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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)

how does the Guernsey book rate? i have traveled there with my husband whilst living in England. looked like an interesting read.

10.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenteradornedlife

I really want to join a book club now!

10.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

We just read The Guernsey Literary... for our book club too! It was such a delicious read. I love your idea about assigning one person to put the questions on note cards and then handing them out at the beginning. We totally struggle with getting off on tangents too. While the mom chit chat is definitely fun and is part of what I look forward to about book club, it is nice to actually discuss the book a bit too:)

I love book club...but it always seems like interest wanes after a while. I definitely think consistency in time and day help a lot. We're reading "My Life in France" right now and everyone is very excited about bringing French food to our next meeting - so the key would be good food!

10.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibby Selle

Great post! Reminded me that I need to go get November's book from the library!

I have been in a book club for two years now. It is the third Thursday of the month, unless something else is taking over that spot.... November and December are often shifted.

One of our book clubs favorites lately has been The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the Last Town on Earth. Both of these books are some of my all time favorites now!
We often though pick books that no one has read. I like your idea of having the books be recommended after a member has read them. While 90% of the time we choose good books... there are those months that I simply push the book aside for something else. Then we usually spend book club sharing how bad the book was!

We also recently read A Homemade Life by Orangette blogger Molly Wizenberg. Great read! We each picked a different recipe out of the book and brought it to Book Club... It was great!

I am looking forward to reading everyones book club recommendations!

10.14.2009 | Unregistered Commenterdanielle

I love my book club! They have been meeting for over 15 years and I am the youngest by far (I'm 36 and most of the ladies are in their 50s/60s)- i love it that way! I have learned so much and appreciate the diverse opinions and backgrounds from all the ladies.

We have a book selection meeting each November and I'm so impressed with how quick and direct the process goes! We try to read a few classics, historical fiction, contemporary works, and a Pulitzer for good measure. I find my book list is invaluable and my librarian loves to make a copy each year of our list!

Some of my favorites: The Painted Veil, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn...oh there is so many! We even had a poetry reading one year to stretch our reading lists.

By the way, I enjoyed Molokai. I can't imagine parts of history that many of us have no idea this sort of thing happened.

happy reading.

10.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

I've been wanting to find (or start) a good book club. I'm a relatively new transplant to my city and don't have a lot of connections, so it's hard to find something like that.

10.16.2009 | Unregistered CommenterHereBeDragons

You probably won't know him in America, but Peter Kay is a well known stand up comedian in the UK who specialises in observational comedy. Anyway, he's just brought out his second autobiography, I've only read his first book but it's laugh out loud funny - even on a train of communters.

And I really enjoyed The Kite Runner.

10.16.2009 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

How fun! Our book club began when we all lived in one place but now we are spread out. So once a month we have a group video chat! It is a great way to stay caught up in each other's lives. We also read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society earlier this summer. One of my favorites though was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I highly recommend it. We're reading The Time Traveler's Wife now. Sometimes we pick books (like The Lost Symbol) that we aren't traditional book club books, but are ones that we all want to read anyway.

10.17.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

That looks amazing! I loved that book, too.

10.18.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJanssen

i like the idea of meeting at one house....after 8 years together i think we are moving in that direction.
one thing our group does that i like is when we have our selection meeting (choosing books for the year/like you we have combine or skip a couple busy months) we meet at a local bookstore for coffee. that way it's purely social and the books are sure to be at the ready.
favorites/good discussions in our group have been: The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese, The Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

10.18.2009 | Unregistered Commentermelanie

i'm jared kennedy's wife. i just found your blog through another blog that i read. i love your ideas, very inspiring. i have never been apart of a book club. it sounds like a lot of fun. thanks for the advice on what works...maybe i can start one up!

10.18.2009 | Unregistered Commenterjillian kennedy

I highly recommend either Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Always a good laugh, never a dull read!

10.21.2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Halatokoua

You must read "Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro. The film is amazing too if you haven't seen it. Hard to believe it is not written by an Englsh person

10.21.2009 | Unregistered Commenterhelnen james

Oh heavens! I loved his post. The parameters you described are exact same as my book group. Low key - perfect. We meet at my home! I just finished the same book for the club - perhaps I will make the same dessert.

Thanks for the great post!

10.25.2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Great idea about the cards! I'm going to try that at my book club and have to say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the authors death make this an amazing book! I've just read the sequel the Girl who played with fire' and the books are incredibly intense and you will not be able to put them down.

10.27.2009 | Unregistered Commenterkate

I absolutely loved this book. I have been working VERY hard on a Master's degree lately and this book was just the kind of calm I needed. What a wonderful tale!

12.2.2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

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