How I Learned to Stop Grumping and Love Book Clubs...and The Books They Read (Jennifer Castle)

Confession: I have a checkered past of enthusiastically joining book clubs, then laming out of them. I always ended up feeling they just weren't my thing. That maybe for me, reading was a personal experience, not a social one. Plus, there was always one person in the club who reminded me of Annoying Goateed Ponytail Guy or Arrogant Pseudo-Intellectual Girl from every English lit class I took in college. No thanks.

So you can imagine my surprise to currently find myself a happy and enthusiastic member of not one but TWO book clubs. And to make things worse, I freaking STARTED one of them. Because here's what I finally figured out:

Book clubs force me to read a hot-damn terrific variety of books. And whether I "like" a book or not, my world gets a little bigger with each one, and with the opportunity to share the reading experience with others.

It happened like this. Not long ago, after meeting so many women my age who FREELY ADMITTED that they enjoyed reading young adult fiction, I had a notion: a YA book club! For grown-ups! Or at least, those of who pass as grown-ups! I mentioned it to a friend. The friend didn't let me forget it and hounded me for oh, a year, until I finally took the leap. Somehow, magically, we pulled together a fantastic group of readers who are also writers, editors, and teachers. Our reading list thus far:

Book: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
Dynamic discussion of: Writing. College. Love. Family. Anxiety. Figuring out who you are. Making out on narrow dorm room beds. Making out, period.

Book: CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn
Passionate discussion of: Secrets. Pain. Psychology. Narrative unpeeling, like an onion. (I don't think I can reveal more without spoiling the story.) We were lucky to be able to Skype with Stephanie after our discussion and get amazing insights into her process.

Book: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
Fervent discussion of: Friendship. Courage. Fear. War. Survival. Voice. Plot Twists. Brilliantly crafted characters. How to push through slow parts in a book. (Holy spy girl, did I love and ugly cry over this one.)


I read a lot of YA, obvs, but most of these are books I would never have gotten around to. Diversity in reading is like stepping back a little farther to get a much better, more enlightening view of the landscape in front of you.

Around the time of our YA Book Club's first meeting, I finally jumped into another book club that I'd long been flirting with joining. This one has been around for years. I'd gradually gotten to know many of the women in it, and they were all fabulous, so how could I resist? I'm glad I didn't. Otherwise I would have missed out on:

Book: SAVE YOURSELF by Kelly Braffet
Great discussion of: The world of the small town, and how to remake yourself within it. Mistakes and regret. Redemption and salvation. The likeability of beautifully flawed characters. How shifting POV's can add gorgeous layers to a story. We were lucky with this one, too, because Kelly was there in person to illuminate our discussion (it helps that she's, uh, a member of the book club herself).

Book: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
Fascinating discussion of: The novel as "concept album." Interlocking stories, timelines, characters. What time does to us. The sheer impressive craft of this book. And the effing brilliance of the PowerPoint chapter, which slayed me. Honestly, the whole thing slayed me. *claps for Jennifer Egan*

Book: DOUBLE FEATURE by Owen King
Discussion of: We shall see! The club meets tonight. But I will say that as a reformed screenwriter and eternal movie-lover, I really enjoyed the themes of family and self-identity seen through the prism of film and filmmaking. And it's such a damn funny book.

Ah. Proud to say I love my book clubs. (The wine, cheese, and chocolate help too, but that's another blog post.)

My book clubs look nothing like this. Thank God.


  1. I loved Goon Squad. OMG, that powerpoint chapter. I still think about it, and I read that books a few years ago. Here's another adult pick for your group that will give you a nice stab of recognition as a reader/writer/parent: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst. It's about a writer who decides to go back into her old (published) books and revise them. There's lots of fun passages from the books, then and now--as she messes around with them again. There's also a whole lot about her relationship with her son (which she wishes she could revise too).

  2. OMG Jody, not only did I read and love THE NOBODIES ALBUM but we read it in one of my former (um, abandoned) book clubs! I'm a big fan of Parkhurst's books. LOST AND FOUND is also terrific and a good book club pick.


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