Brenda

Brenda is our newbie. She’s been with us just over two years but is already an important part of the book club family.

I very clearly remember Brenda’s first meeting. It was at Hyedie’s place which means that in addition to having to deal with the rest of us crazies, she had Hyedie’s dogs to deal with. She came in and charmed us all in minutes with her open, friendly manner, her big heart, her knowledge of books and her passion for reading. Brenda is open to reading anything, and genuinely interested to hear what the rest of us have to say about a book. You’ll often look her way when discussing a book and know from the look on her face that she doesn’t agree with your point of view, but she’s honestly trying to understand where you’re coming from.

Brenda joins us from well outside the city, which means that in order to attend a meeting she has to commute up to two hours each way, often getting home well after midnight if we get together on a week night! And she does it with her trademark smile and laugh. If book club were high school, Brenda would definitely win the “Most Dedicated” title.

Here’s what Brenda had to say about her book club experience.

Lindsay: What prompted you to join the book club?

Brenda: I lost my husband and  needed to build a new life. My dear friend Stella invited me to join the club and it has enriched my life. I read books I would not normally read and they transport me to a new place. More importantly I have met some wonderful women and I cherish those new relationships.

Lindsay: What has been your favourite book club book so far and why?

Brenda: The Language of Flowers. The characters are so rich and the story is easy to read yet complex.

Brenda


Lindsay:
What’s your favourite book club memory?

Brenda: I couldn’t possibly single out one. Every time we are together the beautiful food and company are great. I love it – it is so different from my daily routine.

Lindsay: In an ideal world, what would we be reading next?

Brenda: I think it’s time for a great murder mystery if the other members like that sort of thing.

Lindsay: How do you think the book club should celebrate 10 years?

Brenda: A great dinner at a great restaurant.

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Margaret

Meet Margaret – our optimist.

Margaret can find something nice to say about anyone (and any book) she meets. She’s positive, enthusiastic, talkative like you wouldn’t believe, funny, and one of the most genuinely “glass half full” people you’ll ever know. She brings the positive outlook to the book club – even if she hates a book, she can find a silver lining – and her book choices tend to take our group off in new and interesting directions. Our one and only non-fiction read has been thanks to Margaret, as was a run of spiritual-focused fiction that we had a few years ago.

And in typical Margaret fashion, when I asked her to send me her answers to my five questions and begged her to include a photo, she jumped at my “I’ll even take a photo of your feet” offer!

Margaret

Here are Margaret’s thoughts on our book club.

Lindsay: What has been your favorite book club book and why?

Margaret: There have been so many wonderful book club books, but if I had to pick just one, I would go with Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. I still remember the main character’s first name and can approximate her last name. Sometimes I have trouble just remembering book titles, so this is saying a lot.

There are a few reasons why this book is a standout for me. Aminata’s character was brought to life in such a powerful and vivid way, that as a reader, I was able to connect with her so strongly. When I read a book, I need to feel something—for better or worse. I want to be moved. I want my emotions ruffled in some way. This book made me feel many things on a deep level. I especially enjoy books which have story lines in which there is a triumph of the human spirit in transcending the most difficult of challenges that are served up. What I loved most, was being a witness to Aminata’s journey, the choices she made and how they defined her life and purpose.

Lindsay: What’s your favourite book club memory?

Margaret: My favourite book club memory is when a bunch of us visited a Chapters book store, in search of our next book club pick. I enjoyed this because we went “old school” (no electronic gadgets involved). It was just us, connecting with the books “real time”, on a very tactile level. As much as I’d like to think that I wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I discovered from this experience, that covers do have a bigger impact on me than I realized or would care to admit.

That wasn’t my only discovery, however. During that book store visit, it came up that one of our members had a unique “litmus test” for deciding whether a book was going to be worthwhile to continue reading. I thought it was the most interesting thing ever, that she was able to zero in on a particular page number and had a whole rationale to back it up!

Lindsay: In an ideal world, what would we be reading next?

Margaret: Well, I’m not sure how ideal this would be, but I love the idea of breaking the mold and doing something VERY different and outside of the box. I wonder what it would be like to pick a book that was a well-known childhood favorite that we had either read or had exposure to like Blubber, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret or a Nancy Drew mystery. I think it would be interesting to have a discussion about the book from a childhood perspective and now as an adult. I’m not sure what my pick would be, but I’m thinking that Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a strong contender at the moment.

Lindsay: What advice would you give, to someone looking to join a book club?

Margaret: I would suggest that the person do some self-reflection and be very clear on WHY they want to join a book club and what their vision is of how they want it to operate. Not all book clubs are alike and one size does not necessarily fit all. Armed with this information, they can ask the right questions to see if a particular book club will be the right fit for them.

Above all else, they should ensure that whatever book club they join, it is one in which every member is respected, gets to have a voice and can freely express themselves without fear of judgment.

Lindsay: How do you think the book club should celebrate 10 years?

Margaret: I think it would be nice if the festivities included some kind of walk down memory lane, in terms of the books we’ve read or the memories we’ve shared. Not too long ago, we collectively tried to piece together as complete of a list as possible, of all the books we had read. I also think it would be fantastic for all of us to participate in some kind of literary event like Word on the Street, something in connection to Canada Reads or just going to see an author speak.

Know the book club rules

Thank goodness our book club has a “please read the book, but if you didn’t, feel free to just come for the wine and great company” policy! But not all book clubs are so laid back. If you’re joining a new club, know the rules and make sure they fit with your reading style and what you’re looking for  from a club.

An oldie but a goodie from Funny of Die on the perils of not following the book club rules:

 

Karen

Karen came on board a few years after we got up and running as a book club. But that was so long ago that I think she counts as one of the originals by now!

Karen - blog photoKaren is more likely than not to read the books we pick and to bring a very considered perspective, or cutting blow, to the discussions. She’s also the one who keeps us organized – taking the initiative to set meeting dates, send reminders, and ensure we remember to pick a book when we get a bit too caught up in the good food and great company. Karen is sophisticated, smart, put together, warm, kind, well-travelled. And with a wicked sense of humor that can almost make you forget all that other stuff!

And I want to give a special shout out to Karen’s mom – one of our honourary members! It’s always a special treat when she’s in town and is able to join us.

I put my five questions to Karen, and here are her answers, in her own words.

Favourite book….tough one. I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns, Book of Negroes, The Language of Flowers, and The Beauty of Humanity Movement. Life of Pi was the first book club pick when I joined so that holds special meaning to me as well.

I like books that grab my attention right from the beginning, whether it be the characters or just the description of the different settings, as I love to travel.  I don’t want to suggest that the numerous other books didn’t have meaningful characters or stories, these one’s just had that certain something that grabbed me from page 1.

Favourite memory. Again, too many to count. But I think in general, just being around a wonderful, unique group of women is my favourite memory overall. I find it almost therapeutic and cathartic to be around people who are just genuinely good, with big hearts and open minds. I also love that our meetings are centred around the settings of the book and that each member has the opportunity to voice their opinions/thoughts on the book as we go around in a circle….very polite and Canadian.

Next book. Hmmmm….I think it would be cool to try a different genre, like a mystery.

Joining a book club. I would ask if they are compatible with the other members of the club. Are they willing to have an open discussion about the book and share their opinions?  I should probably say something about being committed to reading each book, but that would be hypocritical of me. Enough said.

I think we should celebrate as we do with all of our meetings…with good food, good wine, lots of stories and memories. And most of all…with lots of laughter! Although, perhaps the wine should be replaced by champagne in fancy glasses…much more celebratory, no?

Hyedie

I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with Hyedie for almost 12 years (wow!).

She is an original club member and is our artist and our activist. She’s wildly creative, talented, passionate, sensitive, and generous to a fault. In the book club, she’s always got a strong opinion and if a book doesn’t grab her early, chances are she’s not reading it. But she also more willing than most to read outside her comfort zone, and she also gives books second chances!

I asked Hyedie to write a few words about her book club experience.

Knowing that I’m probably the most social media savvy member (although it’s more of an addiction than being savvy) of the Joy of Reading Book Club, Lindsay asked me to write a blog post. And in a completely Lindsay manner, she assigned an extremely difficult topic for me to write on: my favourite book out of all the Joy of Reading Book Club books we’ve read. Our book club has read so many great books together, I’ve been sitting on this assignment for a while. Choosing just one book is hard!

Hyedie

Here are my top five:

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Kahled Hoseini)
The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill)
The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)
On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
Middlesex (Jeffery Eugenides)
The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb)

 OK, that was seven titles. See how hard this is?

​Since my assignment was to choose one book to chat about, out of these seven books, I’ll choose ‘On Beauty‘ by Zadie Smith to explain why it made it into my list of top seven favourite books.

I love stories that have a great, strong main character who grows and really discovers who they are by being tested and experiencing difficult situations. In ‘On Beauty’, however, there isn’t just one strong character there is a whole family of great characters that are struggling, transitioning and fighting to be true to who they are.

As the book unfolds, Smith is able to weave the lives of all these great characters together through a complicated mesh of plot and sub-plots. She explain all the complicated sub-plots without confusing her reader, nor does she lose the momentum of the story. In fact the book picks up a lot of speed in which all the events unfold, until the story reaches a dizzying climax before it ends.

I also love this book because the dialogue is amazing. Smith is able to pick up the nuances of how different people from different countries, social classes and gender speak. I read somewhere that for Smith, writing dialogue is very natural and comes quite easily to her. It shows. I don’t think any other author is able to show and strengthen a character’s personality, thoughts and struggles through dialogue alone.

Also as a graphic designer, I love, love, love the cover design. I think it’s beautiful but also so smartly designed.

Read more by Hyedie at www.cupcakeride.com/blog/

Stella

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to the members of my book club to get their thoughts on our club, the books we’ve read, and what they’re looking forward to in our next decade of reading together.

This week, I chatted with Stella.

Birthday Boston  Niagara Falls  Niagar on the Lake 2010 045
Everybody needs a Stella in their book club.

Stella is funny, opinionated, motivational, and just the nicest most honest and humble person you’re ever going to meet. In the book club, she’s the one who gets excited about every book, reads 90 per cent of them, is always ready with an insightful comment – whether she loved it or hated it – and just generally encourages the rest of us in our lives and in our reading. She joined The Joy of Reading Book Club in 2006, and it’s hard to imagine what our little group would be like without her enthusiasm, optimism and personality.

Lindsay: What has been your favourite book club book so far and why?

Stella: I cannot choose simply one as a “favourite.”  There are several that live with me, years after having read them.  So, as a person who passes on her books, the following books are ones I have held on to, for my permanent library.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khalid Hosseini
  • Both Camilla Gibb books, Sweetness In the Belly, and The Beauty of Humanity Movement
  • Lawrence Hill’s, The Book of Negroes
  • The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

These are to memory, some of my best reads. There are many more, but the ones noted are special because the characters are so very real and their experiences are so unreal, when in context, to a “common life,” so to speak. Yet the whole story works and captures the reader word by word, because people can be amazing when placed in circumstances that are out of their context, control, and place, etc. The fact that these esteemed writers have their characters rise to unthinkable highs and/or sink to unspeakable lows is amazing to me and the shear will of their beloved characters rising above all their challenges and demons to live permanently in my head, heart and spirit.  The subjects and characters are timeless and so is their impact on me.   Thus, they may be called “favourites.”

Lindsay: What’s your favourite book club memory?

Stella: There are so many!  Each one is special because the book club is continuously evolving with each member bringing their own piece to it.  Often, we choose restaurant venues which may compliment/reflect the book we would be discussing.  We do the meets at selected member’s homes, which are really special.  However, to be respectful of the question, I shall say there have been some extra memorable meets over the years.  Here goes:

  • We had a personal chef cook for us, at one of the member’s homes.
  • Our Christmas/New Year gatherings are always sure-fire fabulous.
  • It was great to have had the mother of one of our book club member attend our meet while visiting Toronto.  She actually read the book and made such a positive contribution to the evening.
  • Two book club members were being married the same year, and that gathering was special with a custom book created for them by the other members.

Lindsay: In an ideal world, what would we be reading next?

Stella: Homer’s The Illiad, the entire Greek Mythology Series from Bullfinch’s Trilogy, and The Holy Bible with classes for re-enforcement.

Lindsay: What advice would you give to someone looking to join a book club?

 Stella: I would ask, myself:

  • What would I like to get from a book club?
  • What would it mean to me to be part of this club?
  • Am I willing to commit to the reading and meeting to discuss it?
  • Am I open to trying new and different books? To different opinions, perceptions, experiences, etc?

Lindsay: How do you think the book club should celebrate 10 years?

Stella: However we may come together on it, one thing I am certain of … it will be a joyous, laughter filled occasion with plenty of stories and champagne bubbling over in long flute glasses.

 

Five tips for picking a great book club book

Some book clubs pick all their books at the start of the year, so the group knows what they are reading next and a certain amount of planning can happen.

That is not my book club. I love that it’s not, because it means that at the end of each meeting there’s this moment where someone says: “So what are we reading next?” And it sparks a whole new kind of book discussion – around what books we’ve heard good things about, what books have been sitting on our shelves for too long, and what strange and interesting books we’d be interested in checking out.

But picking a good book club book isn’t as simple as it sounds! So here are my five tips for picking a great book club book.

1. Know your readers.
If 90 per cent of the books your club chooses have a movie poster cover or are sold next to the check out in the grocery store, picking something recommended by your friend who’s completing his/her doctorate in French Literature probably isn’t a good idea. Choosing something that’s outside your club’s comfort zone is always good because it tends to result in some great discussion, but if you want people to actually read the book, stay in your club’s ballpark.

2. Avoid new releases.
If your club is filled primarily with people using e-readers, this may not be as much of an issue, but for old-school hard copy book readers, new releases are a challenge. For the book buyers in the group, new releases usually mean hard covers – higher cost, heavier to carry. For the book borrowers, they usually mean more time on the library waiting list.

3. Length matters.
I’m all for curling up in bed with a mammoth novel, especially if it’s an author I love. But for book club purposes, the length of the book is inversely proportional to the number of people who will read the whole thing. Stay below about 450 pages if you want to be allowed to pick a book again.

4. Stick with what you know.
Sweetness in the Belly, by Camilla Gibb, was unanimously loved by the members of my club. So when her newest novel, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, was released, it was a no-brainer that we’d read it. And once again we loved it. If you find an author who sparks discussion, moves people to finish the book, and who you enjoy reading, go back to their books whenever you can.

5. Pay attention to what other people are reading.
One of the more interesting books we read last year was selected because my friend Karen saw someone reading it during her commute to work one morning. In addition to recommendations by friends and family, keep an eye on what people around you are reading – if you’re seeing the same book over and over, chances are it’s worth checking out. Plus, watching what others are reading is a fun way to people watch!