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Book Club Spotlight: The Keepin' It Real Book Club

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. For this month’s Book Club Spotlight, we heard from Toronto’s Jen Knoch of the Keepin’ It Real Book Club, a group of young and passionate publishing professionals.

What was the inspiration for starting the KIRBC?

I started KIRBC when I was doing my MA in English. I was surrounded by a group of incredibly well-read people, and while we talked about books every day in class, I found the most exciting, engaging conversations about books came out when they were freed from the straightjacket of academic discourse. I wanted to know what these people were reading when they weren’t reading class texts, what books they’d discovered along their individual journeys to grad school. I wanted a book club without the required reading (we already had too much) and the mandatory discussion (we already had too much). So I came up with the Keepin’ It Real Book Club, which is essentially a book club that doesn’t play by the rules — it just asks people to talk about books they’ve read and loved.

Recommenders pitch a book they’re passionate about to the group, and people can choose to read it if they wish. (They often do.) We’ve had cookbooks, sci-fi, literary fiction, poetry, historical fiction, kids’ books… you name it, someone’s recommended it. We meet about every six weeks ideally, but the group has expanded, and it’s getting harder to find suitable places to host!

Who are the members of your club? How did you come to know each other?

Club members (if one can use so formal a term) started out as grad students, but when I moved to Toronto and brought KIRBC with me, membership came largely from publishing circles, although people from any industry are welcome. So while most people came from publishing networks, friends, roommates, and significant others also make appearances. Attendance is never mandatory, so we tend to get a group of about seven to 22 people per meeting, out of a pool of about 30 semi-regular attendees.

Do you have a unique way of preparing for a book club meeting?

Luckily very little preparation is required (and no doubt that’s part of the appeal).  For me, selection goes something like this. 1) Pick a book you loved at some point in your life. 2) Go over a few key questions: Do you have a copy? (Not essential, but helpful.) Do you still remember what happens in it? (Not totally essential either, a couple minutes of flipping will bring it back.) Do you remember why you like it? (Hopefully. If not, keep flipping, or revisit step 1.)

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

We love food and drink, which is usually a combination of host effort and random offerings from attendees. One thing I can say about the evolution of the KIRBC is that it’s become progressively boozier.

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

That’s a tough one. I’d want it to be someone funny, someone who could cast off their “author” persona for a while and just be a regular booklover (but naturally I’d still get some stomach butterflies over them being there). Maybe someone like Miriam Toews. I’d also love to have some heads of publishing companies sit in — I’d love to hear their recos and have them witness how engaging this new generation of publishers and booklovers can be.

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?)

Because of the nature of my book club there are probably over 300 recommendations, many of which I’ve read. It’s hard to pick one favourite, but the KIRBC introduced me to Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces (which, haters, I will defend till the end), The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol reader, Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, and James Tabor’s Blind Descent, among many others that have rocked my world.

Has your book club and its members had a meaningful impact on your life?

Absolutely. In grad school it solidified the bonds I had with some of my fellow students and was a welcome release valve to all the stress and pretension that often comes with such programs. In its second incarnation, KIRBC has helped me begin and develop relationships with so many people in the publishing industry in a way that’s fun and doesn’t reek of networking. After a couple years of regular meetings I still meet new people. Further, there’s so much passion and intelligence on display at these meetings that every one bolsters my faith in the future of the publishing industry.

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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