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Book Club Spotlight: The Book Babes

Once every month, we’ll share the motivation and passion that drives one book club — it could be yours! — from across the globe. These are the people who have combined the solitary pleasure of reading a book with the joy of sharing, discussing, and debating it in a social setting.

November’s featured group is the Book Babes of Washington state, and according to member Crystal Swett, they’ve gotten pretty creative about incorporating their books’ themes into their monthly meetings.

The Book Babes (L-R): Caisse Sinner, Crystal Swett, Sara Robinson, Andrea Wood, Amber Burke, and Elisabeth Cummings.

What was the inspiration for starting your book club?

I’d say a passion for reading (and a chance to get away from our husbands and kids. Just kidding). Even with the chaotic nature of life, we all feel a need to read as not only a source of entertainment, but also as a comfort, a stress reliever, and a source of inspiration. It just made sense to get together to share our experiences with the books we were reading and to find new material.

Since starting the book club, we’ve also started to blog (bookclubsavvy.blogspot.com) about reading, our book club meetings, and other things related to books and reading that we find interesting. So many times, readers, and book club members in particular, are looked at as the “crazy cat ladies” of the world (I stole that from Andrea), but we’re trying to change that impression, showing that readers are exciting, well-rounded, and adventurous souls. Besides reviewing books and our book club meetings, we also highlight things we do outside of book club or things related to books that we find hip and fun.

How did the members of your group come to know each other?

We came to know each other through our religion, but two members (Andrea and Elisabeth) are related, too.  I love having a six member group because there’s enough variety in our personalities and stages of life that we get a wide range of perspectives, but it’s not such a big group that anyone’s voice is lost. Nobody’s the boss here… we’re all equals and don’t mind reminding each other of that!

How does your group select each book? Is there specific criteria?

The only criteria in selecting books is that no one in the group, including the selector, can have read the book before.  The great thing about this is that no one can be offended by the selection, whether because of subject matter or members’ interest level, because we’re all going in blind.  It puts us on an even footing, too, since the chooser doesn’t have any personal connection to the book yet that they may feel like they have to defend.

For example, if I chose a book that I dearly loved to promote to book club and everyone hated it, I would feel like they were attacking a friend of mine, but by choosing books that are new and fresh to everyone, we expand our reading horizons and don’t step on any toes. We also try to choose books dissimilar to ones we’ve read before so we can experience new things. When a new book is proposed, we may internally cringe, but we’ll plow ahead with reading and many times, surprise ourselves with how much we enjoyed something we dreaded. Of course, there are a select few books we universally hated, so it’s also fun to trash talk those every now and again. (I’m looking at you, Fraud by David Rakoff!)

Do you incorporate food, films, field trips, or other bonus features into your meetings?

Absolutely! This is one of our favorite parts of book club. The person who chose the book is responsible for setting up the meeting and incorporating food, entertainment, and a memento that’s specifically drawn from or inspired by the book.

If we choose books that have been made into a movie, we’ll usually turn that into a book club outing. We’ve also gone out to restaurants if they match the theme of the book. For example, after reading The Help, we went to a fabulous Southern cooking restaurant in Portland that has turned into one of my favorites. With Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, we had a full English tea with scones, tiny sandwiches, and baby-sized treats. As a memento, we were given individual potted roses.

When we read Catching Fire, we invited our spouses to read the book and come to our meeting as well, and that was a whole lot of fun to have the men’s perspective. We also know of another local book club, and we coordinated our reading of Five Quarters of the Orange with them and had a joint discussion.

Only our imagination limits what we do during book club.  Our focus isn’t to prove our intellect by having deep, existential discussions or being dogmatic about our opinions. In our view, reading should be fun, so our meetings focus on food, friendship, and laughter.  And booze. (Again, just kidding.)

If you could invite any author (or even just any person) to join one of your meetings, who would it be and why?

Personally, I’d love to have a chat with Maeve Binchy, although I know most of my fellow Book Babes wouldn’t agree. Her writing style and subject matter capture my interest every time, and I am completely obsessed with Ireland. On the other end of the spectrum, I bet Ann Rule would have a lot of interesting things to say!

Of all the books your club has selected, which is your favourite? (And do you have another favourite book that hasn’t been read by your club?)

I can’t narrow it down to one… it’s like trying to pick a favorite child! But I have to say that The Little Book, The Forgotten Garden, and Shadow of the Wind are definitely contenders. Each one had meat to it, and also a little mystery that kept me guessing.

As for favorite books that haven’t been read by the club, I again can’t narrow it down to one, but To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, and Circle of Friends are all books that I’ve read many many times and will never tire of.  I think the most important part of a great book club pick is having enough controversy that it just has to be discussed.

Which book are you reading now for your club? What do you think of it so far, and do you have any specific plans for the meeting?

We are currently reading Earth Abides by George Stewart.  This is Amber’s first pick since becoming a member, so none of us really know what she’s going to do with it, but I’m sure it will be perfect. Even if I don’t exactly love the book we read, getting together to talk about it with friends is always a highlight of my month.

To be featured in a future Book Club Spotlight, email laura@bookclubinabox.com with a brief description of your club and what makes it stand apart from the rest.

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