Book Club Cheerleader

Celebrating Clubs

The Spicy Cashew Book Nuts

of Scottsdale, Arizona

At a recent writer’s workshop I attended, a met Marcia Fine. Not only does she have a truly great name—but she is also a fabulously fun and outgoing author. Her latest novel is Stressed in Scottsdale, and she is also currently a guest writer for our Author’s Angle column. So when you’ve read this column, be sure to skip over to our Celebrating Books page to check out her piece there. But I digress…Of course within minutes of meeting Marcia, I learned she was in a book club, and asked her to share her experiences with Book Club Cheerleader readers—so here is the scoop on The Spicy Cashew Book Nuts:  


BCC: What is your group name, and how long has your group been in existence?

SCBN: We call ourselves Spicy Cashew Book Nuts because we meet in a Thai restaurant for our meetings. Our group has been together for almost 10 yrs.


BCC: How many members do you have, and what age range are your members?

SCBN: There are four of us—all women in our 50s-60s. Although we lost two recently due to illness, we have agreed to not add anyone else because we have such a shared history—no one would be able to just step in.

BCC: How often do you meet, and where?

SCBN: Because we're small, we make sure we schedule our meetings once a month so everyone can make it. We do not take breaks!  We've been meeting for years in a Thai restaurant for lunch and recently switched to dinner because one member has re-entered the work force. We always add an extra book for December so we read 13 books a year. We also pick one classic a year. Last year it was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Extraordinary! What an influence that book had on society.


BCC: Who leads your book discussion?

SCBN: I am responsible for the research and the discussion. Lately I've asked the other members to look up a few things, bring in a map, get a bio on the author, bring a picture of artwork, etc. I was an English teacher, so I develop the discussion questions.

BCC: What kinds of books do you read?

SCBN: We like to read Literature—not overly high-brow—but it has to be well-written. We're very fussy—no mainstream pulp for us! We're guarded about 1st time authors. We like finalists or prize winners so we read Pulitzer, Booker, Orange, etc.—something challenging so we learn. We love historical fiction but not romance. We really enjoyed The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (a Man Booker Prize winner) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.)  We recently read Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill (Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize,) about slavery in Canada!


BCC: How many books do you choose at a time, and what is your selection process?

SCBN: We all bring in selections, pass them around and then choose a few books at a time. Most of us order (or download) a few at a time so we know what we're reading through the summer when many of us travel. It is 115 degrees in AZ, so many of us get out of Dodge!

BCC: Do you use Reading Group Guides for your discussion?

SCBN: I look through the Reader Guides, but many times the questions are just too pedestrian. I make up questions about the characters, their conflicts, motivations, etc. or compare them with others that we've read. Sometimes we do story casting—my favorite!

BCC: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the group read?

SCBN: Oh my! Sometimes we talk for hours about a book because we have such a rich history of discussions. We spent a lot of time on Loving Frank by Nancy Moran, and then a few months later decided to read The Women by TC Boyle on the same topic. Fabulous!


BCC: How does your group stay informed between meetings?

SCBN: We email so that everyone is on the same page.


BCC: What do you enjoy most about belonging to your book club?

SCBN:  The camaraderie of the women. We know each other very well. All of us are only children (a coincidence) save one so our childhoods and backgrounds figure into the stories. I come home so stimulated by our discussions I can hardly sleep!

BCC: How do you keep things fun?

SCBN: We share a little bit about families, careers, and pass pictures at the beginning but once we've ordered our dinner, we start our discussion! So many times we greet each other with, "I'm so glad we have book group today!"


BCC: Do you do any “over-the-top” fun things?

SCBN: A few of us are into hats and drama so when we show up everyone notices. I, on the other hand, am always in costume. For example, if the book is set in France, I'm in a beret; if in the Southwest, I wear all my silver and turquoise jewelry and a cowboy hat; or it's a South American theme (love Llosa!) I wear a fiesta skirt and an off-the-shoulder blouse. Also one of our members travels all over the world to exotic places for weeks at a time. She always brings us book marks—which are wonderful!


BCC: Do you get together as a group for any activities outside of book meetings?

SCBN:  We have gone to the movies with spouses after a book becomes a movie and even had a luncheon to watch a video made from an obscure Japanese book one time.


BCC: What advice would you give to other reading groups?

SCBN: Keep your discussions democratic. You get exceptional bonding when you share a book together. That's why we can't add anyone new. They'd never be able to catch up. We refer back to prior stories, themes, and characters all the time.

BCC: What responsibilities do your members have to the group?

SCBN: To show up having read the book and be prepared to think and answer questions.


BCC: Is there anything else unique or noteworthy about your group that you would like to share?

SCBN: We all really care about each other, our families and each other. And some of us have very strong political opinions!

Marcia, thanks for filling us in on the Spicy Cashew Book Nuts of Scottsdale! May you continue to enjoy celebrating books—and never be Stressed in Scottsdale—at least not too stressed!



The Pulpwood Queens of
 Southwest Louisiana
The Pulpwood Queens of Southwest Lousiana brewing up some fun at  Girlfriends Weekend

The Pulpwood Queens of Southwest Louisiana


I had the pleasure of meeting Kay Huck, and her book club, The Pulpwood Queens of Southwest Louisiana, at the recent—and outrageously fun—Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. Kay and Co. were the “good witches” who pulled my entire group, Readers in the Hood, onto the dance floor, determined to “teach those California gals the Texas Two-step.” (Read #3 of my 1/22/10 blog for this to make more sense…) Since it was our first year at Girlfriends Weekend, they often gave us other tips to help with our inclusion, and just generally went out of their way to make us feel welcome. After recovering from the weekend of conferences and parties, I asked Kay to share with Book Club Cheerleader Readers about her book club. Here’s their story:


BCC: Kay, We so enjoyed meeting your group in Texas. Can you tell me a little about how you got started?


PWQSWLA: The Southwest Louisiana Pulpwood Queens began when THE Pulpwood Queen, Kathy Patrick, crowned me at her book store and beauty salon, Beauty and the Book, in January of 2008. I had been looking for an organization to gather friends for a purpose. Hurricane Rita hit our area hard and everyone was stressed. We needed to feel alive again—hopeful and doing something meaningful that was also fun. The Pulpwood Queens organization answered all those needs. Literacy is a serious issue in our area, yet it’s not as heart-wrenching as the devastation we had been facing daily.


I called a few friends, and those friends called a few more. One of those friends, Beverly, is also a member of the Bayou Writer's Group. At our organizational meeting in March 2008, we had both writers and readers.


BCC: How many members do you have and what is your age range?


PWQSWLA: Since our first organizational meeting, 33 women have joined our group. It seems like a large number, however, only about half show up for the meetings each month. We do have members who live out of state, such as my two sisters who live in Arkansas, and were with me when I met Kathy Patrick. In fact, my sister, Beverly, met us this year for Girlfriends Weekend and had the best time she’s had in years!


Those that haven’t been to any meetings over the past year, are placed on an inactive list and are free to come back whenever they choose. We’re delighted to have a range of ages from 25 to 70—this age diversity definitely energizes our discussions! We currently have an open membership. Members have friends who hear what fun we have reading and discussing, and then they want to be a Pulpwood Queen, too. We have only 3 membership requirements: 1) pay the $25 Lifetime Membership fee to Kathy Patrick’s Pulpwood Queen organization, 2) read the monthly book selection, AND 3) wear a tiara to the meeting.


BCC: How often do you meet and where?


PWQSWLA: We meet monthly on the last Wednesday evening of the month, with some variations for holidays. Presently, we rotate meetings among the homes of the members. Because of our size, we are considering alternative meeting sites such as restaurants or the library. The only month we don’t “read” is December—when we have a Christmas Party and gift exchange.

BCC: Do you eat at your meetings; if so, what do you eat and who provides the food?


PWQSWLA: We’re talking about Louisiana! Of course we eat! Four members volunteer to be on the Food Committee and have some of the best ideas. For example, when we read The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, we had a wonderful Pirate’s Punch. Still a favorite!


We have one member, Allison, who is the cookbook chairperson for another organization which published two local cookbooks, Pirates Pantry and Marshes to Mansions. She is always treating us with new recipes. When we read Janis Owens book, The Cracker Kitchen, we had to have the strawberry pretzel salad. Sounds strange, but it’s delicious. Then, for Deanne Gist’s A Bride Most Begrudging, we served the special pound from the book. And for Shellie Rushing Tomlinson’s, Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!, we had to have her banana pudding.


BCC: Who leads your book discussion? Do you keep records of facilitation, attendance, and hostessing duties?


PWQSWLA: When the book club began, I, as Head Queen for our chapter, led the discussions. Lately we’ve been rotating among the members. However, I still handle the business discussions, author contacts, etc.


We are fortunate that many of our members have been facilitators for different organizations and use their skills to help run the meetings, sharing the responsibilities. We print the discussion questions and distribute them to each member. Then on a rotational basis, each member has the opportunity to respond to the question. This insures that each member has an opportunity to speak. We have an agenda form for the year that we complete with the Book Selection, Hostess, Food Committee and Discussion Leader listed. This helps each person remember when they last contributed. We keep things loose for attendance and expenses, and when supplies are needed we pass the hat. The members have been most generous.

BCC: What kinds of books do you read and how do you choose them?


PWQSWLA: All of our books come from Kathy Patrick’s Reading List for the Pulpwood Queens. Her list has stretched us beyond the genre we have typically read. Many of us have read “best sellers”-only for years, which often are not the type to generate good discussions. Most books on Kathy’s list will generate great conversations about the characters, and how we can relate to the story in our own lives.


We usually select our books three months in advance, choosing from among the Pulpwood Queens Books of the Month or the Bonus Books.

BCC: Do you use Reading Group Guides for your discussion?


PWQSWLA: Reading Group Guides are essential. We find them usually on the author website or at If we can’t locate a guide for a book, we use the generic one in the back of Kathy Patrick’s book, The Pulpwood Queen's Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life.


BCC: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the group read?


PWQSWLA: The best discussions are usually the books that some of the members liked and others disliked. I remember vividly the discussion of The Flawless Skin of Ugly People, by Doug Crandall. There were some descriptions of a character’s acne that were gross, but realistic. What we discussed were the characteristics of inner beauty versus outer beauty. Some of our favorite books have been by Kathryn Casey, a true crime writer who has branched into fiction.  We love her character, Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong, and have read both books Singularity and Blood Lines. We are looking forward to the third in the series. We were all touched by the story of Ron Hall and Denver Moore in Same Kind of Different As Me. What a great discussion that was—on our various prejudices that, sometimes, we are not aware of.


BCC: How does your group stay informed between meetings? Do you keep any records? 


PWQSWLA: Most communication between meetings is through email. We also have a blog site at and are on Facebook. One of our members, Barbara, also volunteered to keep a scrapbook of our activities, meetings and, of course, Girlfriends Weekend.


BCC: What do you enjoy most about belonging to your book club?


PWQSWLA: The best thing about being in our book club is being with good friends, enjoying good books and eating good food.

BCC: How do you keep things fun?


PWQSWLA:  We’ve met some amazing authors who have called in, and even video conferenced with us using Skype. I also design bookplates and send them to the authors to sign. When we read The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, he sent his own personal message to each of the members. Pat Conroy signed bookplates for our South of Broad books at the recent Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend.  He wrote a special note to the club on the envelope with the bookplates. He was most gracious and we just fell in love with him.

When we read River Jordan’s Saints in Limbo, she did a Skype video call-in from a restaurant where she was celebrating her wedding anniversary. (Her husband was the techno-marvel who made it possible, and also presented her with a new white jeep.)


BCC: At Book Club Cheerleader, we are all about fun—I know that Pulpwood Queens share that same value. What fun things do you do with your club?


PWQSWLA:  Wearing Tiara’s and crowning ourselves Pulpwood Queens brings a bit of flair to the meetings. Every woman is a queen and our friends are the jewels in our tiaras, to paraphrase from Kathy Patrick’s book. We decorate for Girlfriends Weekend with costumes. This year we were Witches from the Land of OZ who were “Brewing Up a Rainbow of Books.”  Last year we came as the Pirates Queens of Southwest Louisiana for “Black and White and Read All Over.”   We made capes printed with black and white fashion design advertisements, lined in red satin. We also had a treasure chest of red mardi gras “pearl” beads to distribute to all.


We also have one member who quilts. Hillene gave a quilt to Kathy Patrick, and it was used this year to cover the interview table that Kathy and co-host Robert Leleux used for Girlfriends Weekend. Hillene also gave one to Linda Busby Parker for her special writing help. Linda edits and publishes a book called Christmas is a Season!, a book of essays and personal stories of Christmas. Hillene had submitted a story which was accepted for this year’s edition. Linda was surprised to meet Hillene via Skype when she did an author video call-in.  We were discussing her novel, Seven Laurels —which is fantastic. It’s the story of a young black man growing up in Alabama during the time of the Civil Rights movement—a very moving story.


BCC: Do you use icebreaker-type games, trivia quizzes, or special prizes and awards?


PWQSWLA:  Sometimes we have door prize drawings for those who read the book and wore their tiara. Door prizes are donated by the members. We definitely share recipes, as mentioned previously.


BCC: Do you get together as a group for any activities outside of book meetings?


PWQSWLA:  A group of us went to Delaune Michel’s book signing for The Safety of Secrets. We were having so much fun, she joined our club—even though she lives in New York. (Although, she does have local family ties to Louisiana.) DeLaune now keeps in touch with us via email.


We also went to the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge last year, where Kathy Patrick was one of the presenters. And then, of course, there’s always Girlfriends Weekend every third week of January.


BCC: What advice would you give to other reading groups?


PWQSWLA:  Encourage each other to read the books each month and talk about what was important to them. If members aren’t coming, give them a call and see what’s up. Give them the option of becoming inactive and rejoining at a later time. Ask if they want to continue to receive emails. Once they are on an email list it’s easy to keep sending information to them. Be open to new members. We all have changing demands on our time, and meeting new people is like opening a new book. Read Kathy Patrick’s book for ideas on starting your own book club. Keep in contact with people like you, Marsha, for book club ideas.

BCC: I’ve heard about how your book club gives back, both locally and internationally—can you tell us about that?


PWQSWLA:  Being a new club we were open to ideas from the members for literacy projects. One of our PQ members, Laurie, has been traveling to Nicaragua on mission trips with Abrazando Cristo. She suggested we contribute by building up the orphanage library there. Since baggage is limited, we contribute funds and then supplies are purchased in Nicaragua. This also helps the economy of the region. We all contributed and one member even made a few cloth picture books that had simple objects with the English, Spanish and French names, such as ball, dog, cat, yellow, etc. The next year we read The Unlikely Lavender Queen by Jeannie Ralston, and learned of her online Seed Campaign where she contributes commissions on sales of her book to various organizations. We asked her to consider our Nicaraguan mission and she did. It also coincided with the January 2009 PWQ Girlfriends Weekend. When many of the authors and other PWQ members heard about it, they contributed too. At the end of the day, we were able to purchase 100 Spanish Bibles which were inscribed “Donated by the SWLA Pulpwood Queens”. We are continuing our support of the mission, and have just set up an Amazon click-thru on our blog site with commissions going towards the mission. On an ongoing basis, we also ask our members to bring books and magazines to be donated to the local women’s shelter.



Wow! Thank you, Kay, and The Pulpwood Queens of Southwest Louisiana. Not only can you dance a mean Texas Two-step, but your book club has a lot of fun, while giving back!


Rah, Rah, Reading!



Shannon McKenna Schmidt (third from right)
and her NYC Book Club

NYC Book Club Celebrates

15th Anniversary!


So many authors I talk to, tell me about their book clubs, and what an enriching experience it is for a writer to have a group of folks they can discuss literature with. Shannon McKenna Schmidt (co-author of Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks From Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West, regular contributor to, and featured author in our Author’s Angle column this month) introduces us to her book club in New York City.


BCC: How long has your group been in existence? 

HBC: Our book club has been together for 15 years, and we’ll be marking our milestone anniversary in September.


BCC: How many members do you have? 

HBC: We have nine members right now, eight women and one man ranging in age from late 30s to mid-40s. We gained two new members this year and had another person re-join the group after a hiatus. With nine people, we have to be conscious that everyone has a turn to speak and offer his or her opinion about the book. In my opinion, five or six is an ideal number for our set-up—dinner table-style conversations at restaurants—which is how many we usually have since not everyone can make it to each gathering. Five of us have been in the group since we founded it while working together at the book publishing company Penguin USA.


BCC: Do you add new members to your group to replace those who leave?

HBC: Of the nine people in our book club, five of us are original members. We’ve had people come and go occasionally over the years, friends of people already in the group. We had the same six members for the past several years, until January when we added three new people.

BCC: Where and how often and do you meet?

HBC: Since members are spread out geographically in and around New York City, we get together once a month at restaurants in Manhattan, which is a central meeting point for everyone. We take a break for December, but it’s tradition for us to attend the festive holiday soirée one of our members puts on every year.


BCC: Do you eat at your meetings?

HBC: Other than two times when we met at a member’s house, we hold our book club gatherings at restaurants and always have dinner. Being in Manhattan we have a wealth of choices, and when possible we tie in with the book selection—Indian for The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (some of the characters in the book dine at an Indian restaurant), Afghan for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, German for The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, Southern for An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, and Cuban for Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner.

BCC: Who leads the discussion?

HBC: The person who selected the book gets the conversational ball rolling, and we keep going from there. We’re not a shy group, and each person tends to speak up and share his or her opinion.


BCC: What kind of books do you read? 

HBC: We read everything, really—classics and contemporary, fiction and nonfiction. Our selections are eclectic and have ranged from Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.


BCC: How do you choose your books?

HBC: We have a certain order, and each month we take turns selecting the discussion book. I call it a rotating monarchy. It’s solely up to that person, and they can choose whatever they’d like. We generally know the next book pick about a month in advance. It’s announced either at the current meeting or shortly thereafter. This method ensures that everyone gets a chance to select a book.


BCC: Do you use Reading Group Guides for your discussion? 

HBC: We do not tend to use discussion guides, although I do think this is something that would benefit us. Something I’d like to do for our next gathering is to have everyone write down one talking point they particularly want the group to address.

BCC: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the group read? 

HBC: One our best recent discussions was about Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, the story of a well-to-do young woman at the turn of the 20th century who has a reversal of fortune and finds herself dependent on the benevolence of her high-society friends. Other favorites include The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Fig Eater by Jody Shields.


BCC: Do you keep records of what you’ve read?

HBC: We’ve kept a list of the books we’ve read over the years but not any kind of detailed notes about what we thought of them. This is something I wish we had done.


BCC: What do you enjoy most about belonging to your book club?

HBC: The camaraderie of my book club is what I enjoy most—it’s an added bonus to talk about books while getting together with a group of good friends. I also like our method of selecting books and the surprise element each month of finding out what we’re going to read next.


BCC: How do you keep things fun? 

HBC: This year we shook things up. We had never had an author join one of our discussions, and now we’ve done it twice in the last eight months. For our discussion of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, We even invited friends and people from other book groups to join us and meet the author. It was interesting to not only engage with the author but to hear different perspectives. It went so well we then had Christina Baker Kline come speak with us about her novel The Way Life Should Be. Those were the only two times we’ve met at a member’s house, as we thought it would provide a more relaxed atmosphere for the author.


BCC: Do you get together as a group for any activities outside of book meetings?  

HBC: We do socialize outside of book club meetings. Because some of us still work in, or are connected to, the publishing business, I even see some members at industry events. One of my fellow book clubbers accompanied me to Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of Harper Lee, while I was doing research for a literary travel book I co-wrote, Novel Destinations. This fall, two of our members are traveling to Italy together. We enjoy each other’s company, at book group and otherwise.


BCC: Have you developed any group-specific customs?

HBC: Our inaugural discussion book was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. For our 10th anniversary, we read The Jane Austen Book Club. We’re considering another Jane Austen-themed selection when we celebrate our 15th anniversary in September.


BCC: What advice would you give to other reading groups? 

HBC: Make sure everyone has a chance to participate in the discussion. If they’re not feeling engaged, they’re less likely to stick around. Also, consider letting each person take a turn selecting a book, which keeps them invested in the group.


BCC: Do you have any horror stories, amusing anecdotes, or other special tales to tell? 

HBC: For one book club get-together, we attended a performance during “Shakespeare in the Park,” held each summer at an open-air theatre in Central Park. For another meeting, a member selected a number of short stories, photocopied them, and mailed them to us. It’s fun to do things differently once in a while.


BCC: What responsibilities do regular members (those not hostessing or facilitating) have to the group?

HBC: The member who selects the book for the month is also responsible for coordinating the meeting, selecting a restaurant, and making a reservation. This way there is equal division of the administrative tasks. Everyone has a share in the responsibility, and we’re all actively engaged in keeping our book club going.  


BCC: How does your group deal with member issues such as missing numerous meetings, not reading the book, dominating the discussion or other book club faux pas? HBC: We’re pretty flexible and don’t require that members finish the book to attend the meeting. It’s not ideal, of course, and those who do show up without having read the entire book know that we might talk about the ending so there could be a spoiler for them.


BCC: Is there anything else unique or noteworthy about your group that you would like to share? 

We’re excited to be marking a milestone—15 years of great book discussions!


BCC: As you should be! Thanks for sharing your book club with and all of our readers!


Rah, Rah, Reading!



Chick with Books of Yuba City, CA:

Dawn, Emily, Jill, Melysah and Sarah

Chicks with Books,

Yuba City, California

Recently, The Book Club Cheerleader met with a fun group of women, and now we’d like you to meet them too!


Introducing: Chicks with Books, of Yuba City, CA: Dawn, Emily, Jill, Melysah and Sarah.


BCC: How long has your group been in existence? How many members do you have and what is the age range of your members?

CWB: There are a solid five of us—the founding five, but we have new faces that have started to come over the years. There are nine of us if everyone makes it to dinner! No men, although I don’t think any men have wanted to join us, husbands aren’t allowed- It’s a girl’s night. Our ages range from 28 years to somewhere around 40. On occasion, a few of our mothers join us for certain books…bringing the top age to around 60! It makes for a fun discussion.


BCC: How often do you meet and where?

CWB: We meet once a month, usually at another Chick’s house. We rotate houses and everyone brings a dish. A few times a year we will meet at a restaurant that somehow ties into the book we have just completed. We meet every month, although we don’t read a book for December, we have a Christmas Party instead.

BCC: Do you eat at your meetings, and if so, what?

CWB: Oh, we EAT at our meetings, and we eat well! There are some fine bakers amongst us! We usually serve wine, tea, soda, and the usual mix of drinks. Everyone brings something, occasionally following the theme of the book. For example, we were on an India kick with our book choices for a while, which led to creative dishes—and a yummy bistro called Sopa Thai that serves the best Red Curry, Tom Yom soup and Mango Rice dessert dish we have ever had!


BCC: What kind of books do you read?

CWB: Chicks with Books try’s to read a good mix of everything, Top sellers, best sellers, classics, the “I heard about this book” kind. For the most part, we have been successful in finding some true jewels of the literary world. For example, we loved The Secret Lives of Bees, by Sue Monk Kid—we couldn’t wait for her second book to come out, The Mermaid Chair. We felt that “Bees was a book of mystery and torment and it kept us intrigued to the last page, and then sad when it was over and the characters were only figments of our imagination again.


On the other hand, there have also been books that could not end fast enough for us! I believe it was the first book we ventured into book club with, Dandelions in the Jelly Jar, by Diane Noble. We were disappointed with the whole endeavor and delighted to finish it. We all felt it lacked chemistry and left us bored.


We have come across more gems than coal though! We were in sorrow over Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, by James Patterson; in agony over My Friend Leonard, by James Frey; left in wonder of the man from the story Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer; and bewildered and confused in Cynthia Ozick’s Heir to the Glimmering World. It’s fair to say, we try everything.


BCC: How do you choose your books?

CWB: When we first started, the hostess would choose the next month’s book. Everyone would bring choices and drop them into a hat to choose. Now, we have moved on to having the books chosen for the year with the meeting times and locations scheduled. If a “must read” book comes out, then we shuffle things around and make room for the new addition.


BCC: Who leads your discussions?

CWB: ‘Head Chick’ Dawn usually has a typed list of discussion questions for each meeting. There is no leader of discussion; everyone talks openly and then we just let the conversation take its course. And Chicks never have a problem with conversation!


BCC: Do you use reading group guides for your discussion?

CWB: We have used book guides from the backs of books, internet discussion boards, to, “everyone brings 3 questions”. For the most part, we just start talking and end up wherever the next idea takes us.


BCC: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books your group read?

CWB: One that stands out in my mind was, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini—the book moved us.  The conversation was so serious and troubled.  The book is beautifully written and heartfelt. It absolutely tugged on some heartstrings and brought out questions that stuck with us.  I know that we have been intrigued with many books from our book list’s and that we have never left a meeting feeling let down by the conversation.

BCC: How does your group stay informed between meetings? What kind of notes and records do you keep?

CWB: Email is huge with the Chicks. It is our main form of communication.  We have a list of all the books we have read over the years. They are not ranked, as we have diverse opinions on what we believe to be a “five star book.” Dawn will usually take a few notes on what would make the next meeting easier or for ideas that we have come up with on the fly.


BCC: What do you enjoy most about belonging to your book club?

CWB: The getting together. Some days are hard to get to the meetings with soccer games, work schedules, husbands and other competing priorities. We manage to pull it off though—and the reward is huge. Not only did we read a book, which of itself is a feat these days, but also we did it together and we can laugh or cry or rant and rave about it over dessert and drinks—amongst friends that are good company.


BCC: How do you keep things fun?

CWB: Fun should be our middle name! We are a laid back, easygoing group. Chicks with Books is up for adventure! We have trekked to San Francisco to shake things up for a meeting. It was a change of venue to a fabulous restaurant to discuss a book that had been just as delicious as the meal we were about to share. We had embarked on The Bone Setter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan, who is of course, from San Francisco. We were left haunted with her words and the world the daughter in the story had come from. 


We have walked for Multiple Sclerosis the last three years, and are entering the Relay for Life this summer. After choosing our next book, we have been known to get so excited about it, that we get in our cars together to go and purchase it. We also have one month out of the year where it is ‘choose your own book’ for the month.  You never know who chose what! January is always a PJ party to start off the New Year. Thanksgiving involves a feast. Christmas has white elephant gifts... We also go to the movies to see those based on books, and we just went to our first book signing for How the World Makes Love, by Franz Wisner.  We had a blast together.


BCC: Do you have any anecdotes or other tales to tell?

CWB: We invited a rather quiet woman one evening to a Chicks with Books dinner. We were a very rowdy group that night. Somewhere in between questions and hot chocolate, she disappeared and never came back. We were obviously not the right fit for her!

BCC: What kind of group rules, code of conduct or norms do you have?

CWB: Show up, even if you haven’t read the book. But, don’t expect us not to give away the ending! Otherwise, we just aren’t that stuck with rules. We are a very human group that realizes life happens.  The founding five of the Chicks who are at almost all gatherings have read the book or are almost finished with it, and will still join in discussion. So far, we have been lucky to find a balance of making it a book club and mixing it with fabulous friends who blend well together. We don’t have a rulebook, just an unspoken code with each other.


BCC: Is there anything else about your group that you would like to share?

CWB: Chicks with Books, our motto is “a once a month indulgence”—and we try to live up to it!


BCC: What advice would you give to other reading groups?

CWB: Stick with it, and read all types of books. Don’t keep with one genre—mix it up. And always bring dessert!


Chicks with Books, Thanks for sharing your thoughts with The Book Club Cheerleader. You gotta love a group who ends on such a sweet note!


Readers in the Hood at their
2008 'Holidaze' Party

Readers in the Hood,

Northern California

         We will kick off this column by profiling my very own neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood from Northern California. We would love to interview your group for future features in this column. Please contact us.

How long has your group been together?

Readers in the Hood started almost six years ago as a neighborhood book club. Our founder, The Book Club Cheerleader, began the group as a way to get to know the neighbors while providing some intellectual (read ‘anything adult’) conversation. This had become necessary since she had recently left her Fortune 500 job and was spending her days raising a teenage boy—who called her “Dude”—and coaching a teenaged cheer squad who majored in giggling. Since that time, we’ve grown into a tight-knit group who not only reads together, but also socializes and supports local charities together. Learn more about some of our favorite ways of giving back to our community—while having fun together—by visiting our website at

Where do you usually meet?

We rotate our regular book discussion meetings at members’ homes in our neighborhood. This works great in case a Hoodie has had one too many glasses of chardonnay—she can just walk home. When we invite guests to our author celebrations, however, we move to larger venues.


What are some of your group's favorite books? Wow—we have read so many good books that generated great discussions! Some of our favorites would have to include: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd; The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean; My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows; The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls; East of Eden, by John Steinbeck; Honeymoon with My Brother , by Franz Wisner, and The Color of Water, by James McBride.

What's on your reading list this year?

We’re really excited about this year’s selections. They seem to all be following the same theme: Adventure! Our list for spring includes Song Yet Sung, our second James McBride novel; Away, by Amy Bloom (and boy, does she go away); and People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (a reprise for this wonderful author, as well.)

How does your book club decide what to read next?

We choose our book selections two to three months in advance by a group vote. Everyone suggests a book or two and then we ‘round robin’ the room voting for our favorites. This allows everyone to share in the responsibility of recommending books and to have an equal voice in book selections. We like the two to three month timeline because it gives us enough advance time to fully digest a book and, when we hear about a great book, we don’t have to wait until the next year to read it.

Are you planning any special trips or events around a book you're reading?

We are visiting New York City in May, and are reading a deliciously funny book, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, that is partially set in the city. While we're there, we are having lunch with up-and-coming author, Robert Leleux, to discuss his book with him. After reading his book, we can't wait to meet him!

Actually, Readers in the Hood is known for our special celebrations. Our motto is, “If you’re not willing to go overboard, don’t get on the frickin’ boat.” We celebrate some of our favorite books—such as The Secret Life of Bees, when we held our own ‘Daughters of Mary’ meeting, complete with Lunelle-hats and a Black Madonna altar. We celebrate authors—such as the time we threw a wedding reception (with a double-groom-topped wedding cake) for Honeymoon with My Brother  author, Franz Wisner. Check out our website to see some of our other celebrations, such as Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), John Lescroart (Betrayal), and Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club) at Our only regret, is that we can’t invite Jane Austen, John Steinbeck—or now, John Updike to come to one of our over-the-top meetings to celebrate them!

Missing Members:

Marla’s daughter has a basketball game (cross-town rivals, no less); Marissa must fly to Maryland for a business conference; and Maya’s kids are all down with the measles—yuck! Oh yeah, and it’s book club night. What do you do about your missing members?

When your members miss an occasional meeting, you have some inclusion and practical communication issues to address. How do they know you missed them?  How do they get any goodies they may have missed? Does Marissa remember that she’s hosting next month? And what about the decisions the rest of your group made that evening? How do they stay included, informed and important?

Since we have two issues here, let’s divide them and address them separately. First we have the group dynamics issue of continuing to make your missing members feel included.  Did Traveling Teresa bring back bookmarks from her recent trip to Texas? Did the author send your group book plates with her signature? Did the facilitator provide any book-inspired party favors? Missing members should not miss out just because they were only present in spirit, should they? Here’s a suggestion. Keep some small gift bags on hand. Create a bag for each missing member, capturing all the little trinkets from the meeting. Write a little note telling the member they were missed and drop both off at their home. (No one can read my writing, so I make little cards on my computer—see some examples, below. Also, one time when we met at a restaurant, I wrote a quick “We Missed You!” on the restaurant-logoed cocktail napkin—hope they could read it…) It will only take a few minutes, but it will help missing members really know that you were all thinking about them.

Secondly, we have the informational issue as to what was discussed at the meeting, and what decisions were made about upcoming book selections, group outings, special events, and charity efforts. If you send out a regular newsletter or email, this will loop in the missing members while reminding even those who were present of critical dates, deadlines and doings. Or perhaps you have a website with a members-only page where you post such information? If so, remember to send an email telling members that you’ve just updated your site information.  You may also print out the email or newsletter and include it in the goodie bag or note mentioned above—having a hard copy can help some harried members catch-up even quicker.

Your members will still hate to miss meetings. But some of these ideas can help to keep them feeling involved, important, and inspired. And that will keep book club fun for all of your members.

Go Team!


These little Chinese boxes not only held a few fortune cookiesbut also a signed book plate from Jamie Ford was tucked insidepersonalized for each book club member.

This note card  is from our meeting where we celebrated Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story,
by Carolyn Turgeon. Inside the card read,
" But you still get goodies!"

This card was from  when we celebrated The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, by Elisabeth Robinson. As party favors, we all got crowns-- just like the sisters in the book.
  The fine print reads, "So we saved your crown for you. Missed You! Your Fellow Princesses in the Hood"

Reading Group Nicknames

Nicknames have been around probably as long as language itself. “Alexander, The Great”, “Old Blue Eyes”, and “The Queen of Soul” all bring to mind icons of different eras. While some nicknames are merely diminutives for longer names—such as “Beth” for Elizabeth; others have a complete story behind them. For Example, “Kix” Brooks of Brooks and Dunn acquired his nickname because he never could keep still—his feet were always moving. (After seeing him perform on stage, I have to admit—his mom really nailed that one.) Sometimes they’re used to demean, for example, “Fatso” or “Four Eyes.”  More positively, nicknames can show affection, attribution, intimacy, or a sense of belonging. It is this latter attribute that we want to build on for our purposes. Also, note that most nicknames are given to a person. We’re going to turn this idea on its head for our purposes.

Ask each of your members to devise a nom de plume for herself. This could be based on a funny anecdote a member has shared (such as "Burning Bride") or a Hobby ("The Constant Gardener") or a literary alias ("Scarlett O'Hara"). Whichever way your reading group decides to go, you should have alignment between the names, i.e. all members’ nicknames should be all based on an anecdote, or all based on a book character, etc.

You can see some examples of literary aliases on However, for several years we used the anecdotally based nicknames such as “Dancing Queen”, “Rag Merchant” and “Girl Next Door” before we got bored with them and decided to change.


In addition to nicknames helping your members to feel a sense of belonging to your club, they will also provide them with a greater sense of privacy when used in newsletters or on your web site.

Rah Rah Reading,


Salute the Silver Screen

         Eschew your small paperback ‘screen’ for a night and go to your favorite local theater to watch an Oscar-nominated movie that has been adapted from a book. This year gives us plenty of options such as: The Reader, based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink (five nominations); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, adapted from a 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (13 nominations); and Revolutionary Road, adapted from the novel by Richard Yates (three nominations.)

       So, skip dinner to make room for the ginormous barrel o’ popcorn you’ll share with one of your reading groupies—and bring your tissues, because ‘happy movie’ and ‘Oscar nominee’ seem to be mutually exclusive terms.

       By the way—for all those other cheerleaders out there, take heart in knowing that Bring It On was nominated in 2001 for 7 film awards, and actually won 2. Unfortunately, they were not Oscars…


Girl Getaway Group Time
                When planning a Girl's Weekend, block out some time to do a team-building activity. If it’s your first time away together, try to do something that will help you understand each other better, such as a personality quiz (a la Myers-Briggs) or a Conflict Assessment. You can do most of these types of assessments on line ahead of time (for example the Kiersey Sorter, which is a quick and dirty version of Myers-Briggs) with each member scoring her own assessment. Then the group time in the off-site won’t be wasted on administrivia, but can be devoted to discussing what the results mean, and how that plays out in your reading group.

             In addition to having fun together, you will learn a bit more about yourself and each other. This will also come in handy, the next time your group disagrees on an issue.


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