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B Y

J O E L L E

H E R R

In Da Club

I

am always slightly amused when certain (non-bookish) folks come into the shop (usually dragged by bookish friends) and make a big, melodramatic deal about the fact that they’re in a bookstore, as if they’ve stumbled upon some exotic, supposed-to-be-extinct creature. Some are baffled: “People still read real books?” Some are indignant: “Wasn’t the book pronounced ‘dead,’ like, ten years ago?” And some are merely concerned, leaning in with a knit brow and hushed voice: “How’s business?” Yes, Virginia, people are still reading books. Not everyone, of course, but lots. One side effect — or perhaps it’s a cause — is the proliferation of book clubs. It seems like everyone is in a book club these days, some in more than one, even. Book clubs go way back, with many historian folk pinpointing version 1.0 as 17th-century bible study groups. Fast-forward 400 years, and most book clubs involve wine and a bestseller. And while Oprah may have pioneered the whole celebrity-led-book-club thing in the ’90s, these days, it can be difficult to keep up with all of them. Oprah’s still going, of course, but there’s also Reese Witherspoon, Emma Roberts, and Emma Watson. Even Jimmy Fallon got in on the act last year. Collectively, these women (and Jimmy) have millions of social media followers, which means that, when they anoint a book, it’s likely to become a bestseller. The most recent statistic I could track down is from last year and estimates that five million Americans belong to a book club. That’s a lot of readers — and a lot of Pinot. At the shop, we host a book club called Better Off Read. We partner with The Porch Writers’ Collective on it, and yes, we pop open a couple of wine bottles at the meetings. Drawing upon wisdom gained from our 15 gatherings

so far, I thought I’d share a few book club pointers — whether you’re thinking about starting or joining one, or if your existing club is in a bit of a rut. Mix it up: Expand beyond fiction. Read a biography of notable writer who lived a fascinating life. Read a historical account of something that happened in your state. Read poetry. Read a translated work that takes place on a different continent. Reread your favorite book from 4th grade. Explore all of the genres and cultures and places. Be realistic: Everyone is pretty dang busy these days. Families, jobs, pets, household chores, errands. To-do lists are never-ending. The point? Skip the Dickens and Tolstoy. Not altogether — read them on your own, if you want. But, unless your book club meets annually, keep your picks under 300 pages. Venture off the beaten path: This is one of my goals with Better Off Read, to pick lesser-known books. It’s rare that we read something that’s hit any sort of best-seller list. Award and prize lists are another matter — those I pay attention to. There are so many stellar indie presses publishing fantastic books, but most people don’t know about them because, well, they’re from small indie presses with small indie publicity and marketing departments and budgets. Do a little digging, and find a gem. Stay focused: One of the most common complaints I hear about book clubs is that folks spend precious time discussing things other than the book. Current events, vacations, movies, relationship drama — keep this sort of chatter to a minimum, or ban it altogether so that the book and its themes, characters, plot, and other must-discuss aspects take center stage. Just remember to have lots of bookish fun. And to keep reading, of course. Happy clubbing. →

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

July | August 2019 theeastnashvillian.com

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Profile for The East Nashvillian

The East Nashvillian | July-August 2019  

The East Nashvillian | July-August 2019