January 6, 2016

A love letter to book clubs

One of the major activities of 2014 was visiting book clubs. (That's right: I have procrastinated on this blog post for over A YEAR. The last time I opened it to edit it was November 2014. Even more amazing: this is not even the oldest blog draft I intend to finally finish this year! My excuse is that I had a baby, who really is a pretty good...and awfully cute...excuse.)

I visited many book clubs all over Montreal: the Plateau, downtown, Westmount, NDG, and even Nun's Island. I even took a suburban commuter bus to visit a book club at the Brossard Library! (As a lifelong pedestrian, I have an actual suburban phobia, so this felt like more of a triumph to me than it might otherwise seem to someone with a driver's license.)

A lot of it was a learning experience. I didn't set out to do book club visits -- it was just something that started happening, and I was flattered and happy to be invited. I'm proud to say that I experienced a lot more anxiety before the early visits than I did before the ones at the end. I struggled a lot with what I should charge (if anything), and while that is probably a whole other blog post in and of itself (why artists..who usually need the money more than anyone.. end up doing things for free that anyone in any other profession would charge for!), I consulted with other writers and did some soul-searching and eventually arrived at a number I could feel good about and which clubs were happy to pay. My only regret is not taking more photos.

The most amazing and humbling part of it was meeting so many thoughtful readers. Clever readers with questions and opinions and theories and insights. And sometimes even favourite sentences (!!!)

The fact is that as a writer, you are not necessarily the authority on everything in your own book. Yes, you can say whether the bagel shop in your novel is based on this one or that one (Fairmount, for the record) or whether your character has an eating disorder because you used to have one yourself (nope), but I like to let other people talk about what the novel is about. And I like to take notes. I've learned a lot this way.

My other favourite part (besides the always mind-blowing experience of having a dozen people discuss your characters as though they actually exist) was how inspiring it has been to witness so many friendships between women that have endured over decades and that have been enriched by books and their shared discussions. Many of the groups I visited have been gathering for TWENTY YEARS! They have seen each other through the births of their children, divorces, cancer...everything. Female friendship is where it's at, and I got a sneak peek at some amazing ones.

These visits were truly soul-nourishing. As a writer you spend most of your time working alone, and the majority of writing events (e.g. public readings and panels at writers festivals) are for an audience who is unfamiliar with your work. If you're lucky, a few people will pick up your book at the end. But getting to meet people who have made a point of reading your novel and talking about it...? It's a treat I hope all my writer-friends get to experience.

And speaking of treats, did I mention the snacks? These book clubs had some great snacks!

There were many groups in contention for being my favourites, but I think I have to give it to the club that did themed food to match Bone and Bread.

Bagels and cream cheese, of course!

And even more amazing:

Hors d'oeuvres just like the ones described
as being prepared and served at Sadhana's 
housewarming party!!!

And the most fantastic thing ever:

A school bus cake! Just like Sadhana and Beena
bake for Quinn for one of his birthdays in Bone and Bread.

And here are a couple of photos of me and this amazing book club --  one of the twenty-year ones, whose members were all terrific readers and who had a very lively and passionate discussion about the novel. I'm sharing two shots as the obliging husband who took the photo caught some of us with smiles in one and some of us in the other.

Is this really happening?

Feeling ever-so-lucky!

It really almost makes one think it is enough to have engaged readers, even without literary prizes. I know a lot of writers would agree. Of course, the one (prizes) often leads to the other (readers), so it takes you back to square one, a little bit. At any rate, a sincere and profound thank you to every book club that hosted me: you made me feel as though my work mattered, and there is truly no better feeling. And thank you to all the other book clubs (I know you're out there) who have chosen Bone and Bread for your discussions over the past two years. I'm honoured and privileged to have played a part in the conversation.


pat@siteandinsight.com said...

Really enjoyed reading this blog post... welcome back, and may more posts follow soon! I'm forwarding it to members of my book club.

saleema said...

Thanks so much, Pat!!

Alice said...

Good post, Saleema. I hope the members of book clubs who hosted you read this--and I hope it encourages more book clubs to invite authors.

saleema said...

Thanks, Alice. I hope so, too!