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books and pie

I am lucky to take part in a small book group with a few friends. Over the years I've participated in quite a few book clubs, and they all have their own particular flavor, some more successful than others. Because I know many of you do the same, I thought I'd share a few things we've been doing with our book club in the hope that you will share things that are working particularly well in yours.

1. We read one book each month. (Sometimes we combine July and August if everyone's going to be off on vacation, or December and January to avoid the holiday rush). Every six months or so we pick the next few books we're going to read. We have one rule: You have to have read the book before you can recommend it. And we try and pick books that are easy to get a hold of (via Amazon, the library, local bookstore, etc.).

2. We meet the same day each month, and at the same house. (For example: we always meet the first Tuesday of each month, and we meet at my house.) We used to rotate around to everyone's houses but meeting at one house seems to be working better for us, it may be simply because we always know where we are meeting!

3. We discuss the book. We used to just sit around and talk, but we've been trying to make a concerted effort to actually discuss the book. We ask one person each month to take a few minutes to write up some questions (you can usually find some already written online somewhere) and we write them up on little 3x5 cards. When you arrive, you pick a card or two and when it seems appropriate, you pipe up with your question and everyone weighs in. Book club is about socializing as well, so we definitely get off on tangents, but the cards help us to guide the conversation back to the book from time to time.

4. We keep it all pretty low-key. I've been to book clubs where there was a full buffet offered, and lovely as it was, it sets the bar so high that people are nervous about hosting or bringing refreshments. We just do dessert. Sometimes we can use the book we've read as inspiration (we recently read The Madonnas of Leningrad and my friend brought a delicious honey cake she learned to make while she was in Russia). Other times we've just had berries and ice cream. Everyone takes a turn bringing the dessert.

This month was my turn. Since we had read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, I made my first every sweet potato pie. I looked over a few recipes but settled on one from Everyday Food. And it was delicious! Sweet potato pie is similar to pumpkin pie, but with a slightly different flavor and consistency. This recipe has a mixture of pecans and brown sugar that you spread on top, which makes it especially good. I might have to make another one for Thanksgiving instead of pumpkin pie this year. Top with a big dollop of whipped cream, and you'll see what I mean.

If you'd like to share what's working in your book club, I would love to hear it. The books shown above are ones I've read and enjoyed in various reading groups. If you have recommendations, I'd love to hear them..

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Reader Comments (37)

I run a book club at my library, and have participated in many book talks.
Books I liked discussing were: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Sweet Hush by Deborah Smith and Garlic and Sapphires (or really any foodie/memoir) by Ruth Reichl.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

"blood brothers" by elias chacour (sp?) awesome, thought provoking, perspective changing....all about the conflict there in the holy land. amazing! life changing!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenternoelle

Our bookclub is similar, but we rotate houses. The woman who started the club 10 years ago keeps us all in line. She sends out e-mails with book, hostess, address info. She also lets us know a couple months in advance who is coming up to hostess so we can start looking for a book. We try to rotate genre so we get a good mix. We also just do dessert. We've had things like chocolate fountains, pies, and apple cider with crunch 'n munch. We're pretty casual. The hostess runs the night. She chooses the book, leads the discussion, feeds us, has the party at her house... Depending on the book/hostess sometimes the discussion is intense and sometimes it's very light/quick and we move on to socializing. Always, it's a nice break. We always meet on the 3rd Thursday at 8:30 pm [after the kids are hopefully in bed]. It makes for a late night usually, but I love it.

I love the idea of having cards and letting each person lead portions of the discussion. I'm going to try that next time I hostess.

As far as books, we just read River of Doubt. It's about Theodore Roosevelt's journey down the River of Doubt in Brazil [a tributary of the Amazon]. I lived in a fairly rural part of the Amazon jungle for 3 months so I found it especially interesting because of that. I'm curious to see what others thought of the book.

I also just read Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. It was the book of the month at Big Picture Scrapbooking's Reading Room. I enjoyed it and was constantly struck by the things these women did to keep moving. Things we can all do to keep moving + love + take care of ourselves, whether we have cancer or not.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterMandi

My book club just read the Guernsey book! We all thought it was delightful without being trite. We've been meeting for almost 3 years now! I think we have yet to find the perfect set-up, but don't get me started on that! Some of my favorites that we've read are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Peace Like a River by Leif Enger; The $64 Tomato by William Alexander; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. We've read some good ones and some duds. We've tried meeting every month, every other month, every six weeks. We've had 2 or 3 people show up or 20 people show up. I hope someday we'll happen upon something we all like and can just stick with!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Oh this is wonderful! I just volunteered to serve as coordinator of a book club for a group of officer's wives where we are stationed. I had no idea how to organize it – this post and the comments will be a big help in deciding our format! Thanks!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

I'm not currently in a bookclub. I am in the middle of the Guernsey book and am motivated to gather a group together. Such a charming read. It makes me remember why I like reading.
Thanks for the tips.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterPittsy

Book groups are so hit or miss! I've been in some amazing ones and then others where it just doesn't quite come together.

Favorite book group reads - The Good Earth; Cold Sassy Tree; The Help by Katherine Stockett; The Book Thief;... we try and alternate a classic and contemporary book every other month, which seems to work really well.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

A friend just recommended The Guernsey Library to me, and now that I've seen it pop up again, I think I'll have to read it! This was a very nice, helpful post- thank you!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I read the Potato Peel Pie Society this last summer also and really loved it. I loved it so much I thought I could go to Guernsey and meet these people. Another book that makes for good discussion is the Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

What a great post! I'm also part of a book club (or Literary Society, as we call it :) ). We meet every three weeks, with two meetings per book. And we rotate houses, because we all love hosting- and when it's at your own house, the book is the one that you picked or that we voted on from your choices. We've done some costume ones, like when we had a toga party after we read Mythology by Edith Hamilton, or an antebellum theme after reading A Speckled Bird by Augusta Evans Wilson. We love turn-of-the-century victorian literature, but we also try to branch out. We just met last night and are discussing the last in a trilogy - it's called Heart of the Family, and the first two in the trilogy are Bird in the Tree and then Pilgrim's Inn. They're by Elizabeth Goudge and they're all absolutely beautiful. I also loved when we read China Court by Rumer Godden. One thing that I love that our group does is when you have the first meeting at your house for your book (we have two meetings per book), you share about the author and their life. We've learned a lot by doing this!
I could go on and on about ours, but one other thing that is wonderful is that we go on weekend "retreats" together - to the lake, to the farm, wherever! We bring crafts that we're working on, and just basically talk and relax and eat! It's wonderful, especially for those moms that can enjoy a peaceful weekend without distractions!
Thanks so much for your post- I need to add some of your books to my list!
- stephanie www.birdsandtrees.typepad.com

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

My husband and I are part of a couple's bookgroup. It's been going for two years now and still strong. One of the fun things is each person gets to choose their own book, we don't do it by couple. It's the only way I've been able to get my husband to read some of the books I've recommended to him. And surprise--he usually likes them!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Your book club sounds a lot like mine.
We also read "potato peel pie" last month. I adored it.
This month I am hosting and we're reading "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" which so far (I'm on chapter four) is a hoot.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEva

On several occasions we've been able to chat with authors of our books choices live. Many authors will call into book groups via speaker phone. We've talked to Louise Shaffer, Donna Woolfolk Cross, Craig Joseph Danner (and others I can't think of at the moment) this way. We have had authors actually come to our group (Leslie Pietrzyk) and have gone to hear some lecture when they are touring locally (Annie Barrows). Check out author's websites to see if they are "book group friendly" - you'll find that many are very willing to meet with bookgroups. It is so interested to hear about their writing process and get an inside look at the development of a book.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterKari

Books and cake: what a perfect combination!

10.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenterdomestikate

Your book club sounds very similar to mine. We do rotate houses, and all the host has to provide is a low-key dessert and wine. The host also chooses the book, which is chosen a couple of months in advance so people can get it from the library or order it. We also have a rule that the book must be in paperback, so no one is having to purchase an expensive book. We've found that most of our most successful books are ones someone has read already, but that is not always true. We spend at least an hour talking about the book, and about 30 minutes just talking and catching up. We also meet at 8pm, which works out great because kids can be put to bed before having to rush out the door. The time thing started when we all had small babies, and has continued to work well. For December, we do a big potluck and white elephant book exchange which is a lot of fun. Often July and August are combined, or we will just go out for drinks on the month we skip. It's been going on for close to 4 years now; some people have left or moved and new people have joined, but a lot of the core people are still in the group. Book club is one of the highlights of my month.

We just read and discussed The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The discussion was so good, that we never got around to the just talking and catching up part of book club.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennie

Thanks for this timely post. I got back from my book club very late last night and am still weary.....It's always a late night. Always a lovely night out with a diverse group of girls, some of whom i don't know well; who have been introduced to the group by their friend. We meet at 8pm at the same lovely house every 6 weeks or so....we share a glass of wine and cheese and crackers and discuss the book and chat. Last night was a very lively discussion about a book called 'In Moral Danger' by Barbara Biggs. It was disturbing and some of the girls were quite upset by it. It's my turn to select a book next time. I have to bring 3 books to choose from and some food--always savory--and wine. It's very informal and we all agree which one we shall read next and the date of the next meeting and the who will choose the next book. Over our summer break, we might choose 2 or 3 books for a summer read. Last night there were 12 of us. Sometimes there are only 5. We call it the 'culture club' as we occasionally go and see a film and do other cultural things together. One of our girls has produced a documentary on the 'ballet russe' in Australia, and we will be viewing that at the next session. We enjoy good food and wine and meet in a restaurant at least once a year to discuss our current book. What i like most about it aside from catching up with interesting women is being introduced to books that i wouldn't normally select to read myself. Love it.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosa

Love that couple idea! I really wish I could get some guys interested in that.
My experience with book clubs has been mostly miss, so no recommendations there. But I can recommend a fantastic book: The Birth House by Ami Mackay. I've read it a few times now and whether it is my book club or another, it is always well received. And great for conversations. Story telling at its best.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

oh my goodness, what fun! and that sweet potato pie looks amazing. i remember eating half a pumpkin pie in a single sitting when i was growing up :)

10.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoanna goddard

Those sound like some great tips, I am looking forward to joining a book club here in the future. I'm reading the Guernsey/Potato Peel Society at the moment by myself, it's really good so far.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Loved the Guernsey folk as well... the book stayed with me for a long time. Really enjoyed The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman... Just finished Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger... who also wrote Time Travelers Wife. Interesting read... lots to discuss. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of The Children's Book by AS Byatt at the library... I have never been a part of a book club. It is something I would love to join, but the women I know pretend to not have time to read. There is ALWAYS a way to find time to read :)

10.13.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill

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