Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Jonelle Patrick: Christmas for Authors

Five Steps to Hosting a Killer Book Club Meeting!

Book clubs are fun, aren’t they? Good books, good friends, good conversation, and (occasionally) juice-a-licious gossip! But you can’t have a teacher running off with the headmaster every month, so if you’d like to make sure everyone walks away from your front door saying, “I can’t wait for her turn to host again next year!” here are a few ideas that will spark great discussion, raise some eyebrows, and make sure all your friends are sorry when the evening ends!

1: Choose a good book.

Well, duh, right? But it’s not as easy as it sounds, is it? What is a good book? Some people count the gold medallions on the cover, and judge a book by how many critics liked it. Others figure that if everyone at their last cocktail party was dropping its name, it must be worth reading. But when I think about the best books I’ve read, I ask myself, did it take me somewhere I’ve never been before? Did it make me feel like I was walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, someone who – at first – didn’t seem at all like me? Did it make me think about life and the world in a different way? And most important of all: Did it make me miss my train stop? Sometimes the best book club choices are the books that are easiest to read, not the hardest. Just because something is page-turning “genre fiction” doesn’t mean that mystery novels, period romances and science fiction can’t deliver thought-provoking insights into psychology, history, other cultures, and the consequences of scientific discovery. So expand your horizons and don’t choose a book because you ought to read it, but because you want to read it. Your book club friends will thank you!

2: Ask the right questions!
The kind of book club discussions I’ve walked away from thinking, “Now THAT was interesting!” were seldom about comparing the writer’s style to Jane Austen or the psychological consequences of childhood obesity, they were discussions that tied the book to me, us, here and now. The kind of questions that make a discussion really come alive for me are like this one (swiped from the Book Club Hot Topics guide for my first book, Nightshade): “If you came from a culture where arranged marriage was the usual way people met, and your parents had arranged a marriage for YOU in your mid-twenties, who would you be married to right now? How would your life be different?”

  Here's the rest of the Nightshade book club topics page, if you'd like to see more examples: http://bit.ly/1b7l2CP Many authors suggest book club topics on their websites, but if you’d like to make up your own, start by thinking about the challenges the characters faced, and how they responded. Ask: if you’d been pushed to the wall by the same circumstances as the characters, could you see yourself doing the same thing they did? Why or why not? Would the book have ended differently if you were the heroine? Or ask the question: how much did the characters’ location/period of history/society/social position affect their response to their biggest challenge? Would the book have had a different ending if they lived in your town, here and now?
3: Break out the pictures!
What do you mean, "pictures"? Book club selections don’t have pictures! You're right. But it’s easy to change that! Even if your “someday I’ll stick these all in an album” box is a little short on snapshots of someone who looks like the Gothic Lolita characters in the book, fear not! Someone, somewhere, has a magnificent collection of exactly what you’re looking for, and they’ve conveniently uploaded them to the internet for you to find with a quick search Go through your book and make a list of places, key objects, characters with particular ways of dressing, social station, background. Does a chapter take place at the Nezu Shrine? Search it. Does the book feature characters wearing period dress, national costume or Gothic Lolita Little Bo Peep-style frocks? Search it. Does one of the characters kill someone with a 9mm Beretta, make a wish on a Daruma figure or stay overnight at a love hotel? Search it. Grab anything that looks interesting and download/drag it to your desktop. Within five minutes you’ll have more discussion-starting material than you know what to do with.

When you’ve got a bunch of pictures (no need to spend a lot of time editing, because in this case, more is better), import them into the photo app on your computer (or tablet) and arrange them in a slide show. Or print them out to pass around. Not only will your book club ooh and aah and comment on what they’re seeing, but photos can spark a new understanding of what you just read. When you see the book’s location, does its isolation/dirtiness/grandeur help explain the characters’ state of mind? Seeing a picture of a woman wearing a kimono, do you get a new understanding of why it would be hard to run in one? After seeing pictures of visual kei musicians, does it bring home how difficult it might be to know if they’re girls or boys? To see how this might work, here’s an example of one of the slideshows I put together for book clubs to use for Idolmaker, the third book in my mystery series:

Click here for an example of how your slideshow might look! http://bit.ly/1bbhFZD If you’d rather not organize a slide show, take a few of the pictures to the local copy shop, get them printed out 18” high, and make cutouts to set on the table. I guarantee these will be conversation starters – the ones in the picture below are my secret weapon for getting people talking when I lead book clubs!
These make great table decorations too!

4: The best way to a book club’s heart is through their stomachs!
If you serve refreshments at your book club, try spicing up the offerings with something that ties to the book. For example, if you were reading one of my books, it could be as simple as offering Japanese green tea in addition to the usual coffee and Darjeeling. Or, if you were reading a book in which the hero seduces the heroine over tea and crumpets, make that moment real with a plate of crumpets, using your new best friend Mr. Internet to order them from an exotic bakery, or find a recipe to make yourself.

5: Everyone loves a party favor!
It doesn’t have to be more than a little token, but if you choose wisely, it can be a good conversation starter. I might, for example, give each book club member a little teddy bear cellphone ornament to tie in with Fallen Angel, the second book in my mystery series. They’re not expensive, but talking about what that little thing was used for in the book will jumpstart a discussion about what we’d each be willing to give up (or do) to get our hearts’ desire.
Most of all, have fun!

Happy reading! May your next book club get-together last long into the night! And if you’d like to share a great idea that worked for your group, post it in the comments here or over on my Facebook Author page (https://www.facebook.com/JonellePatrickAuthor). I'd love to hear what worked for you!

Jonelle is the author of the Only In Tokyo mystery series, published by Penguin/Intermix. Booky Ramblings is giving away copies of Nightshade, Fallen Angel and Idolmaker just in time for the holidays, so be sure you enter to win a copy for yourself! ( And psst, if you choose one of Jonelle's  exotic international mysteries for your book club meeting, the prep work is already done for you! There are discussion questions, a slideshow, and a page of step-by-step directions on “How To Read eBooks Even If You Don’t Have A Kindle” for each of the books on her website: http://jonellepatrick.me a Rafflecopter giveaway

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