A Tale of Two Train Rides

As I stumbled to my usual spot on the track to wait for the train, a small huddle of people was already there. Every. Single. One had an invisible barrier surrounding them that screamed “do not interact with me”. Every. Single. One was wearing headphones and staring into their cell phones. No communication with those surrounding them, no laughter, lost in their screens. It looked so lonely. I joined the growing mass, just watching, my phone and headphones still in my bag. Not one person made eye contact, smiled, nodded a greeting. Wow, what a depressing way to start each morning, I thought. At that moment, I was glad I only occasionally made this trip.

Some mornings are tough. We are tired, stressed, taking a few minutes to catch up on social media, read through emails, make weekend plans. But we did this before phones and communicated with others.

Creatures of habit, people seem to ride the same train car each ride. So I am fairly certain some of these people see each other daily. What connections lost, matches unmade as people avoid each other?

After my meetings ended midday, I caught a non-rush-hour train out of the city. The woman who sat across from me was about my age, and she pulled out the novel “ My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman.

“That is one of my favorite books,” I told her.

“ I am about halfway done,” she replied. “ I don’t usually like mystical books, but I like the relationships in here.”

After we talked a few more minutes about the author’s other books, I told her I didn’t want to disturb her reading time. She didn’t care. We spent the entire ride talking about books we liked , styles we didn’t, our book clubs, and gave each other reading recommendations.

I admit that if I rode the train daily that I probably wouldn’t want to talk to other passengers each ride, every day. I know my head can be buried in my computer or book on many rides. But, after disembarking that train with a new list of books to read typed into my phone, I thought about how much more satisfying the commute was home after having an enlightening conversation.

I felt a little lighter, and my companion still had 20 minutes longer to read her book.

The journey continues.

C

 

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My Book Club Basics 3/3, Choosing Books!

 

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What books are on your nightstand now? (or in your line up on your electronic device)  Share!

Books, Books and more Books! With an overwhelming selection of enticing-poorly written-predictable-and keep-you-up-all-night reads today, how do you choose books for your book club? For our club, each host gets to pick their book and shape their meetings around the selection.

We have a few members who get stressed (and hilarious) when it comes time to make their book selections.  Just stay calm, since there are a myriad of resources to find your selections.

Here are a few ideas for you to help you pick your next read:

  • Talk to other people who love to read!
  • Ask your librarian—our local ELA Library has an entire book club selection area with ideas. Library websites also include lists, such as Chicago Public Library’s top 2016 rentals.  
  • Browse your local bookstore. Pick up a book, read the jacket, sample a page. Ask an employee what they liked recently.
  • Many newspapers and magazines, from People to The New York Times to Vanity Fair, include new book releases on a regular basis.
  • Goodreads website  gives you a place to find books, fellow readers, research genres.
  • Bookbrowse is an online booklover’s magazine. They have a “First Impressions” you can join where they send 5-6 books a year to either write a review or join a discussion, for a small fee.
  • You can Google many topics for book lists. Be careful, it’s easy to get lost doing this: top historical fiction, history, chick lit, novels, young adult, science fiction.

It can be overwhelming, so keep it simple. Remember, it is a BOOK CLUB choice–happy reading!

This is the 3rd and final post I have shared for now about starting, organizing, or changing up your book Club.  Read the others here: My Book Club Basics, 1 of 3 and My Book Club Basics, 2 of 3.

The journey continues.

Cindy, the WBL Book Club Wrangler

P.S. With all the new books out, it is easy to overlook the classics. Refresh your list with some timeless (or dated) literature.

My Book Club Basics, 2 of 3

My last post was about why I love my book club. Since people have asked us about how to set up/run/host a book club, know that there are many options to create a club that works for you. Some groups are very organized and intense, and some (like ours) are a bit less formal in pre-planning and execution.

Here are some ideas to think about, when setting up your own group:

  • Consider inviting varied members who are willing to research the book, develop questions and will be involved in the discussions.
  • Mix up the genres of books you read.
  • How will you make your book selections? My next post will explore this topic, since there are so many resources.
  • Choose where/when you will meet. Our group meets at someone’s house at night; others go to a coffee shop, out for lunch, or meet at a local bookstore or library.
  • Possibly have some set times, such as 30-60 minutes for catch up, then giving a specific time for the book discussion to start. We started doing this, and this structure helps our meetings run smoother when some people come who have not read the book.
  • Decide who you will have a discussion leader for each meeting who will do research on the author bio, background on subject matter, pose pointed discussion questions.  Will it be the current host? Hire someone?
  • Pair up the book with a movie or tv show. For example, we have read and seen the movies: Chocolat, Wuthering Heights, The Help and A Man Called Ove(the latter two were seen in the theater).
  • Decide if you will record a member rating for each book.
  • Mix it up! At our December meeting, we choose an easy book with a holiday theme, wear Christmas sweaters, and do a white elephant.
  • Enjoy reading and each other!

Now, gather some people, then start reading. And talking.

C

My Book Club Basics, 1 of 3

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Display from the Printer’s Row Book Fair, Chicago

To answer the most frequently asked question first—Yes, we discuss the books in our monthly meetings! We do not just drink wine.

I am honored to have been part of our book club since its inception in 2003! Our first book was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, shortly before it was debunked as a fraudulent biography. Ironically, there was a lot of discussion at our initial meeting about which parts of that book seemed fake (and later, how easy it should have been for Oprah’s team to research the story before catapulting it to stardom).

In 14 years, we have welcomed new friends to our group, had our dear friend Janaki move, seen births, deaths, kids grow through school and beyond, job changes, and illnesses. I personally have enjoyed books and genres I never would have chosen and found some authors I now covet—Lianne Moriarity, Fredrik Backman, Kristin Hannah.  In our discussions and debates, I still learn about my friends’ histories, dreams, passions, losses.

My friend Theresa, who launched our book club, says that she is very proud of our club’s longevity as a no judgment book club. If you only read the back page but want to listen to the discussion….come on in. Only read one book a year and come only twice a year…we will be happy to see you. Listen on Audible at double-time speed…more credit to you.

People often ask me for reading suggestions. This can be a baited question, since there are so many types of books. Do you like novels, chick lit, romance, biographies, non-fiction, science fiction, history? If for a book club, will you read recently released books? Or only ones that are available at the local library?

For several book ideas now, here is the list of books that our book club read in 2016, and the start of 2017, in the order that we read them:

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
The Memory Box by Eva Lesko Natiello
Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith
The Wedding Pearl by Carolyn Brown
Before the Fall by Noah Hawle
My Grandmother Forgot to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
11/22/63 by Stephen King

My personal favorites from this list were My Grandmother Forgot to Tell You She’s Sorry, A Man Called Ove,11/22/63, and Whiskey & Charlie. 

If you want to start a book club, it just takes a little time and a few friends. There are many options to best set up and run your club, choose your books,etc.  My next post will address these topics.

Books and Bucket Lists

Reading. Friends. Cocktails. Discussion. Learning. Debate. Snacks. Laughter. Maybe One.More.Drink.

I so look forward to my monthly neighborhood book club meetings. While our families joke that we do not actually discuss our varied selections, we do!   The amount we talk about the book may be proportionate to how relatable (or debatable) the book is, whether there is a difference of opinion about the quality of the characters-plot-writing, and if the host has good discussion questions.

Through others reading choices I have discovered authors and books I never would have picked up, lived vicariously through a variety of eras and locations, expanded my life views, made new friends, and become a better writer.

Sometimes we even have homework assignments.

For our last book club we were asked to bring our bucket list of 5 things we wanted to do, typed and unsigned. We then tried to guess who wrote out each sheet.   (this “homework” went along with our discussion, nameless but light romantic fluff).

It was eye-opening to see how similar some of the items were on our lists: a lot of travel, learning new skills like writing and knitting, re-learning old hobbies, more travel, and spending more time with our families.

We will continue to share, learn, cry, discuss life in each meeting. Hopefully grow individually and as a group. And prop each other up outside our ongoing gatherings.

And my bucket list, in case you are interested:

  • Travel to Iceland and Australia.
  • Research family history to learn my mom’s family when/why they came to US.
  • Do travel and photo exploration of large swath of Route 66. (maybe Sante Fe to Flagstaff or CA).
  • Write a novel.
  • Sky dive.

What is on your list? (bucket or reading)

C

A Dog’s View

What do our dogs think, as we go through our daily routines and family growth and contractions and changes?  I wonder it often,  as Zoe follows me around the house, wanting to go on every car ride, every walk, giving loving kisses when her family is sad.  And Annie, as she ages (17 in two months!) does she still want to be here, with her creaking bones and slips on the stairs, but always the most gentle of creatures I know?

Zoe and fave toy
Zoe and fave toy

 

Annie and the snow
Annie and the snow

I just read an interesting novel called The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein,  the entire story told from the dog’s point of view.  Do they really have human thoughts as they watch TV with us, go on our physical and spiritual journeys, become part of our worlds as we age together?

The story itself is hopeful, heartbreaking, and honest.  No spoilers here, you will have to indulge yourself in the story. It will be worth the journey. Can a dog tell a story that isn’t true, without embellishments?  I doubt it.  I have no interest in auto racing, but I found the parallels in the driver stories and life to be fitting, and they kept my interest throughout. 

Some of the quotes made me think about my life, and how I need to step up to more challenges:

“There is no dishoner in losing the race,” Don said. “There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”

Wow–how many times do we NOT take the chance because we are afraid to lose? Or become complacent in what we know.  We can only grow and learn and experience by trying.

And from Enzo, the dog,

“Inside each of us resides the truth,” I began, “the absolute truth.  But sometimes we believe we are viewing the real thing, when in fact we are viewing a facsimile, a distortion….”

The post dedicated to my friend Kerry and her Lab friend Gracie, who just left us.

C

Writing Inspirations

Had a fabulous time at the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago yesterday! There were many types of people  buying books and memorabelia and food and listening to authors speak.  My friend Theresa and I bought several books all signed by the authors, which my kids think are totally cool.

It was so inspiring for we aspiring writers to see so many authors taking with their customers and listen to them speak individually or in panel discussions .

Hopefully we will both try to write more.  As a bonus, I have a whole new list of books to read.

Here is a sampling of thoughts from several authors:

“Fiction tells truth of the heart that non-fiction histories cannot tell.”  Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank.

Nancy Horan again, talking about how she writes historical fiction:”You go respectfully into the past and try to walk empathetically in their shoes.”

She also said to get the voice of the times she is writing in she reads newspapers from the period, books, letters, and tries to remove all of today’s sayings from her writings.  I loved hearing her talk about the immense amount of research she did for her book, the unexpected journeys those searches took her on, along with the people she met who helped bring her story alive.

Finally, a thought from first-time author John Otterbacher, about why he writes:  “I have always had an eye for the horizon.  I’ve always been curious.”

Take their inspiring words and pick up your pen or your computer, and let the writing begin.  Just know that Otterbacher said he wrote 8 drafts of his book Sailing Grace, and Nancy Horan threw out her first draft of Loving Frank and started from scratch.  Daunting thoughts! C