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Welcome to The Book Club Cheerleader's website!  I hope you will bookmark us, come to know this website well, and return often to get new ideas for your book club. In addition to my ideas on books, people and fun, I will be sharing with you a host of other books, websites and valuable resources for your reading group. 

           Each month we have a Book Club Cheerleader's Tip of The Month. This month we talk about checking out your club's Book Balanceand it has nothing to do with tax season... I will also answer reader questions in the Coach's Corner segment.  This month's answer is about what to serve your reading group when you meet to discuss The Help, by Kathryn Stockettand check out the fun Man of the House Teen Talk game in the Fun & Festivities column, as well...And don't miss my latest stalking episode in my blog, Faking it.

            Find out what to do about Missing Members  in our Team Tips, and check out our  suggestions for planning a Road Trip! in the Party Place, and a new Icebreaker game  in the Fun & Festivities column.

            Other regular features include profiles or interviews with authors and other book clubs, and book recommendations from The Book Club Cheerleader, plus a host of other book clubs and experts. You'll also get hints on how to handle some sticky group dynamics, take steps to keep building your team relationships, and make your group members feel important and involved. I'll also cover ways to celebrate your books, your authors, and your group--including party tips, recipes, and games. 

            
I hope you enjoy reading the various articles on bookclubcheerleader.com, and give me a yell to share your ideas and let me know what else you would like to see in the future.

Cheers!

The Book Club Cheerleader
 

 


How’s Your Group’s Book Balance?

I love discussing individual books. Of course, that’s why I’m a member of three books clubs, and coach about thirty others. But sometimes it’s helpful to pull back and discuss trends in the books you’ve read recently. It’s also great to get a different perspective on what these trends might mean to other members of your book group.

Recently, I was talking to my sister-in-law, Anne, who is an avid book-reader—and a member of my neighborhood book club.  I was observing that for some reason, lately, I just could not get enough of books set in WWII. I was thinking about how I got lost in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Rose Colored Glass, The Madonnas of Leningrad, The Book Thief, The Zookeeper's Wife —and so many other wonderful books set during the early 40’s time period! At the same time, Anne was lamenting that our club was “in a rut” and could really use some new book themes—outside of this setting. It was a great epiphany to me! I realized what was really “in the zone” to me, was “in a rut” to her. When we brought up the issue to the group, most seemed to acknowledge that our book choices had become a bit lopsided.  Wow—how had I let this happen?

 I’d forgotten a concept that we had started with seven years ago—back when I founded Readers in the Hood—what we dubbed “Book Balance.”  Back then, I created a spreadsheet—of course, I love spreadsheets—that showed genres across the top. Some of these included “Coming of Age”, “Historical Fiction”, “Memoir/Biography”, etc.  We even made a point to select a “Classic” as our summer read each year.  As our selections grew, you could visually begin to see the variety of our selections. And if you stopped to analyze the story the chart was telling, you could compare our favorite books—or best discussion—not necessarily the same thing—and start to notice that we really enjoyed reading books with “Themes of Diversity” (PC speak for books about other countries and/or minority cultures—what Jamie Ford refers to as Non-‘Betty Crocker White’ themes) such as The Kite Runner, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Color of Water. It was great to keep in mind that we might want to ensure we selected more of these in the future—but not to the point that we ignored other types of books.

Obviously, we hadn’t conducted any real analysis lately—and as Anne observed, this was beginning to show in our Book Balance. As a short-term solution, until we could study our spreadsheet in more detail, we did consciously select a non-WWII book as our final selection for our book club year— The Middle Place—a fabulous present-day memoir by the feisty Kelly Corrigan.

Longer-term, we have the analytical tool already at our fingertips, we just need to take the time to consider our Book Balance in more detail. Our club also recently decided that too much time was taken up at our meetings for future book selections, and so we’ve decided to change our ‘book pick’ process to two outside meetings, twice a year. Once in August and once in January, we’ll select our books for the next six months. This may cut down on some of the spontaneity we’ve enjoyed in the past, but we feel it will also protect our meetings from long ‘business’ discussions—leaving it free for socializing—a VERY important value to us—and deeper, richer, book discussions. Another advantage we see for making this change, is the ability to build in more Book Balance into our selections, since we’ll be looking at our schedule six months at a time and we will be better able to see what patterns we are creating on our spreadsheet.

 So, it’s a good idea to periodically talk about your books selection process, and whether it allows for an analysis of what types of books you’re enjoying, what kind you might be missing out on, and the balance of them all. Because if you look at your book selection strictly on a book by book basis, you may find your club selections starting to stagnate. And just as curiosity killed the cat, boredom can bump off the book club! 

Has your book group struggled with the issue of Book Balance? We’d like to hear about your issues, solutions, and experiences.

Cheers!

BCC


Role Playing for

Drama Queens

 My sister-in-law, Anne, is a true Engstrom —an avid reader and an over-achiever. She always reads the book—every month—no matter what. She arrives at our meetings with her book club journal filled to the brim with quotes, questions, and insights to share. She wins our “Fabulous Prize” every other month (for playing our email game)—and has even won a couple of our costume contests. Therefore, she really had to go over-the-top to surprise me. But that is exactly what she did recently when she facilitated our book group discussion of South of Broad, by Pat Conroy.

            Anne began by telling us that we were going to handle the discussion a bit differently than usual. She said that we would not use a reading group guide—but would cover the characters and themes from the book in a unique way. She reminded us to “move out of our comfort zone” and just “go with the flow.” We all started looking at each other, wondering what in the world she had up her sleeve. She then passed a bowl full of little papers around the room, directing us to take one of the slips, and hold it, but not read it. (Honestly? It felt like I was taking communion at a Southern Baptist Church: take the wafer, hold it in your hand, but don’t do anything with it until the preacher says…) But I tried to withhold judgment and (for once) just follow her direction.

When everyone had their little slips of paper, she told us, “I will start, so I can model what we’re all going to do. We each chose the name of a character from this month’s book. Don’t look at which one you drew yet. But when it’s your turn, you will talk to the group in that character’s voice, telling us a bit about yourself, your relationships, your life experiences, and your feelings."

Immediately, we heard resistance from some of the group members, such as, “I can’t act,” “I’m not good at role-playing,” etc. But Anne just reminded us that although this was going to be different—we would have a lot of fun with it—and we just had to give it a try.  

She began her role-play by telling us how much she loved her family—especially her dad and her dead brother—but even her difficult Mom. She talked about how much she’d struggled as a child—dealing with her brother’s death, trying to fit in and make friends, etc. But her senior year in high school, that all changed…By the time she completed her monologue, I’d almost forgotten she was my sister-in-law and not a Southern “Gentleman” named Leo.

“Leo” told us we could ask him any questions we wanted—which he answered in character. Many other group members also made reflective statements to “Leo” about how he had inspired them, what they admired about him—and of course, some couldn’t help but ask why he had stayed with his absent wife so long! So although the monologue set the stage, the ensuing dialogue developed a rich discussion of this complex character which Conroy had created.

Although “Leo” was a tough act to follow, as promised, she’d broken the ice. The next person began telling us about how she had never fit as a young person, as well. Expected to mold herself into society’s definition of the beautiful “Southern Belle,” she had instead become a basketball player. And thus began Fraser’s monologue…

The role-play, followed by questioning and observations, continued until everyone had an opportunity to take a turn. Even the introverts of our group (yes—we actually have a few) got into the role-playing after others had gone first, and they got into the rhythm of it.

We enjoyed the discussion immensely and although the focus was primarily on the characters and their development, we walked away feeling we had fully covered all aspects of the book.

This role-play technique worked well for South of Broad due to it’s plethora of strong and varied characters. But it would work well with any book that is character-rich. Imagine discussing Pride and Prejudice, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Pillars of the Earth, or The Jane Austen Book Club using this technique! You don’t need to be a drama queen to have a lot of fun with this approach—as Anne said, “Just give it a try…” Let us know if your group experiments with this unique approach. We’d like to hear all about it!

Rah Rah, Reading!

BCC

Somewhere Over the Rainbow
In Jefferson, Texas

Where shall I begin to talk about something as outrageously over-the-top as The Pulpwood Queens Girl's Weekend? (You can’t see—but I’m so excited, my fingers are hitting the wrong keys…) So let me just start by saying, If you do not sign up right away, it will be sold out—and I so hate to see grown women cry! So circle January 14-17, 2010 on your calendar, and call Kathy Patrick at Beauty and The Book with your credit card numbers right now. If TV pitchman Billy Mays were still with us, he would say, “Don’t Delay—Call Today!” (And since he is not, the job really falls to me…) Now that the “I’m telling you so” is out of the way, I’ll give you a few hints as to why your club wants to be there. 

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is this year’s theme—to tie in with the 70th Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. Kathy Patrick (Founder, Head Queen and author of The Pulpwood Queen's Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life) was a born and raised Kansas girl whose tornado of book reading landed her in Oz—the great state of Texas! Kathy really “puts on the dog”—and she’s invited dozens and dozens of her favorite author friends to help her do it next year.
 
        So far, the confirmed authors include:

Mary Kay Andrews (The Fixer Upper)

Suzanne Arrunda (The Leopard's Prey )

Elizabeth Berg (Home Safe, Keynote Speaker on Saturday)

Tracy Carnes (Excess Baggage)

Judie Christie (Gone to Green)

Meg Federico (Welcome to the Departure Lounge)

Connie May Fowler (The Problem with Murmur Lee)

Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet)

Jenny Gardiner (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver)

Sara Jane Gilman  (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven)

Denise Hamilton (The Last Embrace)

Karen Harrington (Janeology)

Patti Callahan Henry (Driftwood Summer)

River Jordan (Saints in Limbo)

Cassandra King (The Same Sweet Girls)

Caroline Leavitt (Girls in Trouble)

Robert Leleux (The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy) (See my book review inBook Buzz column)

Lt. Colonel Karl Lenker (Final Trumpet)

Carol Liefer (When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win)

Kerry Madden (Harper Lee (Up Close))

Joyce Magnin (The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow)

M.L. Malcolm (Silent Lies)

Kaya McLaren  (On the Divinity of Second Chances)

Suzanne McLennan (Praise the Lord and Pass the Biscuits)

Michael Morris (Slow Way Home)

Robin O’Brien (The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick - And What We Can Do About It) Janis Owens (The Cracker Kitchen)

Linda Busby Parker (Seven Laurels)

John Pritchard (Junior Ray)

Kathryn Stockett (The Help)

Carolyn Turgeon (Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story) (See my book review in Book Buzz column)

Lisa Unger (Die for You)

Daniel Wallace (Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician)

…with more on the way!

 

Thursday night, these authors will eschew their writing pens for accoutrements of Hell’s Kitchen, providing chef and wait staff duties for us all at the Author’s Dinner. (Do you think I can get them to sign my dessert?)

Friday night we’ll Celebrate Barbie's 50th Birthday! Come as your favorite Barbie or Ken, and enjoy the Barbie fashion show with the authors as models, followed by a Barbie and Ken skit of their lives today, and a Barbie Karaoke Party!
Saturday night will be the infamous Great Big Ball of Hair Ball with this year's theme being Somewhere Over The Rainbow to tie in with the 70th Anniversary of
The Wizard of Oz. Each chapter will select a gemstone color and come dressed for the ball in that color of the rainbow!
Sunday will continue with a worship service featuring authors (in fact, rumor has it that the author of the best-selling book of all time,
The Holy Bible, will be making a showing…) After a short break for lunch, we will then (tying in with the 70th Anniversary of Gone with the Wind) tour the local Gone with the Wind Museum, Scarlett O'Hardy's and the owners, Gone with the Wind-themed home!

Fiddle dee dee! Now y’all come back now, y’ hear?

Rah, Rah, Reading,

 

BCC


Roses Are Red…

 

In honor of National Poetry Month, why not select a book of poetry for your monthly book club read? Many readers prefer traditional poetry—you know, along the lines of Elizabeth Barrett BrowningRobert Burns, or Walt Whitman. I mean what did Bill give Monica as a love token? Whitman’s romantic collection, Leaves of Grass!

 

My preference, however, is for the more irreverent and less treacle-clad. Something fun, uplifting, while still meaningful. In addition to National Poetry Month, April 30thCarry a Poem in Your Pocket Day. (Conflicting reports vary from the 17th, 28th and 29th—but the idea’s the same in any event…) So if you find a sonnet that sends your soul, stuff it in your pocket (or purse) for the rest of the month. Or year. is

 

A few favorites of mine include Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic, Gift From The Sea, Molly Fisk’s lyrical Listening to Winter, Judith Ortiz Cofer’s multicultural Silent Dancing, and Dorianne Laux’s cheeky Facts About The Moon. I heard Dorianne read the following poem—and just had to read more from her:

Vacation Sex
We’ve been at it all summer, from the Canadian border
to the edge of Mexico, just barley keeping it American
but doing okay just the same, in hotels under overpasses
or rooms next to the ice machines, friends’ fold-out couches,
In-laws’ guest quarters—wallpaper and bedspreads festooned
with nautical rigging, tiny life rings and coiled tow ropes—

even one night in the car, the plush backseat not plush
enough, the door handle giving me an impromptu
sacro-cranial chiropractic adjustments, the underside
of the front seat strafing the perfect arches of his feet.
And one long glorious night in a cabin tucked in the woods
where our crooning and whooping started the coyotes


singing. But the best was when we got home, our luggage
cuddled in the vestibule—really just a hallway
but because we were home it seemed like a vestibule—
and we threw off our vestments, which were really
just our clothes but they seemed like garments, like raiment
like habits because we felt sorely religious, dropping them

one by one on the stairs: white shirts, black bra, blue jeans,
red socks, then stood naked in our own bedroom, our bed
with its drab spread, our pillows that smelled like us:

a little shampoo-y, maybe a little like myrrh, the gooseberry
candle we light sometimes when we’re in the mood for mood,
our own music and books and cap off the toothpaste and cat


on the window seat, Our window looks over a parking lot—
a dental group—and at night we can hear the cars whisper past
the 24-hour Albertson’s where the homeless couple
buys their bag of wine before they walk across the street
to sit on the dentist’s bench under a tree and swap it
and guzzle it and argue loudly until we all fall asleep.

The following, by Judith Ortiz Cofer spoke to me as we are both “daddy’s girls” who idolized our military fathers—especially when they donned their uniforms—and awaited their safe arrivals back home. My Dad was a Fly-boy who I thought owned the skies, while hers must’ve owned the sea:


My Father in the Navy
Stiff and immaculate
in the white cloth of his uniform
and a round cap on his head like a halo,
he was an apparition on leave from a shadow-world
and only flesh and blood when he rose from below
the waterline where he kept watch over the engine
and dials making sure the ship parted the waters
on a straight course.
Mother, brother and I kept vigil
on the nights and dawns of his arrival,
watching the corner beyond the neon sign of a quasar
for the flash of white, our father like an angel
heralding a new day.
His homecomings were the verses
we composed over the years making up
the siren’s song that kept him coming back
from the bellies of iron whales
and into our nights
like the evening prayer. 


So, go discover a new favorite of your own—and then share it with your book group!


Rah, Rah, Reading!

 
BCC


All The World Is a Stage—

So Go Read a Play

       Every month, book club members around the world are yawning, while asking each other, “What shall we read next?”

       Well, have you thought about a Play? Yes—you read that right—a Play.

       I’ve always loved plays. When I was little, my sisters and I would make up plays each holiday, and perform them for our parents. (Yes, they were depression-era babies, and it didn’t take much to entertain them.) But I think I must’ve peaked as a playwright in third grade—that was the Thanksgiving when we crashed into Plymouth Rock and my sister knocked out her front tooth. (They said it was a permanent tooth—but obviously not…)

       What Play? Until recently, however, the last time I had read a play was back in High School (Can you spell, OUR TOWN?) Reading a play as an adult—with all of our additional life experiences—can be a quite different experience—engaging, enlightening and, yes, that F-word, Fun!

       You don't need to start with Shakespeare—although many clubs have enjoyed taking on Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. (My favorites were always A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night and Othello.) Some reading groups have embraced reading Tennessee William’s dramatic pieces—including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Other book clubs enjoy classics like Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull. Or, why not read an award-winning play? A great resource for ideas is Pulitzer.org

       Act One: A fun group activity that a play just begs you to try is reading a few scenes aloud at your meeting. You don’t need to have a huge dramatic flair or even any theater experience whatsoever. Although, I’m sure there are those of you who can immediately imagine yourself yelling up the stairs, “Stella!” Each reader can take a role, and one person can act as Stage Director, reading all of the non-dialogue notes and directions. (Our group thought it was fun to quit being just drama queens for an evening, and embrace the role of would-be Thespians…)

       Girls Night Out: Another group activity that’s a natural follow-up to reading a play, is going to see the live performance together. You would, of course, follow that with a late supper at one of your favorite restaurants, to discuss the inevitable differences and similarities between reading and watching the play. Look for a showing in a nearby town—or go all out and make a weekend of it by driving to The City. Then you could further enhance the joys of dinner and theater by a bit of shopping, as well!

       As an additional selection last month, my book club read Rose Colored Glass, by Sue Bigelow and Janice Goldberg, in conjunction with our community’s One Book program. Since our local theater will be producing “Rose” in May, we plan to attend the theatre as a Girl’s Night Out—with dinner and drinks to follow at our local Bistro. I mean, someone needs to toast the performance, right?

       In Summary: The Book Club Cheerleader’s advice to you this week is, “Break a Leg! (not a tooth…)”

 Rah, Rah, Reading!

 BCC


One Book, One Community,

One Giant Book Club?

 What if everyone in the community read the same book? What a great discussion could come from that! The first such program was "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" in 1998, started by Nancy Pearl at Seattle Public Library's Washington Center for the Book. Many communities have piggy-backed on Nancy’s idea, and have adopted this fun practice from big towns like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City—and small towns like Sonoma (CA), Clarendon Hills (IL) and New Rochelle (NY.) Nancy warns that the goals of the program should be literary and not political, "Keep in mind that this is a library program, it's not an exercise in civics, it's not intended to have literature cure the racial divide. This is about a work of literature." Some communities participate in a similar program, The Big Read, begun by the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs are a natural way for your book club to get involved in your local community.

 If you are not aware of a similar program locally, some good resources include:

- Your local library: Community library’s are often the sponsors of these programs

- Washington Center for the Book  - You can search their website by state and discover what cities are participating in community-wide reading programs. (Caution: Just because a book is not listed for the current year—do not just assume that your city’s program is not current. If your city is listed—that’s a good indication that it has an on-going program. I emailed CTB a few weeks ago asking them to update my town’s information, and as of this writing, our listing is still a couple of years behind.)

- The National Endowment for the Arts

 My hometown just concluded a week of activities devoted to our One Book, One City program, which this year is focused on the play, Rose Colored Glass, by Sue Bigelow and Janice Goldberg. Check out the Author’s Angle for more information on these two strong and talented women. And whether you read with your city, or just with your book club, Keep Readin’!

Go Books!

BCC


It's Movie Night!

 With the recent DVD release of the movie based on one of my favorite books, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, there is no better excuse to have the girls over for Movie Night. Not only do you get to relive ‘The Daughters of Mary’ while inhaling copious quantities of butter, but you also get to bond with your favorite book babes!

 Your group didn’t read ‘Bees’? No Problem—other great books made into movies include: The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), Atonement (Ian McEwan), Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden), and In Cold Blood (Truman Capote). Scan through your group’s book history and I’m sure you will run across a great title that is now a Netflix selection.

 Need more inspiration? Check out bookreporter.com in the ‘Books Into Movies Now on DVD’ section for current DVD releases. Alternatively, for more vintage fare, go to  imdb.com and search using key words ‘based on book.’ You’ll have more than enough suggestions!

 So order your movie, email your gals, and stock up on Orville Redenbacher (and bottles of spray butter.) It’s Movie Night!

BCC



Numbers Game


Dear Book Club Cheerleader:

Our club is fairly new and although we’ve spent the last several months trying to define who we are, a new issue has recently come to light: Whether we are accepting new members. We have never set out to be a closed or exclusive club, but we are concerned about whether to add new folks, how many new members, when to add new members, and basically what is the optimal size for a book club? I suggested looking back and averaging what our attendance is compared to membership and going from there—what are your thoughts?

Thanks,

Numbers-Challenged Natalie

Dear Natalie:

First of all, congratulations on forming a book club—and especially on being mindful of who you want to be as a club, and how you want to operate as a group!

So you pose an important question that many groups struggle with! And the answer, like most things in life is, "It depends..."

Many Group Dynamics experts point to "5-12" people as an ideal group—and my experience with book clubs in particular supports those same numbers. If you get much smaller, it's hard to keep the conversation going without lagging, and difficult to get all the jobs done that need doing. On the other end of the spectrum, if your club gets larger than 12, it becomes difficult for everyone to be heard—both figuratively and literally. You don’t want members to have to shout across a crowded room to share their ideas and you don’t want the quieter members of the group to not even bother trying to state their opinions. With larger groups, side conversations also start up more easily, which can be a terrible distraction to the main conversation. Also note that studies have shown that smaller groups tend to have improved cohesion, trust, and cooperation—which are all important in creating a safe discussion environment.

That being said, here are some of the things “It might depend” upon…

1. How many people are likely to attend each month?  I like the approach you suggested of looking back over your meetings for the past year and determining your attendance percentage. Take my neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood, for example. Although we started seven years ago with only 12 members, we have grown to our current gigantor number of 14! We consciously decided we could afford to do this without sacrificing group quality since our group has many “frequent fliers”—3-4 of whom are absent each month due to their work and travel schedules.  On the other hand, if we had only 8 folks in our club and 4 were absent each meeting, we’d really feel like half of us were missing—which of course, mathematically would be correct, but I was referring to emotionally…

2. How many extroverts and introverts are in your current make-up? If your ratio is fairly balanced and your group has a skilled facilitator who helps ensure that the quiet ones speak up and are not verbally trampled, you can probably get away with the larger side of the 7-12 continuum. If, on the other hand, you have an over-abundance of either personality preference, your group will necessarily need to remain smaller.

For example, for a group heavy on talkers—people who like to think and process information out loud—you need to devote more air-time to each so that they have their needs met. Then on top of that, you need to elicit information from those quietly processing things in the corner so that their great “ahas!” are shared, enriching the group’s discussion. So unless you want to be there until midnight, you’ll want to keep a talkative group small.

On the opposite end of the scale, if you have a group heavy with pensive readers—people who learn by observing and process information internally—you need to spend a lot of time and effort coaxing them to share their nuggets of wisdom with the group. Also, these introverts are more comfortable speaking in small groups, which is another good reason for keeping your numbers low for a predominantly introverted group.

3. What is the commitment level of each of your members? How many people in your club take on the tasks that need to be done? How many uphold their basic responsibilities such as reading the book each month and coming to the meeting to share their ideas, questions and quotes? The higher the commitment level of each person, the smaller your club size can be. For example, if your group has only 6 people, but they are always there, they’ve read the book, they take on significant roles (one is facilitating, while another is hosting, while another is taking notes, while another is taking pictures for your scrapbook, while still another is managing the website, etc.) the core work of the group can easily be accomplished—and you will have a fabulous discussion, meeting and club!

Conversely, if members rarely volunteer to take on jobs, don’t read the book, and just show up for a glass of wine, you’ll need more people. For example, I recently observed a book club meeting in which only four of the ten attendees had read the book—and that included the facilitator. As you can imagine, it was a difficult meeting to watch…

So don’t forget that in addition to considering the quantity of members, you should also focus on the quality of the members you bring into your club. (Please refer to my prior answer in this same column around the A-traits” of a book club member.")

4. How independent are your thinkers? Larger teams tend to suffer more from the phenomenon of “group think”—where everyone tends to agree with each other for the sake of agreement. This group think phenomenon results in the sharing of fewer perspectives, less creativity and, frankly, a very boring book discussion. If, however, your members are not easily swayed by peer pressure and are comfortable putting forward their individual ideas and thoughts, group think is less likely and not a significant factor in determining your club size.

So, Natalie, as you can see from the issues above, club size cannot be a “one-size fits all” ideal. Each group must decide for themselves what will work best for their individual club characteristics. But analyzing the aspects outlined above should help your book club to decide what size group works best for you.  Good luck on continuing to build a winning book club!

Cheers!

BCC


Down-home Southern Cooking—or Needing Help with The Help

Dear Book Club Cheerleader:

        My book club is reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, this month. Do you have any ideas for appropriate menu selections?

Sincerely,

Needing Help with “The Help”

Dear Help:

        What a great question! And what a great book for your book group to discuss! The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is not only showing up on all the recommended reads lists for book clubs, but it’s also one of my personal favorites this year!

        What you plan for your menu depends on your book club norms. Does your group usually serve snacks, lunch, full-on dinner, or just dessert? Do you drink alcoholic beverages or stick with soft drinks?

        Let’s start with the beverages. Sweet tea and “Co-Cola” are a must (as long as you fudge a bit and include a Diet Coke for those of us who haven’t drank the sugary sodas since 7th grade…) If you serve alcoholic drinks, bourbon could be added to the coke. Although wines were not widely served at Southern tables (or many American tables) in the 60’s, just how “authentic” do you want to be? You decide.

        If you’re looking to serve hors d’oeuvres, why not try the petit fours Miss Hilly praised at her football party—and then asked Deena to make 500 more of by the next day? (Isn’t Miss Hilly a character you love to hate?) Or how about the biscuits Aibileen served at one of the bridge club meetings at Miss Elizabeth’s? You could serve them with butter and honey.

        If your club serves a main meal, you will find many good ideas, just by flipping through the book. The best descriptions come from the “Minny” chapters where she talks about all of the meals she cooked for Mr. Johnnie & Miss Celia. She mentions some of the following main entrees: Ham w/pineapple, fried chicken, pork chops, roast beef, chicken pie, lamb rack, baked ham; and these side dishes: butter beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, and fried tomatoes.

        I’m not exactly a domestic goddess of the kitchen—OK, I don’t really cook at all… So, the ironic parallel of writing a column about something I don't really do, myself, and Skeeter writing the Miss Myrna column does not escape me... But I feel confident that my mom (born in Fairhope, Alabama and raised in Mobile) and all my Southern Belle aunts (representing great Southern cooks from the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas) would’ve probably whipped up some fried chicken (fried in Crisco, of course) mashed potatoes and gravy, sliced tomatoes (covered in the same ‘grease’ gravy) and butter beans or black-eyed peas—well, knowing them, probably both.

        Some of Minny’s favorite desserts include pralines, caramel cake, and all kinds of pies: apple, peach, and pecan to name a few. And although she was famous for her caramel cake (a command performance at church socials and The Benefit), I recommend serving her infamous chocolate pie for dessert! The one that Minny made for Hilly was one of the funniest gags in the book! (Although I certainly  do not recommend using Minny’s exact recipe…)

        If you’re looking for discussion questions, please check out readinggroupguides.com. Also, check out BookClubCheerleader.com’s Fun & Festivities column for a word game to play at your meeting when you discuss The Help.

       Have fun—and enjoy your meeting and your discussion! I’d love to hear how your meeting and menu turn out. You certainly can’t go wrong with your book selection!

Cheers!

The Book Club Cheerleader

 
How Do You Solve a

 Problem Like Maria?

Dear Book Club Cheerleader:

There’s one member in our club—let’s call her “Maria” to protect the guilty—who doesn’t read the book. Then during our reading group discussions everyone is afraid their comments might give away the ending. It really stifles the conversation. What can we do?

Baffled in Baltimore


Dear Baffled:

            I can certainly understand your frustration. After all, your group exists so that you can have an in-depth discussion of your selected book—tip-toeing around the conversation was not part of the plan. So how do you solve a problem like Maria? I’m hearing two distinct issues in your question, and we’ll have to separate the issues in order to deal with them properly. The first is the issue of what your club will do when someone doesn’t read that month’s selection, and the second is what to do about a chronic non-reader. One is a team issue, while the other is an individual concern.

            So, first, I suggest that you add a new rule to your Code of Conduct—and your group must decide which group norm they would like to adopt. Here are your two choices:

 1) All members must read the book in order to participate in the discussion. If ‘life happens’ and you are not able to complete the book that month, we encourage you to still attend the meeting, but please know that we will continue to discuss the book thoroughly and you will be exposed to ‘spoilers’. OR

2) All members must read the book in order to attend that month’s meeting.

            Some clubs are adamant that the latter rule is necessary, rationalizing that this is a ‘book club’ not a ‘social club’. My club—and most of those I coach—has chosen to take the former approach, recognizing that although The Book is our reason for being, it’s The People who are the club. And if someone’s month has been that difficult, she could probably use some moral support from her friends—and definitely could use that glass of wine! Also, we often find that instead of being turned off by the spoilers, the member who didn’t get a chance to read the book is excited to go back and complete it after hearing what her fellow group members have had to say about it. (Assuming the rest of the club liked the book.)

            That issue being resolved, you still have the issue of the group member who doesn’t read the book. And I’ll answer your question with another question. (How very ‘HR’ of me, eh?) How often does this member fail to read the monthly selection? Is it just occasionally (once or twice a year)—or more frequently? If the former, I would tend to believe her issue falls in the ‘life happens’ category and leave it alone. If she doesn’t read the selection on a frequent basis, then you have a problem that warrants addressing.

            Perhaps the member joined your group as a social activity as opposed to the majority of your group who loves to read—and then discuss what they’ve read. Another possibility is that this member doesn’t enjoy reading the types of books your club selects, or doesn’t feel involved in the process and so she doesn’t ‘buy in’ to the selections (which is a whole topic unto itself that we’ll need to cover later...) And then there’s always the chance that there is something else going on in this person’s life that is preventing her from being able to balance her life. (We’ve all been there, done that.) In any of these cases, someone needs to sit down and talk to her and see what’s going on. However, you may not be that person. Who knows her best in the group? Was there a ‘sponsor’ that brought her into the club? Does your group have a group leader? Any of these people might be the most appropriate person to approach her. A simple, “Is the group meeting your needs?” could be the opening she needs to express her concerns. If the member feigns ignorance, a more direct approach such as, “You haven’t read the book 6 times in the last 9 months, and I am concerned that something else might be going on,” would be a clear, yet non-judgmental way to address her and get the issue out in the open.

What Ifs:

What if she becomes defensive or over-reacts? Simply assure her that you are concerned about her, and that you’re wondering if the group is meeting her needs. This could lead to a good discussion about what her expectations are of the group and vice versa.

What if she blows the issue off as not important? Reaffirm to her that the group’s reason for being is to discuss books that the group has chosen to read together, and that there is an expectation that everyone finish the book each month, whenever possible. If she still doesn’t understand what the ‘big deal’ is, you can tell her that she’s letting the group down by not fulfilling her responsibility as a group member—which is to read the book and come prepared with questions, quotes, and comments about the book.

Once the appropriate person in a group approaches an individual such as Maria, in an open and caring manner so that she knows there’s an issue, she should either begin reading the book each month, or may choose to voluntarily drop out of the group if she knows she cannot meet the expectations. (You just can’t hold a moonbeam in your hand…)

Good Luck & Rah Rah Reading!

The Book Club Cheerleader


Dear Book Club Cheerleader:

     It’s my turn to host—What do I do? Where do I start? Yikes!

 
Leila from Idaho

 


Dear Leila:


First, b r e a t h e...

Remember that you joined your reading group to enjoy talking to your friends about books. So what’s the worst that can happen? You will all have a good time—no matter what. I promise…

That being said, of course, you want your friends to be comfortable at your house. So your role as hostess involves creating a relaxed discussion area with no distractions. In addition, taking a clue from your book club’s norms, you should know whether you need to provide some light snacks, dessert—or a full-on gourmet meal. (The latter is quite rare—and way beyond this cheerleader’s talents—so I would have to recommend a really good deli in that case.) But if we’re talkin’ snacks or dessert, I can help.

If your current book lends itself to an obvious theme, you may want to work your menu around that. For example, when Scarlett hosted
The Secret Life of Bees discussion, she served a snack mix laden with, of course, honey. And when Scout hosted Five Quarters of the Orange, she served an orange bunt cake for dessert. If you don’t want to tie your food to the book, one of my favorite hors d’ouvres is Artichoke Squares, a recipe I borrowed from ‘Gidget’ in Readers in the Hood. If I can make it—anyone can—and they look and taste like miniature quiches. And, hey, if you happen to be reading a Steinbeck book—it will go with your theme.

Chill some wine, make coffee, and offer a non-alcoholic beverage option—bottled water is fine. Set everything—wine glasses, cups, plates, utensils—out on your counter or table in advance so that everyone can help themselves, and you can relax and enjoy the meeting along with them.

Arrange the seating in a circle so that everyone can make eye contact with each other, and hear everyone else clearly during the discussion. No one cares if you have to bring extra chairs from the living room into the family room. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting around a coffee table or a dining room table—the important thing is that every member has a comfortable place to sit and that she can make eye contact without having to turn around.

Ensure that other family members—human, feline, or canine—are otherwise occupied. You may think it’s adorable that your toddler climbs up on your lap and wants to visit Mommy’s friends—but not all of Mommy’s friends may feel the same way. They came for book club—not to have Spot hump their leg or Fluffy leave white cat hair on their black pants. (Being a true-cat lover myself, I have learned that many people are allergic—and how comfortable is it to sneeze through the entire meeting?)

Even if this is not an ‘over-the-top’ meeting, you may want to have a small nod to the book theme reflected in the room’s decor. For example, when Fleur hosted The Da Vinci Code, she photocopied several of the key works of art mentioned in the book—such as Madonna of the Rocks, and The Last Supper—framed them, and placed them around the room. Not only did this help to set the mood, but also members referred to the picture during the discussion to help explain a point or two.

Finally, you’ll probably want to coordinate with the meeting’s facilitator to review the agenda with her and make sure she isn’t expecting you to provide something that you aren’t yet aware of. You’ll feel more prepared knowing that nothing (important) is going to fall through the cracks.

So, pour yourself a glass of your favorite vintage. You’re fully prepared and ready to enjoy the evening with your friends—and isn’t that what book clubbing is all about?

Have fun, Leila!

BCC 


Hey Book Club Cheerleader:

I’m starting a book club, but aren’t really sure where to start. Any hints?

Jan from Texas


Dear Jan:

First of all, congratulations on being proactive and starting your own club! Now the fun begins. There are a lot of things to consider, but probably the most important aspect of starting a reading group is selecting your members—after all, they will BE the group. I chose my neighbors because I wanted to get to know them better. Some people choose couples with whom they like to socialize. Others invite old friends from college. However, no matter your strategy, you need to focus on the characteristics that make the best book club members.

  Granted, eventually the synergy created by your book club will be more than the sum of its parts, but why not start with the best ‘parts’ you can find? You already know that your good friends, Flakey Faith and Irresponsible Isabel, will make flakey and irresponsible members. While Non-reading Natalie (who was really only interested in the social aspects of the group) will quickly lose interest when she can’t keep up with the reading list. So how do you choose the best reading group members? Here’s a primary list I’ve compiled based on feedback from numerous book clubs. You can easily remember them by the acronym: ’A’ TRAITS.

A – Active Listener and Clear Communicator. Both the quality of the book discussion, as well as the quality of the book club, itself, depend on each member’s ability to ‘share the air’ during the book discussion. Many people like to talk about books. You are looking for those who are also able to listen well to what others have to say. When she agrees with the other person, she builds on her thoughts and ideas. When she disagrees, she still accepts the other person’s frame of reference as true for her. Listening Laura helps others feel understood.

She uses “I” language vs. “you” language. (e.g. I’m not sure I understand,” not, “You were not clear.”) She talks directly to other club members when in the group, rather than talking about her. (e.g. “Jen, that’s a great idea,” versus, “She had a great idea.”) She frames her points in a positive way. (e.g. “I agree with you, Sheri,” not, “I don’t disagree with you…”) She makes eye contact with the other person. She doesn’t spread rumors or gossip, and speaks directly with the person she has an issue with, off line. She likes to discuss things with others. This doesn’t mean that she is necessarily an extrovert, but rather that she is open to thinking out loud, noodling things over in advance, and sharing openly with a small group of people. Alone Amy is a great reader, but she believes this is a personal pastime, and doesn’t value discussing the book with others.

A good group member takes risks, speaking up for what she believes in an appropriate way. She also supports risks taken by others in the group. This supports a diverse conversation and creates more interesting discussions.

T – Trust-worthy and Trusting.  A book club is like a tight-knit team. Each member is supportive of other members and needs to have their backs—“What happens at Book Club stays at Book Club!” In order for your group to have an open dialogue, including sharing authentic feelings, each member must feel safe enough to reveal these emotions. Creating a safe environment begins with trust. A good reading group member trusts enough to discuss his own feelings and emotions as it relates to the book—not just focusing on the theme, plot, and character development nor turning each book discussion into a regurgitation of English 101. In turn, this creates the open environment for others to do the same.

R – Reliable and Committed.  A book group member must be reliable to show up to meetings on time, follow through with her obligations between meetings, host or facilitate when it’s her turn, etc. She always seeks to do her best by the group. Bottom line, a member’s commitment to the rest of the club is paramount in the group being able to function cohesively. In my neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood, it’s our number one rule. The more committed everyone is to the group, the more exciting everything is for everyone!

A – Avid Reader. It helps if you love reading, books and everything literary, but often just having the accountability of being prepared for the meeting, is enough to keep the slowest of readers on track. That being said, although he may not need to be a current prolific reader, a good book club candidate must be able to see himself reading 1-2 books a month—many that he may not have chosen for himself otherwise. Picky Pete likes to read, but only when and what he chooses. He would find himself very unhappy, indeed, in your new book group.

I  – Innovative and Creative. Your reading group will be able to solve problems—and,  yes, even the best of groups experiences problems—if they are innovative and creative. Innovators turn problems into opportunities to do things a little differently—which can never be boring! Creative folks also help the group with celebrations—and make everything more fun!

T – Takes Initiative. “What do you want to read?” “I don’t know what do you want to read?” How boring is that? Effective group members take the initiative to make things happen, make things better, make things fun. This doesn’t mean they bulldoze over the rest of the group to get things done. But they take responsibility for helping the group get to a consensus on decisions, and are accountable for their piece of the puzzle.

S – Sense of Humor; Fun-loving.  “If we’re not having fun, why are we here?” A fun group member enjoys having a good time. Although she takes her responsibility to the group seriously, she never takes herself too seriously. She likes playing games, dressing up, and going all out to celebrate a great book—or a visiting author.  Stuffy Stephanie has her nose so far up in the air, that she would never lower herself—or embarrass herself—by letting down her hair. Life’s way too short for that!

When talking to possible members, try to flesh out their level of excitement and potential reliability. Think carefully about the ‘A’ TRAITS of an ideal book clubber, and I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some winners!

Have fun with your new adventure!

BCC

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