Don’t just sit there—get moving. While many book groups simply greet, meet and treat, some groups are more enterprising: they explore, travel, invite in or Skype with authors, play with book themes (like Sutton’s cupcake party for Buttercream Bumpoff, mentioned Feb. 27).
Members’ appetites are voracious and they want more. It’s out there, waiting for them; they just have to locate it.
“I so wish that some of the local Worcester colleges would host occasional lectures, open to the public, on classic books like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Steinbeck,” wrote Brenda Yates, of the Sutton group, “Full Court Press.”
We second that idea, but add that contemporary fiction is just as interesting to some. Published authors especially fascinate both readers and aspiring writers; increasingly, authors and bookstores are catering to book groups, as a way of increasing sales. Anita Shreve lectured and signed books at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough last year. She packed the store’s meeting room. The Toadstool bookstores in Keene and Peterborough, N.H., regularly bring in regional authors to good-size crowds.
When Fitchburg State College invited Jodi Picoult to speak at its 2006 New England Writers Series, she also visited the Leominster Barnes & Noble to sign books—and a long line formed as dozens of fans presented her with their books, many of them planned to attend the FSC session that evening.
Oh, yes; the interest is there. “I think that there are enough book groups in the area that if local colleges would sponsor some evening book seminars—perhaps pay as you go, $15 to attend a lecture or something—that there would be a good market for it,” Yates said. “I think there are plenty of people who would love to read a book and then have the book taught to them. I just read Wuthering Heights and I sure would like someone to explain that one to me!”
Those who love writing love books as well—and dozens of people in this region hone their craft in writing groups. The Worcester Writers Group’s 67-person membership is hardworking and healthy. The poets of Worcester’s Poets’ Asylum are just as active. In Berlin, the Metrowest area, Lancaster, Shrewsbury—community after community—writers groups have formed alongside their reading counterparts. And they share a love for sessions with authors.
Being so close to Boston, there’s a generous amount of activity in this area (as there is in the Berkshires). Emerson College in Boston, home to Ploughshares literary journal, sponsors readings, as do PEN New England and Grub Street—“the” center for serious writers. PEN’s monthly series is generally free, but involves jogging into the Boston area.
Once a year, the Boston Book Festival hosts a passel of noted writers and hundreds wander about freely, listening to and seeing writers like Dennis Lehane, Joyce Carol Oates and Bill Bryson. It’s a premiere event and a great fall field trip.
To find events, check regional book stores and libraries (where your club can also rent a movie that pairs with what they’re reading). Libraries bring in speakers when funding permits. The New England Crime Writers makes the rounds of many area libraries, discussing mysteries and writing—they’re a large group, made of fledgling as well as more published mystery writers. Groton Library’s large endowment permits it to bring in a roster of speakers. The Greater Worcester Community Foundation funds speaker programs within area libraries.
Speak up. Librarians want to know what you’d like, and they’ll try to move mountains to get it. Lucky libraries have a few thousand set aside for speakers (and willingly accept donations to the cause). Book sales are a critical resource for funding such activities, so take your satchel and buy, buy, buy. Find out if your library offers free meeting space for book club events, and ask if such assists as Skype—for phone-video interviews—and large-screen projection are available.
“We travel at least twice a year,” reports Debby McDonald of Millbury’s Roving Readers Book Club (second Tuesdays, monthly, 2 p.m., at Barnes & Noble in Millbury). “We read a book and choose a destination connected it.” The club’s 12 to 15 members met at the Orchard House in Concord while reading Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women—and there are several writer-connected sites in the region. Mark Twain’s Hartford, Conn., residence is a historical site with many book-related events (www.marktwainhouse.org).
The Millbury group’s meetings are published in Millbury’s Barnes and Noble newsletter as well, promoting interest. Reading Ethan Frome, they traveled to author Edith Wharton’s house. “While reading The Diaries of Adam and Eve, we went to the Mark Twain House,” McDonald said. “We went to Salem to a museum, to see a Chinese home, as we had read so many Chinese stories. We have had two different authors come and talk to our group; one was Amy Belding Brown, the author of Mr. Emerson’s Wife.”
Food matters. The group has had a formal tea at one member’s house. They always plan a visit to a good restaurant in their travels. (Currently, McDonald says, they’re reading Jodi Picoult’s House Rules.)
If your group has had different adventures, share them through this column. I’m glad, also, to include other libraries and clubs as they make their programs known. Princeton Public Library’s book club meets monthly—with an evening and an afternoon group, as well as two children’s book groups, says Wendy Pape, director.
Ann Connery Frantz is a journalist and fiction writer. Past columns are included on her blog about books and book clubs at http://readitandreeap.blogspot.com (note the two ee’s). E-mail your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.