Moving from California to Connecticut, coast-to-coast, during the first months of the COVID pandemic resulted in flying out of an airport almost devoid of staff and passengers. I sailed through Security with only two other people in line. In fact, the airport was a ghost town, as was LaGuardia when I reached New York. No coffee shops or stores were open, but, warned ahead of time, I’d brought my own travel cup and, of course, my kindle loaded with eBooks.
It had been 23 years since I had lived in CT and discovered that I knew not a soul any longer except for my son and daughter. I searched the Obituaries pages for news of long-lost friends and called up a newspaper I used to work for but no one had heard of my fellow reporters from so long ago.
Needing to get back into the writing community I joined the New York chapters of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and renewed my Authors Guild membership, but there were no actual meetings scheduled except for Zoom. Like most writers I thrive on in-person contact where we have an opportunity to pick up characteristics of other humans, locales, and other, often small, details we put to use in our books.
I cast around for any group related to writing that met in person and this month, lo and behold, I was told of a women’s book club that was actually meeting at a coffee shop. There was also a memoir group at someone’s home. I’d been to several book clubs in California as their speaker when one of my books was the subject of discussion but what would it be like sitting on the other side of the table? I’d been treated with great respect, gentleness, and politeness each time with questions that were easy to answer and expected the same for this author and his work.
Instead, it was a revelation and a lesson in reality.
The book under discussion was a pretty hefty novel by a renowned author. I was struck the most by everyone’s intensity, enthusiasm, and deep knowledge of each character and their supposed intent; the proposed meaning of every scene, and talk about the author’s hidden message on almost every page even if there were none. It was fascinating to hear that three members said they were in disagreement with the author because one character didn’t really mean what he said and other members backed her up. Another lady said a character should not have done what she did and offered an alternative to what the author wrote, and yet another lady said two of the characters should never have had the argument they did if only they had done so-and-so.
Suggesting rewriting parts of an important classic to suit varying ideas about where the plot and its people should have gone gave me an introspective that I knew was impossible to achieve. There are a couple of classics wherein the author addresses the reader as “dear reader,” in his/her books but I doubt it is a plea for understanding the book’s intent. Authors cannot please everyone, and occasionally cannot please themselves when they re-read a book they wrote years earlier, perhaps, and see one or two parts they’d like to edit.
I enjoyed the back and forth between the ladies who were diplomatic in their critiques despite opposing opinions. One tended to hog the limelight by going on and on until the group leader gently cut her off. I was surprised that 4 or 5 of the 14 in the group remained mute the entire time but the others made up for their silence with well-articulated points of view, albeit wishing the author had written some scenes a bit differently.
As the newcomer I mostly listened and didn’t reveal I was an author. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered but I was there to discuss someone else’s work. Only at the end did I disagree with the general conclusion that the main character had redeemed herself by her ringing endorsement of a couple in love rather than try to split them apart as she had earlier in a book-long fit of jealousy. One member asked if the author wished readers to come to like his previously nasty main character at the end by having her do a complete turn-about of herself.
My take was that she was self-serving by pretending to have changed in order to receive everyone’s good wishes instead of their usual disparaging remarks when she dissed them ad nauseum. She was congratulated and basked in their comments, but to me she was still living up to her me-me-me attitude. My statement was then discussed and agreed to by a slim majority of members, while others said they hadn’t thought of it that way but, yes, it made sense.
Perhaps had the author been at this meeting he would have been flabbergasted at the suggestions for changes, as sensible as they were, and probably even a little daunted at the thought but, all in all, I liked the fact that these book clubbers genuinely loved books and discussing them in depth was important to their lives. I am glad I joined and plan to attend every month.
Should I take a lesson from the discussion? Yes, very much so except I am still writing what I want to write. If a reader finds problems in a book that is fictional the author can be excused. What have been your book club experiences?
Jill Amadio is a ghostwriter and cozy mystery writer. This is her new novel.
A leggy wildflower of a girl, teenage Sofia runs away from rural Oregon to big city Portland where she meets and marries a charismatic Saudi Arabian later known as 9/11 hijacker #13. While a slumbering America embraces feng sui and pizza she is present when terrorist sleeper cells are organized in her home, maps of landmark buildings, airports, and bridges are studied, and teams of recruits take flying lessons.
IN TERROR’S DEADLY CLASP, a novel, is based on her true story, providing a rare, chilling glimpse under the radar of the terrorists’ daily lives as they enjoy strip clubs, fast food, and freedom from their religious rules. After warning the FBI of the Arabs’ photo sessions, driving several men into America illegally from Mexico, and other suspicious activities, she goes undercover for U.S. intelligence agencies with deadly consequences.
11 thoughts on “A Revelation and a Lesson in Reality”
Thanks, Jill, for the tour through a book club’s comments. I don’t think I will join one because it would dissuade me from saying anything and would probably make me over-analyze my own writing. None of that appeals to me. I do have new neighbors here in Ohio who would like me to join their book club, but I shall pass. But keep us posted if you ever have them critique your books. I might just change my mind. Who knows?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Gayle, I totally understand your eversion to book clubs but who knows what mystery series such a club can inspire? There may already be a mystery series based on one, as there are a knitting club, a bakery, gourmet cheese, etc. Grist for the mill.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Moving anytime is a challenge, Jill, but your timing seemed especially difficult! And I’ve never joined a book club partly because I’m not sure I want to analyze another author’s work that way. I wonder if any book clubs have analyzed any of mine!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I was a speaker at several book clubs in Irvine and other towns, somne conneced to a library. It’s a fun experience if you have a thick skin.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is an amazing expereience you’ve wrote about. It reminds me of a few old critique sessions I’ve been in. You are brave. Will you attend the memoir group too? That might remind you of your ghostwriting work.
This is a fascinating glimpse into our reader’s world. And I’m glad they take it so seriously – even if I wouldn’t agree with their wanting to re-write the author’s work. And what a different world you’ve moved into… another great adventure, Jill.
Yes, Jackie, I look forward to the memoir group – I hope to be able to help them with their projects.
Hi Rosemary, it certainly was an experience being on the other side. Reminding myself of these “adventures” when I miss my old ones in CA so much is sometimes a bit of a struggle but one that opens new worlds.
I’ve been in several book clubs and found the discussions range from serious interpretations of the work in question to an excuse to gather, chat, drink wine and eat. I’m not surprised at how many readers wanted to ‘re-write’ the book to suit their taste. I’ve experienced that in some of my critique groups as well, literally. One disapproved of my characters’ dining on mutton in 1914 with a “yuck”. It’s not like they could have bought fish sticks at Safeway. But as my father used to say, even a blind chicken finds a corn sometimes. If I listen to what they say and pick through the chaff, I may find a corn of valuable feedback.
How true, Miko. Some clubs are basically social events, but I was pleased that the one here was serious although participation was not total. A few never opened their mouths!