THE CLASSROOM IS THE FIRST BOOK CLUB

Blogger Becky Brothers and I met in a bookstore in Chattanooga. Sadly, the indie store has since closed but our friendship has only thrived!  Becky is one of those amazing young women whose thirst for knowledge  and whose love of books is absolutely voracious. She never ceases to amaze me with her energy and sharp wit.

When Nashville flooded in May of 2010, Becky (also a mother, English teacher and tutor) spearheaded a campaign to put books back in Nashville’s affected classrooms. Her campaign, A DRY READ, was a huge success with hundreds of books being donated.

Here Becky shares her thoughts about the definition and power of book club.

Like most people who love to read, I spent long hours of my childhood with books.  My fondest early memories of my parents are those precious story time minutes before bed: my mother laughing so hard at Ramona and Beezus or Bunnicula she couldn’t keep reading; my father home from work, just out of the tub, smelling of Lava soap and aftershave, reading Charlotte’s Wed to me while I cried big, silent tears into his clean white T-shirt. I actually had trouble learning to read because I loved being read to more than anything in the world. It felt suddenly very unfair, very cold and lonely, to be asked to read a book alone, and in silence.

But just like learning to ride a bike, once I could do by myself, there was no turning back. I read with a voracious appetite everything I could get my hands on. To this day I think my own writing has been permanently helped (and hindered!) by Anne of Green Gables and three back to back readings of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl. I was content to read by myself, happy to have my books and those worlds all for me. But in eighth grade I had a wonderful English teacher who saw something in me; she nurtured my love of reading and did the unthinkable: she let me choose whatever I wanted to read for credit at school. That unthinkable freedom, paired with her careful responses in the reading journal I did for her, sparked something new in me: reading wasn’t just  good, it was empowering.

Everyone who knows me says they’ve always known I would be an English teacher, despite my thoughts of law school and journalism. My dabbling in music school was short lived; you can’t exactly curl up with your piano on a rainy day. It’s nearly impossible to keep an afghan on your lap while you play Beethoven. And a warm cup of cocoa? No way. It’s cold before the first movement of the sonata is done. Books were friendly things, even when the reading was hard or slow. But it was still so lonely when the book was done, the class discussions over.

Author Kelly O'Connor McNees with Blogger Becky Brothers

But at the end of graduate school,  I finally found a reading home with other teachers, the wonderful and dedicated teachers of Central High School in Louisville, KY. They face many challenges in their jobs, but they’ve never accepted the idea that reaching their students would include anything less than authentic reading and writing experiences. They are pressured every day by the state and local school boards to raise test scores, raise test scores. An endless parade of dumbed down reading curriculum is thrown at them. They are threatened. But they stand by their ideals; they know their kids aren’t fooled by programs and phony workbooks, bubble sheets and stats. These kids don’t buy what the system has to offer them, not believing in the promise of a diploma. So these brave teachers dig deeper into what really matters: Reading (with a capital “R”).

We would sit around the lunch tables in our break room, stuffing our lunches down for our 20 minute break, and talk books, non-stop. I was the new kid—a 23 year old teacher fresh out of grad school in 2001. I was overwhelmed by all of the stress every new teacher faces. My department chair looked at me and said, “Read something.” She was right. In the next few months, I read everything in our book room, a tiny store room stacked floor to ceiling with titles hand-picked by the teachers, not the school board, bought with money we raised ourselves. The school’s funding ran out in April. We were out of toilet paper and light bulbs. But we kept reading and buying new books and talking books at the lunch table and carrying over those authentic, grown-up conversations into our classes.

My classroom became a real reading group. I knew I had found a reading home because the other teachers, all of them, embraced what Mrs. Doctorman had let me do: kids in our classes also had the unimaginable freedom to choose whatever they wanted to read. And we let them have at it. My biggest challenge was scarfing down everything in the (then) tiny Young Adult section of Barnes and Noble and the great local indie, Carmichaels. I read Patricia McCormick’s Cut, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Walter Dean Myers incredible book, Monster, and countless others. I lay in bed at night worried about certain students, wracking my brain, “What would finally get Marcus to read?” The very best moments were when one of my students, especially when it was one who struggled to read, would be so moved by a book that he would jump in front of the class, voluntarily, and witness about what an amazing story he’d just read. One student was in a terrible accident while I taught there; she came back to school with mild brain injuries. She read Sharon Draper’s Tears of a Tiger, cover to cover, in 2 days. When she came back to school with it finished, she told me, “I’ve never read a whole book in my life. This is the first one I’ve ever finished. For real.” She was almost 19.

Our lunchtime round table was a place to really debate books. I’ll never forget coming to them all fresh off of reading Sapphire’s book Push. This was almost a decade before the movie; I’d never read a book so awful, so dirty, so honest. It was the perfect portrait of everything wrong with the world: incest, abuse, illiteracy. Some of my colleagues were scared to put it on their shelves. I told them they had to. We did. We almost got fired for it. We fought for it. Parents threatened us when we put books with gay and lesbian characters out for our students. We knew it was worth the risk.

I miss that book club, that breakfast club, the club of my kids and colleagues. I witness about books everywhere I go now. Finding the right book club is hard, just like finding the right book can be hard. Now that I use Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter, I’m connecting with like-minded teachers and readers everywhere and it’s a good fight. I know there are lots of struggling kids out there searching for something; they just don’t know it’s a book yet.

Posted August 12, 2011 at 8:13 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

LISA, FANNIE, TONS OF TEARS AND A BLURB

When people ask me what is one of the great benefits to come from the writing life that I did not anticipate, I have a quick and easy answer – meeting people like Lisa Patton that I now call my friend!


First of all, I want to say congratulations to the very talented, Susan Gregg Gilmore. She certainly deserves a spot on Target’s Emerging Author list and BEZELLIA is the perfect book to place on the shelf. I loved that book the minute I read it and I can’t believe it’s already out in paperback.

It’s not every day that two authors connect and bond as easily as Susan and I have. Since meeting each other less than two years ago we’ve become fast, steadfast buds. We’ve road-tripped together on several occasions and even tried to plan a bus tour around the South. We might not have the details down for that one, but I have no doubt we’ll be singing camp songs down the Dixie trails soon enough.

Me and Lisa relaxing on the beach a few days after SIBA.

My favorite memory with Susan was at the SIBA convention last year in Daytona Beach, Florida. SIBA is the acronym for Southern Independent Booksellers Association and Fannie Flagg (my literary hero) was the opening night, keynote speaker. I imagine that I must have been the first person to send in my check for the dinner (I sent it the day SIBA made the announcement – six months prior) and after it was over I told Susan that I was going to stand in line to meet her, no matter how long it took.

Susan who knew of my life-long admiration and awe for Miss Flagg, offered to go with me and the two of us lined up behind many other book lovers, each eager to take home a memory, an autographed book or a photograph with the one and only Fannie Flagg. Forty-five minutes later and just seconds away from my big moment, out of nowhere and much to my horror and downright mortification, I burst out crying.

Lisa still in shock after meeting Fannie.

I can’t tell you why or what in the world came over me but I could not stop the tears to save my life. Right before it became our turn to say hello, I scurried off through the crowd, informing Susan that I would not meet Fannie Flagg acting like a star-struck nincompoop. I was carrying on like I was preparing to meet Paul McCartney, for goodness sakes.

While hiding behind a column and chomping on the inside of my jaw to make the tears just stop for crying out loud, I hear my name called over the crowd. The next thing I know Susan has dragged poor Fannie over to me and now there’s nowhere to run. Naturally, Fannie could tell by my mascara smudges and red face that I was overcome with emotion but she never let on that she noticed. Susan and I were both bowled over by her grace and southern gentility.

I told Lisa it's clear who Fannie loves!

I have no idea how but something came over me and I wrestled up all my courage and asked if Fannie would consider reading my second book and possibly offering a quote if she was so inclined. After all, a blurb from Fannie Flagg would be my ultimate dream come true and this was my only chance to ask. As is the case with most happy endings, I am happy to report that not only do I have my Fannie Flagg blurb for my latest book, Yankee Doodle Dixie, but I have one from Susan Gregg Gilmore, too! After it was all over, Susan quipped that if she had known that all she had to do was break down crying in front of Fannie for a blurb, she would have done it first.

At a reading later that year in Nashville, Lisa shares all with a patient Fannie.

P.S. Don’t mind my red eyes and red nose in the picture. I’d just made a fool out of myself boo-hooing in front of Fannie Flagg.

Lisa’s first book, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter is available in paperback now.  Her second and the enchanting sequel to the first, Yankee Doodle Dixie, is due out in hardcover on September.

Posted August 9, 2011 at 9:24 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

MY BLOGGING FRIEND

Rebecca Schinsky is a much-loved book blogger known for her sharp-witted, point-on commentary about books and just about anything in life that piques her interest . . . including super-scary shopping to Babies R Us.  I met Rebecca, aka That Book Lady’s Blog, at the first Blogger’s Convention in NYC when I offered to run and pick up a cappuccino for the caffeine-depleted young woman.  (I understood that pain all too well.)

Now when someone asks me, “What is one of the best things to come out of being published?”, I have to say it is the privilege of calling people like Rebecca my friend.


Meeting people in person whom you’ve only known online is a lot like going on a blind date. You hope they’ll be as charming as their tweets and as clever as their blog posts and that they’ll think the same of you. When the person you’re meeting is an author whose work you’ve enjoyed, the anticipation is even more complicated. You love the work and want the person to live up to what you’ve imagined. When I first met Susan a couple years ago, I knew instantly that I didn’t need to worry. Susan IS the southern sweetness of her novels, and like her characters, she is willing to go beyond the idealized imagery of front porches and rocking chairs to explore the truth of southern experience, even when it’s not so pretty.

I’m thrilled to call Susan a friend and to be here celebrating the paperback release of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and Susan’s inclusion on Target’s Emerging Author list for summer. It’s been a real pleasure to watch Susan’s writing develop from Dairy Queen to Bezellia and into the novel she’s working on now (yes, I’ve read the manuscript, and she is really going somewhere new), but the real joy has been in forming an in-real-life friendship that not only met but exceeded all of my expectations. Happy Paperback Birthday, Bezellia Grove, and here’s to many more years of bookish joy, late-night French fry runs, and mid-afternoon margaritas with one of my favorite friends in the industry.”

Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:25 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

CHRIS BOHJALIAN STOPS BY FOR A VISIT

I am over the moon that Chris Bohjalian is my featured guest author today, a big day for me with the paperback release of “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”

When my super talented, french-fry eating blogger friend Rebecca Shinsky, creator of The Book Lady’s Blog, asked for names of panty-worthy authors (a term for literary adoration), Chris was my pick. I’d loved him since Midwives.

Who knew a few months later, I would actually meet him at the BOOKS ON THE NIGHTSTAND retreat in Manchester, Vermont. He did not disappoint. A great talent, for sure, but he’s also, and more importantly, a really great guy.

When I asked Chris about one of his most memorable book club moments, this is what he had to say.


I speak to a lot of book groups via speakerphone or Skype, and I always have a terrific time. It wasn’t all that long ago that my books sold briskly, but only among people related to me by blood. I try never to lose sight of that.

And the thing I love best is how candid readers are. The sort of women and men who commit themselves to book groups tend to view reading as a communal experience and are not especially reticent. They tell me precisely what they think of my books: What works and what doesn’t.

Not too long ago, I was speaking with a group that had just finished my 2004 novel, “Before You Know Kindness.” It was one of those discussions that would have made English professors proud of the way their students could put Tolstoy or Wolff in their place. (“The problem with Anna, Professor, and why she doesn’t succeed as a character. . .”) Even my reasonably healthy ego was a little ragged by the time the group had finished eviscerating my characters, my pacing, and my prose.

The next day I got an email from the group’s leader, thanking me for spending a half-hour with them the night before. Apparently, this group rates every book they read for posterity on a ten-point scale, as well as the author’s persona on the telephone or Skype screen.

“You were so charming with our group and so insightful,” the leader wrote. “We gave your book group presence a 9.6 to be precise.”

I noticed there was no rating for the novel, and so I wrote back, curious how the book had scored.

“Do you really want to tug at that thread?” the leader emailed me. I wrote her that I did.

“The book only earned a 4.1,” she confessed, and then added – apparently trying to make me feel better – “but isn’t it more important to be a good person than a good writer?”

I am not completely sure Hemingway would have agreed. But I appreciatedthe candor.

My sense is that if your book group dives into Susan Gregg Gilmore’s “TheImproper Life of Bezellia Grove” – new in paperback this week – you’llgive both her and her book a perfect ten.

Happy reading.

Chris Bohjalian’s thirteenth novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4. Beware: It’s a ghost story.

And you can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisBohjalian.

Posted August 2, 2011 at 8:58 am · 4 comments · Leave a Comment

A WINNING BID AND A BOOK CLUB IS BORN

A few weeks ago, I put a call out to my author and blogger friends asking them to write a guest post about a favorite book club moment. This following post arrived from Kathy Roberts, a devoted and talented book blogger from South Carolina. You can find Kathy on Twitter @bermudaonion and at her fab site, Bermuda Onion Weblog.

I must issue a disclaimer here! Kathy and I are friends. We met through books. And she is very generous in her words about me. My husband could give you a much more balanced perspective! But I love the way her book club came to be and wanted to share that with you.

When Nashville was devastated by catastrophic flooding last year, authors and other bookish people banded together to auction off items to benefit those affected by the tragedy. When I learned about the auction, I decided to check it out. I was excited when I saw Susan Gregg Gilmore was auctioning off a book club set of her upcoming book, THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE, plus an author visit or phone chat, and I decided to make a bid. After all, I had met Susan the year before and loved her, and her first book, LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN.

The Book Club's Inaugural Meeting in Kathy's beautiful home. (Kathy is wearing the sweater with the flowers on it!)

I was lucky enough to win the auction, and I found myself faced with a problem. I had a set of books, an author willing to visit, but no book club. I sent out an email to several of my friends and most of them agreed to a one time book club meeting at my house. I contacted Susan, set up a date, and then worried for weeks. What if my friends didn’t show up? What if no one read the book?

I worried in vain! Everyone read, and loved, the book and we had a fabulous book club. Susan was a delight and charmed every single person there. We talked about the book for two hours and then visited for another two and a half and it was like we had all known Susan forever!

We had so much fun, we decided to continue with our book club. We’ve met every month since, and have had an author call in via Skype, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top our meeting with Susan!

Posted July 29, 2011 at 7:16 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

A BOOK CLUB TONITE!

Some have called me a road warrior. OK, my husband calls me that. But I think it’s a title I’ve rightfully earned. Since Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen came out in February 2008, I have traveled more than 30,000 miles to meet new readers and talk books. From Florida to Maine, from North Carolina to California, I have put in the miles to meet welcoming readers.

I’ve visited homes, bookstores, churches, schools, nursing homes and more. And it’s very fitting that I’m writing this post today as I prepare to get back into the car and drive from my house in Chattanooga to Dickson, TN, to visit with some of my book-loving friends.

Our meeting tonight will be at Reading Rock Books at 6:30 pm. The first book club I ever visited was in Dickson and hopefully many of my friends from that meeting will be there tonight.

READING ROCK BOOKS in DICKSON, TN

That was really a special time for me. This book club extended such hospitality and such warmth. Special foods, special drink, a special scrapbook made just for me. It was all so wonderful and touching, and I remain friends with Renee the powerhouse behind this club. In fact, she and I are meeting tonight an hour before the bookstore event just to do a little catching up.

All book clubs are different. Some read only the classics. Some only Southern Lit. Some talk little about the books and more about their lives. Some talk only about the books. Some travel to hear authors. Some serve elaborate meals. Some only cracker and cheese.

But they’re all wonderful and this is what I love about traveling. I have friends all over the country now. I don’t mean passing friends. I mean good friends. Friends who have invited me into their homes time and time again. Friends who share their life’s special moments with me.

Book clubs really are about much more than books. They truly are about lasting friendships.

So as I prepare to celebrate the paperback release of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove (August 2), I’m making another call to book clubs. Let’s Talk! It’s the beginning of a great friendship.

Posted July 26, 2011 at 6:34 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

AMY GREENE SHARES A TOUCHING BOOK CLUB MOMENT

When I was asked about my most memorable book club experience, one sprang immediately to mind. But since brevity isn’t my strong suit, I’ll start at the very beginning.

Not long before my first novel Bloodroot was released in the winter of 2010, my editor at Alfred A. Knopf introduced me to my publicist and said, “This is where you go from being a writer to being an “Author.” I soon discovered exactly what she meant. There’s more to having a writing career than the writing itself. There comes a time when the business of publishing enters the equation. Some aspects of the publishing world have been easier to adjust to than others. I found myself speaking for the first time to audiences of hundreds, being interviewed live on both radio and television, traveling for weeks at a time. As jarring as the transition was from being a writer, spending most of my time at home in Tennessee hunched over a notebook with pen in hand, to being an“Author,” expected to emerge from my cave once in a while and promote my book, I grew used to and even came to enjoy the events I was once intimidated by.

But there was one unexpected pleasure of “Authoring” that I embraced right away, no adjustment period necessary. From the start, I loved talking with book clubs. I was first approached by local groups, often with colorful names like The Book Divas and Wine, Women and Wisdom. Soon after, requests began to come through my publicist for conference calls with groups all over the country. In contrast to the nerve-wracking live interviews and the speaking engagements before large audiences, sharing an informal discussion of Bloodroot over the phone or over a meal in a reader’s home felt like taking my shoes off after a long walk. At first I accepted every invitation I received. I couldn’t resist, even though I should have been working on my second novel. I was fed so well in those first months after Bloodroot was released that I must have gained at least five pounds.

When I began editing my second novel under a deadline, though, I had to take a break from visiting book clubs and from other events whenever possible. It was time to return to my cave and put my nose to the grindstone. For a couple of months last winter, I rarely left the house, working up to twelve hours a day. There were still events on my calendar and I must admit that I dragged myself to some of them, reluctant to abandon my edit (which was turning out to be more like a rewrite) with a deadline looming.

Then one day I came up for air and checked my schedule to realize I had a book club meeting on the horizon, an invitation I had accepted back in the fall. I’d been looking particularly forward to this one, hosted by a woman named Edie from my hometown. When we met at a local fall festival we clicked right away. She was warm and funny and smart, and we had a lot in common. She told me about her blog, Life in Grace–“an eclectic mix of posts on cooking, homeschooling, faith, decorating and crafting”–and when I checked it out, I discovered that she’s a great writer as well as a delightful person. As much as I needed a break from the editing process, and a meal with Edie and her book group would provide one, I wasn’t in a good emotional place.
The writing wasn’t going particularly well at that moment, and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m not happy. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to visit a book club and talk about my work in such a tired and frustrated state of mind.

Amy with her friend Edie

Reminded of Edie and the upcoming meeting, I went to her blog for the first time in weeks. I was shocked to find there an outpouring of love and sympathy from her hundreds of followers and friends. Over the holidays, Edie’s lovely home on the lake had burned to the ground. I couldn’t stop thinking about the countless photos she had posted of the gorgeous art she’d made and of her remodeled kitchen, all the work she had put into making her home comfortable and beautiful. My writing woes seemed small in comparison to Edie’s loss. I was heartbroken for her, and sent my own note of sympathy. I doubted she would be ready to host a book club within weeks of the fire but, to my surprise, I received an e-mail from Edie saying that her neighbor had offered her home to use for the meeting and she’d like to keep our date. I was so touched, so impressed by her strength. On the way to the meeting, I passed the burned shell of Edie’s house. There was little left standing. I later learned Edie had passed by those ruins herself that morning for the first time since the night of the fire. I didn’t know what to expect, what her mood might be given what she’d been through.

When she greeted me at the door with shining eyes and a smile on her face, a weight lifted off my shoulders. I forgot about the work I had left behind on my desk, forgot my worries and fears that I would never finish my second novel. For the two hours that I spent with Edie and her friends, a group of women every bit as kind, brilliant, warm and funny as she is, I didn’t have a care in the world. We delved into some deep topics of conversation, but there was lots of laughter, too. I left there feeling like I’d been to church. The next day Edie wrote to say that our meeting had been a healing experience for her, and I feel the same way. Looking back on that unforgettable day, I can see how, more than a writer or an Author, I’m a human being. As much as I need time to write, I need fellowship. In the year and a half since Bloodroot was published, book clubs have provided a sweet source of that. So, to all those who have called to chat about Bloodroot or invited me into your homes, I hope you’ll accept my sincerest thanks in return.

Posted July 22, 2011 at 7:08 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

BIBLIOSUE TALKS BOOK CLUB!

I met @bibliosue on Twitter.  And then I meet Suzanne Weiner in person at the Books On The Nightstand retreat in Vermont this past April.  She’s a great reader, blogger and friend and now she shares her thoughts about belonging to a book club!

One of my favorite things about belonging to a book club is that I am exposed to books that I would not likely select on my own. Sometimes I am disappointed with a particular choice – that happens with books I’ve chosen for myself, too – but more often than not I have been thrilled to discover something wonderful.

A recent selection at my book club at the Read Between the Lynes bookstore in Woodstock, Illinois comes to mind. The book was The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, a novel about an aging math professor with only 80 minutes of short-term memory, his housekeeper and her son. I admit to not being too excited about reading it – on the surface it did not appear to have a story that would interest me – but because I strongly believe book group discussions are as good if not better when there are people involved who did not like the book, I read it with an open mind.

And I could not have been more wrong! The Housekeeper became one my favorite novels read in 2010. The writing is so simple and so beautiful, the story is the same; and I even found myself with a pencil and paper at hand attempting to solve some of the math problems described in the narrative (Oh to have had this book around when I was in school to make math more interesting!)

When it came time for the discussion, the novel was declared a unanimous hit; which even in our relatively small group is not common. Despite that, the conversation was lively and did not lack for topics to discuss – math (really – it was fascinating!), caring for seniors (comparing the Japanese culture with the West), the power of memory, the definition of family, just to name a few.

At the end of the discussion, a general question came up as to who selected this book for the group (we usually select the books as a group in the fall for the following year). Surprisingly, not one person admitted to recommending the book or remembered who did. It still remains a mystery, but we were all glad to have had this book present itself to us.

Be sure and visit Suzanne on her blog!

Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm · comment · Leave a Comment

PAPER GIRLS WEAR PINK

I’ve asked some of my favorite authors and bloggers to write about their favorite book club moments. During the course of the next four months, I’ll be sharing these with you. (Hope you had a chance to read Kelly O’Connor McNees‘ posting from last Friday!)

Of course, it’s really not fair to ask of others something I’m not willing to do myself. Then again, I could talk on and on about my favorite book club moments. After traveling 30,000 miles visiting with readers, you bet there’s not just one!

But something special happened last week and I wanted to share this with you first.

I met Melissa Hagen Klug at the Books on the Nightstand Retreat in Vermont last April, an amazing weekend in and of itself and much more about that later. It deserves an entire post of its own.

Melissa loves Southern lit. OK, I liked her from the start. And she’s the Director of Marketing for Glatfelter a company that makes the paper for the books we read. What a perfect girl!

Last week I was traveling and did not notice this Facebook post right away. Needless to say, I was so touched when I saw that she and her wonderful co-workers (many of whom came to Vermont!) had participated in the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco. Their team was aptly called the Paper Girls Wear Pink, and they had named my daughters as one of the reasons they walked. I cried.

Melissa and the Paper Girls walk for my girls

My oldest daughter, Claudia, inherited a mutated BRCA 1 gene and underwent a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction in January. Claudia looks and feels great, and I am one very proud mama! Claudia has been a role model for many women of all ages, particularly her younger sisters. (for more about Claudia’s journey, check out her blog.)

Josephine, Alice and Claudia

We don’t know yet if my younger two daughters carry the same mutation. If they do, they will have their sister to look to for strength. And they will know that they are supported and loved by people like Melissa and her Paper Girl friends.

Melissa and all the Paper Girls Wear Pink and many others like them are the true blessings in our lives since we lost my husband’s mother to ovarian cancer and first learned of this genetic mutation. And it is through words, through books, that Melissa and I found one another and a very special friendship began.

Paper Girls Wear Pink

I am convinced more than ever that books do have the power to heal.

And please visit the Paper Girls Wear Pink web page if you’d like to learn more about their walk and the opportunity to give!

Posted July 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

CELEBRATING BOOK CLUBS GUEST POST #1 with KELLY O’CONNOR McNEES

A few weeks ago, I asked a favorite novelist to share one of her best book club moments. Perhaps it was unfair of me to ask someone to chose just ONE. But here is the delightful response from dear friend and most talented writer, Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT.


The Glenview Book Club

This seemingly simple question—What is your all-time favorite book club experience?—is actually pretty difficult for me to answer. Over the last year or so, I’ve visited with dozens and dozens of readers in person and via Skype. Each time I’ve been thrilled with the generosity of these women and their insightful questions and discussions about Louisa May Alcott’s life and work. Of all the outreach we authors do to connect with readers—blogging, posting on Facebook and Twitter, writing guest posts for book blogs, reading and signing in bookstores and libraries and at book festivals—visiting with book clubs is my favorite. How can I choose just one “best”?

Celebrating the paperback release of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott with Kelly in Chattanooga!

The most inspiring, dynamic club I’ve met recently has to be the ladies of a book club in Glenview, Illinois. Fate brought us together—and by fate, I mean I invited myself to their meeting. I can be surprisingly rude that way. A few members attended a reading I did at a bookstore in a nearby town, and as I signed their books, one of them mentioned their club was planning to read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott for their next meeting. “Can I come too?” I asked, disregarding everything my mother taught me about manners. Fortunately for me and my pride, they were up for it.

Here is what I learned when I arrived: This club has been meeting for 30 years! Some of the original members have moved away, and new readers have joined, but the book club has been going steady for three decades. Can you imagine how many life events, happy and sad, this group has experienced over the years? Babies and weddings and funerals . . . I told them that they themselves, the story of their club, would make an awfully good novel.

Oh, how we gabbed! About Louisa and Little Women, about her “deadbeat” father Bronson, as one member put it, about how things have changed for women in the last 150 years—and how they haven’t. They told me about some of the books they’ve read over the years, the books they loved and hated, and the books they can’t remember. The hours flew by. Great quantities of wine and cake disappeared.

Kelly enjoying an evening with the Glenview Book Club

When I finally said my reluctant goodbyes and headed out to my car, I checked my phone. There were two messages from my husband. The first was from about nine p.m. He sounded cheerful: “Well, you must be on your way home now. See you soon!” The second came in around ten. “Hi, sweetie. I’m just getting a little bit worried. You’ve been gone a really long time. You can’t possibly still be at that book club meeting—can you?”

I quickly called him back to explain that, indeed, it was very possible! I have a feeling the husbands of these ladies have been leaving voicemails like this for years. What a great night!

Visit Kelly’s blog for updates about the novel and to read interviews with writers.

Posted July 8, 2011 at 10:10 am · 4 comments · Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore