The Beauty of Book Clubs

“We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.”  – Henry Miller

There is nothing so luxurious as curling up in a favorite chair with a good book. The ability to take the time to shut the world out, to lose oneself in the words and the vision of another human being is the height of indulgence. For many, a good book is nourishment, and depriving them of this sustenance is akin to starvation.

When I was working a crazy corporate job it was impossible to free read. Any reading I did was related to the telecommunications industry, and other books were reserved for the two weeks of vacation I took each year. When we relocated to Tampa I became a stay-at-home mom. I loved it.

I became close friends with my neighbor and we decided to form a book club. This was seventeen years ago, mind you, before the Oprah book club. I was diligent in the first five years or so in keeping track of the literature we devoured. Our taste is very eclectic, ranging from classics to “The Bridget Jones Diary.” Our club still exists, with five of the original members.

“Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” – Francis Bacon, Sr.

One of the things I came to appreciate was how we chose a book. We did read N.Y. Times best sellers, but we also relied heavily on recommendations from friends. We disagreed often. The lively discussions, we joked, kept our mommy brains from turning into mush.

Two weeks after my third surgery in four months, (or “The Year of the Apocalypse” as I call it), I found myself sitting in the cozy kitchen of a friend, invited by her book club to discuss my first novel. I was still in a post-surgical daze, so I brought a pad with me to take notes.  After they were done with their questions and had complimented me heartily on how much they enjoyed the book I asked a loaded question.

“What didn’t you like about the book?”

There was a brief silence. These are very sweet women, and they were probably weighing whether they should criticize my work while I sat before them in my frail condition. I assured them it would be very helpful to me. One of the women, a French Literature graduate of Yale University, spoke up.

“Your first murder should have been sooner. I liked all the fashion and food, but the next time please kill someone earlier in the novel.”

Everyone else agreed with this. One woman leaned forward and looked at me earnestly.

“Is (character name) in the next book? She is fascinating and I want her in the next one.”

I admitted I wasn’t planning on putting her in the second book of the series.

“Well, I disagree. She is an intriguing character, and after you made me like her, I want to read more about her.”

I promised her that, since I had only written about sixty pages, I would strongly consider her suggestion. She smiled and sat back in her chair, happy to know that she would meet this character in a future novel.

My most recent experience with a local book club taught me a very important lesson about proper proofreading. It was a bit surreal to walk into a conference room where ten women waited eagerly for me, the author of the book to be discussed. They were wonderfully inquisitive, and the questions they asked showed that they had gotten a lot out of the book. One woman said she realized, as she was reading my novel, that either I had had to do extensive research to write this, or I knew a lot of rich people.  I assured her that it was research.

Finally, I asked my loaded question. “What didn’t you like about the book?”

One of the women leaned back and sighed with frustration.

“There were a lot of errors. The spelling of a character’s name changed later in the book. It really distracted me.”

I know I blushed. I can’t even remember how many times I proofed the book to check for things like this. A novel with obvious errors was not the standard I had hoped for in my first published work.

Another woman said, “…and Miranda would NEVER say, “Can I have a glass of water?” She would say, “May I have a glass of water?”

Fair enough. I had asked the question and received the answer.

Another woman spoke up, “I didn’t even notice the errors. I was so involved with the story!”

I asked the woman who had noticed the errors what she did for a living.

“I am a copy-editor.”

I was not at all upset with these ladies. They are my customers, and every single one of them had purchased a paperback copy, which I signed. The next day I received an e-mail from one of the book club members. In it she gave me the name of a book we had discussed that evening about food that she highly recommended. She ended her e-mail, “… and I don’t care about the errors in the book. I really enjoyed it. Please let us know when you are finished with the next one. I can’t wait to read it!”

I always try to learn from a mistake. The last thing I want is a spelling error distracting a reader from the story. My solution is simple – I have handed a copy of the book to a good friend with a red pen. Even a diamond has flaws, and I will own up to the fact that the novel is not perfect. When my friend has completed the proofing, I will fix the errors, and republish it. Is this not what a revised edition is?

“If there is a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  – Toni Morrison

*     *     *     *     *

L. A. Lewandowski is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novel, Born To Die – The Montauk Murders. For more information, please see the IU Bio Page and her blog:cultureandcuisineclub.com.

 

15 thoughts on “The Beauty of Book Clubs

  1. I've always wanted to join a book club. It seems like a lot of fun, sitting down and discussing a book. You never know what opinions may come up and how different people look at the same book.

    Great post!

    • Hi R.J.,

      It would be an understatement to say that we have disagreed on a book! :)

      There have been some absolute flops, but I never would have read some of the novels without a push from my friends. One that comes to mind is "The Angle of Repose". I am not a science fiction fan, but "The Swallow" was a favorite. They also turned me on to Arturo Perez Reverte, who is one of the finest living writers, in my humble opinion.

      Get some friends together and start a book club. You will love it!

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. What a great post. I love the way readers were willing to give helpful feedback. Sometimes when you get the courage to ask, they don't want to hurt your feelings.

    As to errors. I wish I could find a way to make sure there aren't any.

    For my last book, Compulsion, book 2 of the Quinn Larson Quests, I hired a proofreader. He did a great job, or at least I thought so until my sister pointed out 8 more errors. At least I can quickly correct them so the errors don't live forever.

    • Hello PA,

      Hearing that there were a number of errors was upsetting. I want to be viewed as an author who cares about the quality of my work. What I learned through these book clubs was that when I have a group of readers together I need to ask questions and listen. The feedback is priceless!

      Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Love this post! I love my book club and have learned a lot from the different genres we read. I think they make an author more rounded in their own writing. I am nearly ready to publish my first novel and I live in fear of the dreaded "errors." I have had it professionally edited, beta read, and I don't know how many times I continue to find a little something that's not right. I won't publish it until I think it's perfect, but even then, as your post suggests, there can be flaws. You are so gracious to have taken the comment about error in such great stride. It's hard to hear someone critique our work, especially when we think we have done everything humanly possible to correct mistakes. Thanks for sharing!

    • L.L.,

      It was difficult to hear that my novel still had some errors. I was embarrassed because I'm a person who has a high standard. The only thing to do is to correct what I find and move on. I have another ms that will soon be a book and I will be using the proverbial "fine tooth comb".

      The women in my book club are loyal, bright, funny and open to all kinds of literature. I have learned a lot from them.

      Have a lovely evening.

  4. Hi Krista,

    We've read about 10 a year, so at this point somewhere around 170, I guess. I have a partial list, and I am going to give it to the ladies so they can add the books that I have missed.

    I did a book clean-out about four months ago. I left three huge bags of books on my front porch and a friend who is an avid reader picked them up. I love having a Kindle, so I'll hopefully never have to do that again!

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Fantastic post. I felt like I was there with you when you were asking "THE" question. I haven't had that opportunity yet, and I'll be as nervous as all get out when I am there.

    I hope I handle it as good as you!

    • Hi Jim,

      I was a bit nervous, but the ladies were so sweet! I viewed it as an opportunity to have a focus group, and to consider their input, no matter what it was, as crucial feedback. I learned an important lesson regarding proofing. And, if a reader feels she know the character Miranda well enough to correct me on how she would ask for a glass of water, I must have done something right!

      I'm sure you'll meet with your own nook club soon.

  6. I have just published my second and third novels. I have a very fastidious editor. One and two are ebooks and the file management is all done through Bookbaby. Book three is a trade paperback and the small publisher decided to use a POD. VERY good thing. Current readers have found 5 errors in 408 pages. I have the Outlandish Companion which lists the errata in Gabaldon's books. Outlander has 880 pages or so, and 36 noted errata. In 20 years no one has seen fit to correct them! I figure my 5 (which will be corrected on the proof for the paperbacks, so anyone who orders will get a clean copy) errors are nothing in the real world, and neither are yours. My editor is rather traumatized though! lol If everyone on the team was perfect, we'd be God. Not Greek gods, though. Everyone knows they aren't perfect.

  7. Hi Shawn,

    Ah, you make me feel a bit better! I tried not to be traumatized by the errors. I figure that when I correct the errors and reissue the paperback the one with errors may one day be worth more money! (In my dreams!)

    I agree that belonging to a book club where everyone can express their opinions without recrimination, is a joy. I have sat back many times and wondered at the perceptive analysis of my friends. A nice glass of wine adds to the mood, too!

    Good luck with the launch of your books, and thanks for your comments.

  8. I wish I had time for a book club. I barely have time to read at all, though I love to. But I have had readers point out the flaws in my opus and felt both angry that they had been missed and grateful to know where they were. Fortunately most people also told me they couldn't wait for the next one, so it made the rest easier to take.

    • I feel your pain about the time to read! I try to break it up – read a bit while I eat my lunch, or at night before I go to bed.

      The feedback can sting, but it is a crucial part of progressing as a writer.

      And, your feedback ended with the encouragement to get that next book out!

Comments are closed.