Book Club forum at Barnes & Noble

A funny thing happened to me on the way to inquire about my nook® at Barnes and Noble last night…

I wanted to show them a problem with a book I downloaded (Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox – my book club’s May selection), where the nook copy has many chapters that are in ALL CAPS.  Can you believe that? How frustrating to be reading along and run into that.   They tried downloading the same book to their demo model and noted the same problem.  One guy says, “I’ll go get the book of the shelf here and see if it’s like that too.” (!!)  I told him “I’ll bet you a shiny nickel it isn’t…”   (It wasn’t; this was the same guy who kept ‘pushing’ on my touch screen to select options instead of just touching/tapping.  It’s a touch screen, buddy! I wanted to yell…).  They are going to look into the problem, and call me back.  They mentioned something about downloads being ‘non-refundable’ which, if they stick to that and don’t offer me a store credit or something, there will be “a problem.” 🙂  I mentioned that I “kind of need a resolution soon as I need a readable copy for my book club meeting next week.” 

At that point, one of them says, “Oh, are you here for the book club forum?”  I said, “The what what?”  Apparently, totally by random, I was in the store about 35 minutes before some meeting on how to form, run, pick books, and hold meetings for a book club.  I said that I guess I’d better stay to represent my book club and maybe learn something.  Anyway, they had free tea and cookies(!) for this meeting and there were about 16 or 17 of us who showed up.  The age range was probably from around 35 to 75.  I was one of only two men in the group.  (This is about the same ratio I see among people who blog about books and reading).

There were four B&N staffers conducting the meeting.  The store manager was first, basically just welcoming us and thanking us for coming.   Second up was a guy who pitched the nook® to us for about 15 minutes. (I sensed the older, non- e-reading people in the group got a little impatient during this)  I mumbled something about ‘how slow’ it was when he said “you can highlight passages and look up words” and showed a passage that he had highlighted.  (I’m sure he purposely had one highlighted in advance so that he could show it to us already highlighted, rather than have us watch the “agonizingly slow” process).  The store manager heard my “slow” comment and said upgrades were coming that “I’m sure will improve that a lot”.  We’ll see.  In fact, I did download a software upgrade last night, so I may be able to see today at lunch if this was an improvement.  He mentioned that they are going to have something like nook “user group” meetings there periodically.  The first is this Saturday at 3pm.   He also mentioned that, while in the store with your nook, you can read anything in their on-line library for free for up to 1 hour.  He admitted that you could come in multiple times and read a whole book that way (effectively without paying for it) but that you would have to remember what page you were on, etc.  He also mentioned that you can lend a title to a fellow nook user.  I knew this was possible, but not the details. Apparently, you extend an offer to lend it, the other user has 7 days to accept the offer, then, upon accepting, has 14 days to read the book.  You can only lend a book one time.  I asked for clarification and it was indeed one time only – not one time per fellow nook user.  This felt pretty draconian to me.  I think there were 3 or 4 of us there who already had nooks.  I’m not sure if the others were impressed or not.

Next up was a ‘book club expert,’ Pat.  She has had a book club that has been going for 15 years (slightly longer than my clubs ‘almost four’ years).   She mentioned she thought you needed at least 8 people to have a good discussion.  And that there were 30(!) people on her book club list and that usually 8-12 show up.  If more than that show up, they break into two groups.  Clearly her club members are not required to ‘agree to the terms’ of the club (as the members of mine are; okay, our terms are pretty corny, but one of them is a pledge to make a sincere effort to read a book a month, or every other month) I didn’t get the impression that they had a regular meeting time (like our “4th Thursday”), but she did say that they met every six weeks or so.  She was also a member of a ‘neighborhood book club’ where are the members live close by and that was great because “everyone could walk to meetings.”  She also mentioned that some people have lunchtime meetings, although – to me anyway – that wouldn’t seem to allow enough time for discussion.  One ironclad rule she had was “You must read the book!”  I mentioned that this would hurt attendance at my club’s meetings.  Perhaps this is why only 8-12 of her 30 people come each time.

Other tips she had included the designation of one member of the club to do a little research about the author and present it to the club.  (My club, however, has a nearly unspotted record of steadfastly refusing any ‘homework’ other than actually reading the book.)  Most clubs have a designated discussion leader – usually the person who hosts or picks the book.  She said one club picked their entire year’s slate of books all at once, while another decided at the end of the meeting which they would read next.  One suggestion I found interesting was having one meeting a year designated as “bring a friend” meeting.  Of course, space would be a consideration if my club were to do something like this.  She also provided a list of ‘good book club books’.  She mentioned several times that just because a book is a great book, doesn’t mean it would be a great book for a book club.  I think I’d have to disagree with that.  There was also discussion of how clubs need to be sensitive to their member’s likes and dislikes when selecting a book; maybe this is why not every great book makes a good book club book.  I think my club has survived using the honor system when it comes to not picking a ‘horror’ novel, for example.  She did provide a long list of recommended books for book clubs.  I had read 6 or 7 of the 50+ books.  I think The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Joy Luck Club were the only ones on it that my club has read.

When I inquired about clubs having on-line presences, a couple in our group did, but most didn’t.  One group uses a private Facebook page to communicate and maybe post comments.  (Not sure about the latter)  I asked if anyone was aware of any ‘confederations’ of books clubs (or should I say, “coalitions”…?) in their area, where representatives of different clubs got together to discuss strategies, etc.  No one knew of any but many thought that was “a great idea.”  I was going to expostulate on my theory that “Benevolent Dictatorship” is the most efficacious way to run a club, but thought I’d better hold back a bit… 

Finally, another guy spoke a little bit about some of the community involvement the store has, and about reading programs for kids, etc.  I’ve often thought of proposing to my club the possibility of a once a year ‘fundraiser activity’ or donation to some local programs, but haven’t dared suggest it yet.  I guess, though, if they read it here they will know now…  The last guy also mentioned that ‘bulk discounts’ were available through B&N if 20 or more books were purchased – as in if multiple clubs merged for a month and all read the same book or something.

All in all a very interesting event.  I suspect our club is more ‘informal’ than most of the ones represented there.  There was one club represented who had a similar ‘creed’ to mine in that they were willing (and welcomed) reading outside their normal genres…

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7 Comments

  1. Dale Barthauer said,

    May 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Jay, this was very interesting. I think a fundraising idea or a group donation to a public library or some sort of literacy foundation would be cool!

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  2. Al Williams said,

    May 19, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Jay: I agree with Dale. I was also thinking as I read through your comments how much I enjoy your writing style…any plans on becoming an author? The touch of tongue-in-cheek humor here and there won me over. Looking forward to our next book club meeting.

    Al

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  3. Jane said,

    May 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing the book club tips! I wish I had known and not just for the tea and cookies. I definitely like the idea of picking books for the year all at once. In fact, I know a friend who meets annually with her book club at the beginning of each year for dinner. They all come prepared to talk about the books they think would be good for the group to read. After the discussion, all books are selected by vote( if you can believe that). Current best sellers are moved to the end of year in hopes that the book will become more readily available by year’s end. So much to learn.

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  4. Dale Barthauer said,

    May 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Jay, did you mention the way we pick our books? I think it’s pretty cool!

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  5. stentorpub said,

    May 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    @Dale: I agree, let’s maybe discuss a potential fundraising initiative at our meeting next week. No, I didn’t mention the way we pick our books (which I think is pretty cool too – I haven’t yet heard of other clubs who do it quite the same way). I was starting to feel I was talking too much at the meeting and decided to give others a chance to speak.

    For those reading this who aren’t in our club, our process for selecting books is that we have a ‘virtual bookshelf’ upon which each member can place two books of his (or her) choice. We also sometimes will include a ‘one city one book’ or other “public” selection on our shelf as well. We all take turns (order decided by a random drawing) picking a book on the shelf that is NOT our own selection. We are on an ‘honor system’ so as not to neglect a particular member’s books so much that they languish on the bookshelf.

    @Al: Thanks for your comments. No, I have no plans on becoming an author; I think I lack the discipline and the knowledge of grammar (maybe when I retire from the day job I will reconsider). I did spend about 5 years as editor of “Chess in Indiana” magazine in the mid to late 90s and early 2000’s where I ended up doing a lot of the writing too, not just editing. Of course that was a more specialized type of writing and subject matter, but I like to think that I acquited myself fairly well during my term…

    @Jane: I, too, like to have a list of upcoming books to give us the option of reading ahead on those rare occasions where we have time. My first club had a ‘voting system’ to select our books and we were rarely more than a month ahead in what we had scheduled. One other advantage of my current club’s “Bookshelf System” is that one can also read books on the shelf that haven’t been picked yet, and if they do end up being picked at some point down the line, so much the better – you’ve already read it! Someone at the meeting last night brought up the same point about waiting on best sellers as not only might they become more available, they are often then also available in cheaper, paperback versions.

    -Jay

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  6. Dale Barthauer said,

    May 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Our current book is a prime example of why I like our selection process. We’re reading Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox. It’s a book that I’m sure I never would have chosen to read myself (it just wouldn’t have been high enough on my priority list); however, I’ve found it very enjoyable and even inspiring. I’m really glad it was selected! You could probably say that this is a benefit from any book club; however, our selection process brings out this benefit more than some selection processes would.

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  7. stentorpub said,

    May 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I learned of another Indianapolis area “book club” yesterday. I attended a weekly “coffee & conversation” meeting of CFI – Indiana (CFI = “Center for Inquiry” – this is a group that promotes Science, Skepticism and Critical Thinking with an office that is located on the canal walk downtown) just to “see what they did down there.” During one conversation someone mentioned, “Well, last month at my great books group meeting…” Later, during a lull, I asked what his ‘great books group’ was. He said it was a group that met monthly at the Nora Library (except during the summer months) which, each year, picked a volume published by “Great Books” out of Chicago, reading a section each month. You can look these guys up at greatbooks.org, but the volumes they publish generally have excerpts rather than entire works of ‘great’ literature, poetry, essays, etc. The volumes also include questions for discussion, and some biographical information on the authors. It sounds like it’s a lot more “serious” group than mine (or most I’ve heard of), but I’d have to say I really like the fact that they’re only reading “high quality stuff” – or at least stuff that is widely held to be “culturally significant.” (that sounds so snobby…) He said if I was interested in future meetings he would add me to their email list. I said, “Of course!” (and he has). Also, once a year, at their first meeting after the summer hiatus, they do discuss an ‘entire’ book or novel. He said they may be discussing Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in September. My original book club read that waaaay back in the 90s.

    (I added this as both a new post and a comment to this original post, since I’ve noticed a few people have subscribed to it; I should probably figure out how to link them in WordPress so this isn’t necessary – ah, well, homework for tonight…)

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