Officially we call ourselves the “Must Love Dogs Book Club,” but these five women, in a lot of ways, inspired me to start The Outdoor Book Club. The group includes Juanita (a sassy, smart Detroit girl who reads more than anyone I know), Lynne (a warm, passionate member of the Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus and recently opened her home to adopt a refugee teenager), Bev (probably the most conservative, and insightful members of the group — she hired me at the company where we all met, and recently left to start her own business), Jorri (straight-talking, driven and a sense of humor as dry as they come) and Kali (funny, supportive, and sports the most amazing blond curls that we’re all somewhat jealous of).
We don’t meet regularly — scheduling is often an issue (so much so that we’ve met in the conference room at work during the lunch a few times). We keep in touch via email and a secret Facebook group, which is a great way to keep track of the books we’re reading, as well as post articles related to the authors and themes we love the most. Finally, although we are very different people, we have a few things in common that we’re all passionate about: great books, writing and dogs (well, except for Bev, but we love her anyways).
Here’s a glimpse into how our book club operates:
How & when did your book club start?
Lynne: “At work, some of us realized we enjoyed sharing the books we were reading with co-workers, and discussing them.”
Juanita: “We formed our club in February 2012. We are coworkers who are also writers / editors. After a few lunches to discuss books several of us had read (“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett), we made it official.”
Kali: “A group of writers at work kept talking about books together, then talking about creating a book club. Finally, we did it.”
Bev: “I wasn’t a charter member. (Although I liked to women in the club, I couldn’t buy into the name ‘Must love dogs’ since I’m more of a cat person and really not a dog fan.)”
Jorri: “I’m too busy to answer these questions.” [MY PARAPHRASE]
Me: “We all worked in the same office. I can’t remember being officially asked to join, but I do remember turning down another book club offer so I could join this one.”
Why do you like your book club?
Lynne: “We are all intelligent, funny, and appreciate good writing, so it’s not just a good story that gets us excited – it’s the style of the book, the approach, the character development, and sometimes the social environment/mores that the book encourages us to think and talk about.”
Juanita: “We challenge one another. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine of reading the same authors or genres but our club doesn’t suffer that problem.”
Kali: “Because the picks have been so diverse, and many of them have been books I’d never choose for myself. I’ve never read many memoirs or much non-fiction. I’ve learned they can be just as engrossing as fiction! Plus we are an awesome group of ladies. We can disagree on things, and nobody judges. We always have healthy discussions about our books. We are totally comfortable with each other.”
Bev: “The books are eclectic and interesting and the women in the club are intelligent and articulate – and most (if not all) are writers. So we find we have a lot to talk about/ we have intelligent conversations about the book, the author, the theme, etc.”
Me: “Because we’re all the same, but all different. Some of us have kids, some of us don’t. We have differing political opinions, different ages, different backgrounds. But our love of books always gives us a place to start (and the fact that we all work[ed] in the same office — sometimes for the same boss! — doesn’t hurt).”
What kind of books do you read? How do you pick them?
Lynne: “We take turns choosing the next book. We’re an ‘anything goes’ book club, so when it’s your turn to pick, you have complete freedom. That being said, I think all our members try to be conscious of keeping a good mix – novels, biography, non-fiction, new vs. classic.”
Juanita: “The truth is, we read a lot of memoirs. We’ve read nonfiction and fiction. Historical fiction and contemporary novels. Books on the best sellers list and classics. We have six members and take turns picking the book for the month.”
Kali: “The type of book ranges – fiction, memoir, sci-fi. We have a rotation so we take turns picking books.”
Bev: “Every member takes turn picking the book. Anything goes.”
Me: “It’s a pretty good mix of fiction and nonfiction. Juanita is right, we do pick a lot of memoirs, but I think that’s because we’re all intellectually curious and like a good discussion, and memoirs tend to lend themselves to that. Lynne is great about keeping us from getting stuck on the bestseller lists — she once picked the sci-fi classic The Left Hand of Darknessby Ursula K. Le Guin, and though I didn’t care for the book, I did learn how to appreciate reading books that otherwise wouldn’t be on my radar.”
Do you have any ground rules for your club?
Lynne: “You have to read the book. Except one of our members who is in grad school. Sometimes she gets a pass.”
Juanita: “Read the book (or at least enough to be able to contribute to the conversation). And come to the discussion.”
Kali: “Besides reading the book? Not really. Even ‘must love dogs’ is flexible.”
Bev: “Must love dogs (except Bev).”
Me: “I would like to say show up on time, but really, that’s my own rule, so I’ve just learned to hang out in the conference room or restaurant by myself reading while I wait for everyone else to get out of meetings.”
What’s been your favorite book club book so far?
Lynne: “The Goldfinch [by Donna Tartt]. We read it before it won the Pulitzer, which is always fun – although it was on so many ‘must read’ lists we can’t claim we ‘discovered’ it! Second favorite: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed.”
Juanita: “The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Roundhouseby Louise Erdrich (Honorable mention for Wild, by Cheryl Strayed).”
Kali: “Oh geez. The Goldfinch. Wild. Bossypants.”
Bev: “My favorite book is almost always the one I’m reading at the moment. It’s hard for me to compare books. I would need to pick a memoir, a novel and a non-fiction book I guess. My favorite author at the moment is Anne LaMott.”
Me: “Bossypants was one of my favorites, though I thought Lynne’s choice of Elizabeth’s Strout’s short stories, Olive Kitteridge, was the best writing.
What are you thinking about suggesting next? Lynne: “I liked the French-themed food at ourThe Paris Wife [by Paula Mclain] book club gathering, I think we need to do another food-theme for an upcoming book.”
Juanita: “I’m picking my friend Roberta King’s memoir He Plays a Harp (see, another memoir!) as my selection likely in August.”
Kali: “”Well, it was just my turn. We’re reading The Lowlandby Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved it, and I can’t wait to talk about it with others – that’s the whole reason I chose it.”
Bev: “Bel Canto by Anne Pachett (Not sure if this has been read by the club or not.) I’ve read some of her other books and like her style. (Almost finished with ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.’”
Me: “Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things. I haven’t started reading it yet, but Lynne has mentioned how much she’s enjoying it, and it’s high on my to-read list.”
Any particularly memorable book club events?
Lynne: “Going out for dinner and then to hear Anne LaMott speak. The whole evening was wonderful.”
Juanita: “What Lynne said.”
Kali: “”Our field trip to Anne Lamott!!”
Bev: “Hearing Anne LaMott speak (altho’ I was sick and missed it). Also wearing heirloom costume jewelry in an old, smoky-smelling steak house in honor of Auntie Mame.”
Me: “Anne Lamott was great, but I really enjoyed the night we discussed Auntie Mame (even though I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t read much of it). We went to this weird, old-school restaurant where the booths were all red pleather and the lighting was from 1968. Lynne even brought costume accessories for us all to wear.”
Why is your book club unique?
Lynne: “Because we have all worked at the same place for a while, work issues blend into our discussions. This is a place for discussing life, triggered by a book or books.”
Juanita: “I enjoy that we are all writers. Makes us appreciate the language of the books as much as the storytelling.”
Kali: “Probably for the same reason I like the book club – we can have great, healthy discussions and we love each other even if we have differing opinions. I also feel like no book is off-limits.”
Bev: “The women in the club are smart. Very smart.”
Me: “I’ve already said because we are all so different, yet share some of the same passions. Plus the books everyone picks are so great.”
Anything else you want to say about your book club?
Lynne: “If people start showing up without reading the book, I will quit. I want to talk about the book with others who’ve read it. It’s the reason I quit the other three book clubs I joined.”
Bev: “Thanks to the members for allowing dog-agnostic to join the club.”
Me: “You guys are awesome. Really, I love each and every one of you. Also, I really hope Lynne doesn’t quit!”
What about your book club? What makes you so special? If you’re interested in being featured, let me know!
Jill Hinton Wolfe