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An Author Walks Into a Book Club...



“Not for my book,” I promised Laura, the girl in charge of the group. “Just to, you know, be in a book club.” Because for all the reading and writing I’ve done, I’ve never actually done it in community like that. Having been exposed to my friends, the NYC Book Hoes (an amazing group of people who do all kinds of cool things with their myriad book clubs), I thought I might like to be part of a like-minded bunch of readers who are local to where I live on Long Island. Writing is a lonely pursuit, but reading doesn’t have to be, so with that in mind, I put on a brave face and signed myself up.

 

We met yesterday. Allow me to paint a picture:

 

A cloudy Sunday, just a week before Christmas. Ashlyn, the co-host, who I’ve not met before, welcomes us all into her home, which is tastefully decorated in garland and twinkling lights. An extremely long series of tables surrounded by 20+ chairs, which would not be enough to fit all the girls who were expected to be there. An abundance of food, both catered and home-cooked. Edible glitter to put in the mimosas. A fiancé, exiled for the afternoon to play video games. White Elephant but with beautifully wrapped books only. And a room full of friendly faces, only two of whom I’d ever met before.

 

First, introductions. “Go around the table and say your name and how long you’ve been with us.” Not counting me, there were five book-club-virgins in the group, each of us battling the anxiety of being new in our own, quiet way. Next, we played White Elephant, which took a bit of time because the back covers of books were read aloud. Then, we ate. There was smiling.  Laughing: sometimes, because something was funny, and sometimes just to alleviate the nerves. I focused on trying to remember people’s names without having to stare at the nametags we’d affixed to our chests.  

 

Perhaps if I had something to drink besides coffee, I might have been a little less wound up. But it was early afternoon, and I’m a lightweight.  So I was forced to rely on my, um, charm. (Nope. My husband is the charming one. I’m just the nerd.)

 

Eventually, it was time to talk about the book. We read A Winter in New York by Josie Silver. I was unable to comment as just a reader. For example, someone mentioned the title and I replied that she was probably given that title based on what her editor and marketing team thought would sell well. Some questions were offered; we shared our thoughts about the plot, the characters she’d painstakingly created, decisions she’d consciously made. At some point, we went around the table and gave our Goodreads ratings, and that was particularly hard for me because I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing – an author, a fellow artist, a creative who knew that this woman, Josie Silver, who I’ve never met but can still relate to, did the best she could to produce the finest holiday book possible. Many people really enjoyed it, which made me happy for her.  I, too, enjoyed it.  When offering criticism, I mentioned the setting feeling inauthentic. I am from New York; Josie Silver is not. Still, I felt guilty offering anything less than glowing commentary. But I reminded myself that this is what readers do. This is what book clubs do. This is what it means to read in a community.

 

Needless to say, it will take some getting used to.

 

I remember my friend and fellow author Jessica Payne telling me many months ago that once your book is out in the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to your readers. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s a gift to even have readers; many authors are not that lucky. I’ll have to remind myself of these facts with each book club meeting I attend. When your book is chosen as a Book of the Month, or a selection in a nationwide book club like Books, Brunches and Booze, you gain readership, for better or for worse. People will know Josie Silver’s name as a result of being chosen in this way. The price she has to pay is having people in homes across America pick apart her art while they eat cupcakes and store-bought gelato.

 

There are worse things.

 

I will say that I hope my comments in the meeting were helpful, or at least insightful, to the readers I shared them with. It’s so interesting being on the other side of publishing, and it can often be surprising. So, being able to demystify the business of writing for fellow readers is what I bring to the (very long and crowded) table. Well, that and a dessert.

 

I hope it’s enough, because I’d like to do it again next month.

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