What Makes a Book Club Book Great?
Last month at the Pulpwood Queen (PWQ) clam bake, I was fortunate enough to meet Amy Bourret, author of Mothers and Other Liars, a PWQ bonus selection for April. (You may remember that her book was one of the great reads in my PWQ Book Bag, as well as recall the picture of her clever Anna Karenina costume I posted…) In any event, we are honored today to have a guest post from Amy, answering the often-asked question, “What makes a book club book great?”
In late January, I ventured to Jefferson, Texas for the 11th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend. I served with 5 other authors on a panel titled “Books for Book Clubs.” With six people and forty five minutes for most of the panels, you can imagine that the discussions didn’t get very far beyond each author introducing her book. But amid all the animal print and tiaras and costumes and skits, I found some seriously interesting conversations about books.
After my panel, one of the Pulpwood Queens asked me more about my book and then asked what I thought was the difference between a good book club book and a great book club book. Each author at Pulpwood has a book that is an Official Book Club Selection or Official Bonus Book Selection, and they vary widely in topic and tone, so I had to think about her question for a moment. “Well, I suppose that depends on your book club,” was my initial answer. Some groups want to be transported to different places or eras; some want to engage in academic literary critique. Some want to drink wine and socialize with each other. But the common denominator in each is one thing: discussion.
A good book club book is a story, maybe sweet, maybe macabre, that allows for discussion. This person loved that the boy and girl managed to get together in the end. That person loved the Hawaii setting because it seemed so vivid. One person saw it all coming; the twists, the ending, she saw it all. A good, well-written story, especially one with an interesting hook in place or person or plot that provides fodder for animated conversation, makes a good book club book.
But a great book club book, that in my opinion requires a bit of kerosene on the fire. Politics that the members may not all agree with, an era in which they may have had different experiences, plot points on which they may have varying views. My debut novel, Mothers and Other Liars, is the story of a single mom and her 9-year-old daughter in Santa Fe who face some difficult choices when a secret from the mom’s past catches up with them. I have discovered that people feel very strongly about the rightness or wrongness of some of those choices. In visiting book clubs, I have heard lively debate (especially when wine was involved!) between members. I have been told “No mother would ever make that choice.” I have been told I have no maternal instinct at all. I have been asked how I thought I would have written the book differently if I myself were a mother. My audacity to write such a book has been challenged. And then I have been told over and over “This was our most fun book club meeting ever.”
I’m not one of those hoity-toity authors who can tout my own book as a “great” book club book. Frankly, I just feel honored that groups are choosing to read Mothers and Other Liars. But when I hear people debating Ruby’s decisions, wondering what might happen after the last page of the book, when I recognize that my story has stuck with these folks, that they honestly care about my characters, well, even when I am being complimented and flayed in equal measure, that is plenty great enough for me.
Mothers and Other Liars is a Pulpwood Queen official bonus book selection for April. If your book club is interested in an author visit with Amy Bourret, please go to www.amybourret.com, click on the “Book Clubs” tab and fill in your information.