and whether we eat fertilized eggs or only unfertilized eggs. After lots of speculation and laughter, we Googled for answers. My guess is that, although all those present remember the conversation, no one remembers the answers.

How does the Book Swap compare to traditional book groups you’ve been in?

I was briefly in a book club many years back and felt pressured to appear smart and insightful. That's not what I was looking for now. I love the casual atmosphere, great conversation, interesting salads, and above all, the amazing members.

Any advice you'd offer for readers wanting start a book swap of their own?

Don't hesitate. Take your idea and run with it.

Interview conducted and edited by Lucia Silva

© April 2009.

Would you be interested in being interviewed for this feature? If so, please contact us with brief details about your club. It is very helpful if you include both a contact email and a telephone number.

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