Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Of 'Lemon Orchard' and book deals

Go ahead: Buy a book at full price now and then, just to keep the process going. It's good for publishers and great for authors. Only the genre stars make much anyway, so do what you can to support good literature from others.

Building a library, though, comes from a range of book purchases, from free to full price. If I'd paid list price for all the books in 10 bookcases at home, well, it'd be a pretty costly, nutty thing to do. So of course I did not. (Now I only have to worry about reading them all before I die.) A fair amount of the time, though, I plunk down the full price—especially at author signings. It's a good thing to support them in this way.

That said, while promising to pay full price some of the time, here are tips to get book-related perks for nothing, or nearly so.

Random House publishes "Book Club," a rundown on new titles for library-sponsored book clubs (randomhouselibrary.com). Its First Look Book Club gives readers a free excerpt from just-published books, via email. Includes all genres. Sign up at www.TinyURL.com/FirstLookBookClub. Other publishing houses do the same thing. Check the publishers of some favorite authors and see what they are promoting. In these situations, dedication (frequent checking) pays off. The publisher's Readers Circle offers giveaway contests and some freebies, like this month's short story by Jodi Picoult, available for downloading.

Go to favorite authors' web sites and follow them regularly. This is a good place to find free books as each new book comes to publication. It's a promotional gesture, and fans love it. I'd rather have a real book than an e-book anytime.

Book Bub and Book Perk—granted they're selling something—often include a free read with their ebooks, for those reading on Nooks or similar devices. I'm not much for electronic readers, though I have them on my iPad and as a Nook, still they're great for vacations, plane trips, dark theaters before the show comes on, or just slipping into a purse. Though it will usually cost me, I've decided I no longer want to tote around a large book (Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" did me in), so I'll order larger selections that way in the future.

E-book libraries, available with readers, don't make a show of it but do offer free books from earlier or classical realms. Search for books on sale or $0.00 and see what comes up. This is a good place to find the classics you never read but always meant to. I'm into Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" right now. I don't get many books this way (nor do I buy many), because I'll never read that many, but for an easy way to take your reading along, e-books can't be beat.

To shortcut the search, Kindle offers Free Kindle Classics, a master list of free ebooks, for 99 cents. Find it with a search on Amazon. Buyer beware: Know your authors. Everyone knows which books are classics, and therefore pretty good reads, but there is a large amount of what's politely called drivel out there for free. You'll generally find this out the hard way. But it's not true that you can't get something for nothing. There are plenty of good reads available—first books by unknown authors or older books that haven't sold well. Select carefully.

I always look through sale racks at bookstores. It helps to know which authors are good, because some very good books get placed in the bin from time to time. It's worth a look. For a little help with the selection process, manybooks.net offers reader reviews of freebies, and includes the classics as well as newer books. Project Gutenberg is a must site for readers, since this site offers thousands of free, expired copyright books and was the pioneering e-book site. (There's also a self-publishing wing at www.gutenberg.org.)

Many online book clubs are nothing more than venues for book sales. Book of the Month Club, that age-old mother of all book clubs, has morphed into BOMC2, offering club members books at a low flat fee. Still, that isn't free!

Since most clubs have a spending budget the size of a pea, there are also authors who don't charge to visit with your club by Skype. Additionally, there are a fair number of notable authors within reach of Worcester. They will occasionally visit (it's nice to offer gas money or a gift). Find them by contacting the author (most have web sites these days), or searching online. I've noticed a fair number of authors who've laid the process out for readers, with web sites offering excerpts, reviews, book club questions, librarian/bookseller info, etc. They're people who are well prepared for the online revolution.

One online site, by the way, offers books in exchange for reviews. GoodReads is the site, and there are conditions, (plus it's competitive), but they're available. If you accept a book and then don't post a review, regardless of length, don't expect to be high on the list of future freebies!

Bookmarks: Those who, like me, still read print books, also have a fetish for cool bookmarks. Yes, the grocery list will do—but then it is missing when it's time to shop, so I buy bookmarks (as book club gifts too) at the Legacy outlet on Green Street in Clinton. This cool, recycled paper products shop sells bookmarks for about a dime apiece, and they're lovely, printed on heavy paper for long use. It's also possible to print bookmarks out from free templates you find online. There are dozens of possibilities, not quite free if you must also buy paper, but almost.

Going to the Boston Book Festival at Copley Square Oct. 23-25 will net you freebies galore, ranging from bookmarks to books and magazines (and candy!). Book fairs are always a good place to visit, and Boston's is very large and mostly free. Only a few activities have a price tag on them, and it's kept low.

While online book clubs have proliferated, and you can join them for free, the only way to get free food is to join your local book club! Somehow, the best cooks end up hosting the groups, and offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy treats. Do your part: either bring something along or find a way to contribute to the cook's purse. Our group surprised its host with baking supplies to further the cause!

Inexpensive, though not free, are the books scooped up at huge book sales, most often during the summer and early fall. In July, for instance, join other bibliophiles (or, as I've been told, bookaholics) at the big sales: more than 16,000 items are on sale at the Stockbridge Library Association sale, July 11-13. Another biggie, touting more than 120,000 items, is the Newtown, Conn., annual book sale, July 12-16 at Reed Intermediate School. Closer to home, Gardner's beautiful Heywood Library, 55 W. Lynde St., has accrued 10,000 items for sale Aug. 1-2. Sept. 20-21, is the Friends of Morse Institute Library sale on Route 135, where 20,000 items are available for 50 cents to $1. Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster fills Town Hall's auditorium with table after table of books on Oct. 4. Caution: Attendance not recommended for anyone without ample bookcase space!

Your library is, hands down, the biggest source of free books, from new releases to best-sellers and classics. And you get to return them when finished—an advantage for the space-pressed among us. I find it difficult to admit to this status, but my son-in-law reminds me that I cannot take them with me when I go (as if he's anticipating that event any day now!)

Speaking of bookcases, I once fashioned a charming one in a guest room using a polished pine bunk-bed ladder. It leaned against the wall, prettily, filled with books I imagined a guest would enjoy. Several did. But you can get free plans for building bookcases at a number of places. Ana White, This Old House, and several woodworking firms and magazines—Fine Woodworking, Start Woodworking, Rockler Woodworking, for instance—offer plans. Check around; there is quite a variety.

A good summer read:

Luanne Rice has empathetically drawn on the personal impacts of immigration laws on families living within and outside the United States in her latest novel, "The Lemon Orchard." A Connecticut native (honored with the Governor's Arts Award this month in that state), Rice has published 31 novels. She sets this story of broken lives and tragic losses within a Malibu lemon orchard, where a Mexican living illegally in the U.S. grieves the loss of his daughter while they crossed the desert. He meets and forms a bond with an American whose sorrow over a deceased daughter drives every decision she makes. It's a good story, not laden with pat answers or predictable outcomes, and offers eye-opening details about the horrors immigrants encounter as they make their way across the desert trying to enter this country.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A gentle romance, a deadly desert in The Lemon Orchard

Luanne Rice is well known to readers of women's fiction. She has written 31 novels, most of them best-sellers, and five novels became movies or miniseries.
"The Lemon Orchard," her newest work, may include romance, but that is only the beginning. 
The relationship kindled between Julia, a grieving mother who is house-sitting at a lemon orchard in Malibu, and Roberto, the orchard manager, is based on their mutual experience of tragic loss. 
Roberto is the guilt-ridden father of a child he was forced to abandon while crossing through the desert enroute to the U.S. Julia has lost her daughter in a horrific car accident. Their shared pain crosses the societal barrier between a quiet, cautious American woman and an illegal immigrant making his way in this country. Julia's sympathy for Roberto's loss, and her skills as a cultural anthropologist, lead her to a search for the long-missing child, even though it has been five years since the incident.
Don't mistake this for a simple, uncomplicated romance; it is not. Rice portrays the tragic circumstances endured by impoverished Mexicans crossing into the U.S. in dangerous conditions and deadly heat, taken advantage of by unscrupulous "guides" and the occasionally cruel border patrol officer. 
This picture is not a pretty one, but it well details the conditions leading to illegal migration and continued residence in our country. The risks these people take are harrowing and very affecting to those unfamiliar with the realities of U.S. border enforcement.
Julia and Roberto ignore the mild disapproval of society about their relationship, and focus on recovering love, amid the crippling world of pain inherited by parents who have lost children—a devastating grief and self-blame that overrides anything else that follows.
Rice has written "The Lemon Orchard" with simple truth, careful research and a voice that speaks for common decency amid the indifference of law. She has related the arguments for and against illegal immigration to the experiences of characters in her book. The outcome may move you to the other side of the "moral" fence on this matter.
 "There has always been migration. That goes without saying when you have a rich country like ours sharing a border with a country as poor as Mexico," says a fictional member of the Reunion Project, a real organization which attempts to link those lost in the process of migration to those who seek them. "... The U.S. wants to protect the border." Where the two sides intersect, there is death.
Penguin Books published this novel in paperback and released it May 27. To learn more about Luanne Rice, see her website at www.luannerice.com.



Monday, June 16, 2014

A review:
"For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle That Spread Hate Across America," by Dale W. Laackman.

A detailed history of the Ku Klux Klan's financial dealings and public image, Dale W. Laackman's book gathers in one place the truth behind the extensively dirty financial underskirts of the Klan's first coordinated leaders: a pair of marketing experts who built the Klan up for personal profit.
Laackman portrays the rise of Edward Young Clarke Jr. and Elizabeth "Bessie" Tyler—fellow Klan leaders, marketers extraordinaire and sometime-lovers—who used the organization first defined by William Joseph Simmons (a minister dedicated to the concept of white superiority) for fun and profit. From the start of their involvement with the sleepy, 5,000-member Klan in Georgia, they conceptualized a large, nationwide Klan, selling hate and bringing in easy money. And so it went—for some years.
Laackman skillfully fills in the broad patchwork of information surrounding the Klan's astounding growth to nearly a half-million white men dedicated to the exclusion of blacks, Catholics, Jews, immigrants and any other non-white, non-native species of mankind. The Klan did, however, include women as members at one point, both to convey a reputation as a social organization and to publicly exploit its progressiveness in having a female leader (Tyler, who ran things in the shadows for years).
The Klan's roots extend from post-Civil War decades to the present, though the numbers are back down to around 5,000 in estimates from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012. In the course of its growth as an ostensibly benign fraternal organization, the Klan has executed murders, beatings, political control and terror. Laackman doesn't focus on the individual crimes and misdoings, already well documented in other books. Instead, he details the careful shaping of a financial empire built on the profit from hatred—money used for the personal benefit of its founders.
Relying strongly on material gleaned from histories, legal hearings and extensive newspaper coverage, Laackman portrays a brilliant marketing campaign, boosted by the blockbuster 1915 movie, "The Birth of a Nation," and nurtured by American suspicion of immigrants and Papists. "Bessie" Tyler herself came from an innocent-sounding movement titled "Better Babies," in the early 1900s, which embraced standards for valuing human worth—linked to the now-infamous but once popular Eugenics movement later linked to Nazi practices. (Plant breeder Luther Burbank even opposed immigration, claiming it diluted the human race with inferior stock.)
Clarke had a mixed record, including fraudulent financial operations within church organizations.
They were a match for the ages, and their impact together certainly proved that true. Laackman's story of the public relations firm they founded, the Southern Publicity Association, and its growth into the financial foundation of the Klan, is carefully framed and meticulously documented. They modeled pure hatred on the popular fraternal organizations of the time, using that to mask its purposes and dedicating the Klan to the preservation of societal goals like the protection of womanhood (from non-whites, we assume) and continued segregation (elevated to near slavery in practice).
At various points, disenchanted Klansmen (and, some say, undercover reporters from the North), spilled the beans on the Klan's money-making scheme and exposed it, but Congressional hearings on the accusations, following detailed newspaper coverage, led nowhere—officially. This may have been because a Georgia congressman introduced legislation to force Congress to investigate all fraternal oranizations at the same pitch and level as the Klan had just experienced.
It's not a pretty story, but it's a fascinating recounting of the many anti-Black realities that led to the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s, which finally broke the back of segregation laws and the Klan. Along the way, the reader glimpses lives involved in the battle between pro- and anti-Klan forces: reporters and publishers, whistleblowers, legislators. The best of early newspapering is on stage as well.
Also revealed is the infighting and various machinations the Klan leaders took to hide their misdeeds and keep the Klan viable, even while they were exposed for earlier frauds and grievous social misbehavior involving brothels, alcohol, and arrests. Laackman describes it well as a family "dog fight." The Klan was a broken organization, though hate was not eradicated and some membership exists today.
Anyone interested in the inner workings of the Klan, the impacts of greed and fraud on an organization, the power of public persuasion that is tapped by expert public relations and the best of early newspapering will find it in "For the Kingdom and the Power." The book was released in May by S. Woodhouse Books, a new imprint of Everything Goes Media, a Chicago-based non-fiction publisher. It's available as a book and e-book.
Laackman received a bachelor's degree in history and a bachelor's in advertising with a master's in television and film. He worked in television, writing, directing and producing, before turning to historical research and writing. He lives in Chicago and this is his first book.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer reads, from Anne Leary and Hank Phillippi Ryan to Henning Mankell

Some people like to lie under a beach umbrella and read the latest best-selling thriller, chiller or tear-spiller. Sounds like a nice plan; summer should be a time to relax, and that includes letting down our hair a little and enjoying lighter fare.
For some, summer is a time to play catch-up, not catch. They'll grab that pile of a dozen books, more or less, they've set aside for less-active times and go to town on them. Go for it, I say.
I can't easily digest the light stuff anymore, though I enjoy wit mixed with well-developed characters and themes—in other words, "light" literature. Sappy, insipid, action-packed or trashy ("savagely, he tore at her garments") themes are too predictable for me, but hey: there are book clubs for those as well! It's all about what you find fun.
Here are a few excellent summertime reads that I've already enjoyed:
"A Walk in the Woods," Bill Bryson, non-fiction. Brilliantly funny and human, Bryson's hike along the Apalachian Trail is a vicarious challenge, in which an arduous hike is punctuated by witty insights.
"The Good House," Ann Leary, fiction. A sharp-eyed portrait of alcoholism, wrapped in the memorable character of Hildy Good. She's a real estate agent, mother and friend. This book is full of insights and witty snarks—it resonates.
"The Wrong Girl," Hank Phillippi Ryan, mystery. Hank hit it out of the ball park with this one, winning the Edgar Award for her story of an adoption agency that pays far too little attention to details when it reunites birth parents with their children.
"Rainwater," Sandra Brown, fiction. This was my first Sandra Brown novel, and I was hesitant. But she makes the cut with this one, exploring pride, love and kindness in the story of a mother trying to survive desperate economic times and unwilling to trust others. As she builds a life for herself and her son, a man comes along, whose softness and strong convictions unpeel that wall. It's not a romance; there's a lot happening here, all of it interesting.
I'm also going to list several I think will be on my summer reading list, hoping you may enjoy them as well:
"Canada," Richard Ford, fiction. After his parents rob a bank—and are caught—a teenager has to find a new life in Montana, where he'll struggle to find happiness and goodness despite a violent man he encounters.
"Work Song," Ivan Doig, fiction. Doig portrays the West with such grace and deft ability that his books stand out from the pack through their language and humanity. Simply, I trust this writer.
"Still Life with Bread Crumbs," Anna Quindlen, fiction. I've always loved her writing style, and Quindlen creates characters who are moving. This is her latest, the story of a photographer past her prime who discovers there's more to life than a camera lens.
 "Oh My Stars," Lorna Landvik, fiction. Hey—maybe I won't like it, but Landvik's "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons" was such a trip that I'm willing to risk another. She has a lively, original voice and can absorb the reader in her settings. Witness Violet Mathers, her protagonist: "I am convinced that at birth the cake is already baked. Nurture is the nuts or frosting, but if you're a spice cake, you're a spice cake, and nothing is going to change you into an angel food."
"The Orchardist," Amanda Coplin, fiction. I bought this last year and still haven't read it. Come Hell or grandkids, I'll get to it this summer! Set in the rural Pacific Northwest, it's the story of a reclusive orchard grower who befriends two risky teenagers, pregnant, scared, and set for tragedy. The praise for Coplin's writing has been profuse; I'll see for myself.
"The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases," Henning Mankell. Because the character of Kurt Wallander is flawed, dark and absorbing. I must know his beginnings!

Ann Connery Frantz is a cofounder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative in Lancaster. Her reading blog is at www.readitandreeap.blogspot.com (two e's is correct). Send club info or comments to ann.frantz@gmail.com




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Matthew Quick: Writer on the horizon


Matthew Quick has the interesting distinction of seeing all six of his novels optioned for film. One of them, "Silver Linings Playbook," is familiar to most movie-goers. 

A resident of Holden, Mass., Quick's most recent novel is "The Good Luck of Right Now." That book, too, has been optioned for film by DreamWorks.
A writer since his teen years, Quick wasn't published until age 34. But he's won several prestigious book awards and has finally attained a primary goal in his life: becoming a full-time writer. For several years, he taught literature and coached high school soccer, the kids nicknaming him "Q," a moniker that has stuck.
On Feb. 11, "The Good Luck of Right Now" was released by HarperCollins, his U.S. publisher. Little Brown & Co. publishes his Young Adult books—three so far for teens ("Sorta Like a Rock Star," "Boy21," and "Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock." His books are published internationally.

He's writing this summer, but says he loves seeing the finished product, once the writing is complete. "It's very exciting to put it ("The Good Luck of Right Now") into the world. It's still wonderful to me to open up a finished book when I have received by box of new books. A book tour is a nice time to celebrate and mark the occasion of finishing another story. Most writers will tell you it's almost like giving birth." DreamWorks is busy with the book adaptation for film.

Although he keeps writing (his next book is in the wings), Quick finds book tours a wonderful distraction. 
"The schedule involves traveling every day on airplanes, cars and trains. For me, it's hard to write fiction when I'm not alone in a room. I love talking with people (about the book) but writers mostly sit alone in a room all day by themselves. When they're thrust into society, as they are on tour, it takes a different kind of energy."

"The Good Luck of Right Now," is written as a series of letters to actor Richard Gere. Author Garth Stein ("The Art of Racing in the Rain") calls it: "the greatest feel-good misfit road story." The protagonist is Bartholomew Neil, a middle-aged man who lives with his mother and is poorly equipped to find his own way in life. When she dies, he finds a "Free Tibet" letter from Gere in his mother's underwear drawer and sets out to find the answers to life from Gere (do we see a starring role there?).

Quick likes that his books are finding their way into film. He's open to looming opportunities to do screenplays, saying, "I will probably try that at some point." In the meantime, he's happy to be living in Holden with his wife, novelist and pianist Alicia Bessette.




Finding the best women's writing ...


Donna Tartt just won the Pulitzer for "The Goldfinch." The book clubs were already reading her.
Are you also aware of Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, Annie Proulx and Lorrie Moore? Claire Messud, Dorothy Allison, Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro?
Theirs are contemporary voices  with whom we should be familiar. They display a wide range of brilliance and insight into the emotions and lives they reveal.
Yet, beyond those women we studied in high school or college—dwelling within a list dominated by male writers—too few readers are aware of female writers, contemporary or not, beyond Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, the Brontes and Jane Austen.
Book clubs do their part, but does the general public read modern women writers—aside from those who write mysteries, romances and self-help books? There are doubts, and they're pinned on gender disparity in the literary review and book promotion process. While romance writers are acknowledged as being super self-promoters, writers in non-specific genres, like literary fiction, memoir or women's fiction, are having to learn those ropes. The industry has let them down, and so have the critics.
For all that women comprise a huge sector of the reading public, there's a significant gap between male and female writers in the areas of recognition, criticism, and—in some magazines and journals—publication, whether of fiction or nonfiction.
This reality contrasts shamefully with the high proportion of female readership and book club membership. Women may be great readers, but when it comes to how they're viewed in the literary world, respect is lagging.
Argue what you will, the numbers don't lie.
Vida, an organization for women in literary fields, completed a three-year evaluation that revealed the disparity in 2013: while publication rates are roughly equal, far fewer books written by women are reviewed at literary publications, such as the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. They, and other publications purporting to serve the reading world, use a notably smaller percentage of women reviewers as well. (Susan Sontag and Dorothy Parker, whose reviews were sparkling, are gone, though fiction author Joyce Carol Oates and historical writer Doris Kearns Goodwin are still active reviewers.
According to the study, women are not represented more than 25 percent (often less) at  respected magazines like Harper's, the Paris Review and the Times Literary Supplement. (Interestingly, the Boston Review achieved near-equal ratio of female to male authors reviewed. Kudos.)
Vida's study is engendering change. With the recent addition of more women to the editing staffs at major publications, such as The Atlantic and the New York Times Book Review, we are apt to see better representation. Others are following suit; the National Book Critics Circle is making gender equity a focus—for how long, we'll see.
Do a quick survey with male and female friends. What percentage of books by women do you read? Ask male friends or spouses. You may be surprised. Some people read male authors far more often. This may only be because of awareness: although the awards process often recognize female excellence, the promotion and reviewing barrier remains high.
The upshot of all this has been the birth of a grassroots effort to promote publication of women authors, as well as more reading of their work, both here and in Great Britain, where the ratio is similar. Numerous groups are exploring the idea. At #Readwomen2014, a Twitter exploration started in England by Joanna Walsh allows followers to endorse books written by women and alerts them to literary festivals celebrating female authors this year. Several American literary journals, such as Glitter Train, have announced a focus on female contributions to literature during 2014. Male editors are among those prioritizing a better look at women writers. Libraries and book festivals are joining in the year's dedication by including segments dedicated to reading more books by women. Blogger Michelle Dean at Flavorwire even lists 50 books written by women for others to read.
By the way, for a straightforward, amusing look at gender perception, consider Cordelia Fine's "Delusions of Gender."

Area book groups:

The evening Classics Book Group will discuss Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 22, in Gale Free Library's program room. On June 26, a poetry share is planned.

Carrie Grimshaw, director at the Merriam-Gilbert Public Library in West Brookfield, says the book group there will discuss Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle," at 4 p.m., May 29 and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Solzhenitsyn at 4 p.m., June 26.

Crawford Library in Dudley's book group meets June 5 to discuss "Becoming Finola" by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

For traveling book groups: 
Mac Griswold, author of "The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island," will be guest author at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 77 Forest St., Hartford, Conn. The free event  begins at 7 p.m., June 25. Sylvester Manor has been in the same family for 11 generations, and "The Manor" is its story, steeped in both family history and the slavery era. Griswold is a historian and author who writes for several publications, including The New York Times, The Wall St. Journal and "Travel & Leisure." Register at 860-522-9258, ext. 317.

Your ideas and comments are welcome at ann.frantz@gmail.com.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

They came, they talked, they concurred ... great book!

What do you do when the discussion goes too far off topic?
Joan Killough-Miller, leader of the Women's Issues Book Discussion Group in Worcester, said "It’s hard to know where to draw the line between personal sharing that relates to the book and people who just don’t know when to stop! It’s nice when people enrich the discussion by sharing relevant personal experiences. (We’ve had a biologist bring in actual micrographs of “Henrietta Lacks” (HeLa) cells, and we have a couple of members who grew up in Nazi Germany. Their memories help make some of the wartime books real to the rest of us.) But sometimes the conversation veers off in an irrelevant direction, and I have a hard time bringing it back!"
Not an unfamiliar problem. In Lancaster, we recognized chatter's inevitability—and its popularity—by naming ourselves The Off-Track Bookies. But, face it: competing conversations destroy the main topic in the room.
Let's be truthful: Women love to talk. That's one reason book groups are so popular among us. Men do have or attend book groups, and I'd love to hear if this problem is endemic to their experience as well.
Solutions mostly come from within. A strong group leader bears the main burden for reining in side conversations. While unintended, chatter is rude and distracting. If any member has a hearing impediment, participation becomes difficult. Many times these conversations are not whispered but spoken at the same level of the main conversation, or louder.
We all learned better than this in school, right?
The biggest problem is that getting together after a few weeks' absence is more than tempting; it's almost obligatory to share what's up, what we missed last time, what we're reading now, a particular author's other books, or one of the endless gossip topics related to movies, church or work life, people we know in common, the winter's broken arms and other injuries ... and on and on and on!
Anne Young, of the Heywood Library book group, resolved the issue: "When we first started, we did have this problem," she said. But time constraints for a one-hour meeting just don't permit it. "I allow 5 minutes after we begin for people to speak about other things. (One of the benefits of this is one of our members informed us about the program on PBS, Channel 44, that reviews books daily.) Since I am the facilitator, I limit the discussions, but allow people the chance to speak as they wish at the end of our meeting. I guess this is the other benefit of having the meetings at the public library versus a home meeting. Many of the members linger longer discussing other books or events after the meeting."
Establish ground rules when you launch a book group (they'll need to be restated, sometimes at each meeting). Plus, use email as a reminder, if necessary: no crosstalk, instead respect the main conversation (and those speaking); hold back once you've stated your opinion, to allow everyone a chance to talk about the book; stay on topic—limit comments to the book on hand, or at least related literary info.
One group leader allows a half-hour's conversation as she sets out snacks, then it's time to focus.
These things seem obvious and basic, yet groups ignore them. Strong leaders need to be coaches, cheerfully reminding everyone to stay with the main discussion and reaching out to quieter members, who may hold back rather than compete with the babble. It's the leader's job to make sure everyone has a chance to speak. Yes, there is a communal call to book group meetings, but many attend because they're interested in the book and want to discuss it!
It all boils down to one thing: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Don't cut another person's point of view to shreds, interrupt him or her, or otherwise show disdainful disagreement. It's OK to think differently, but it's not OK to pierce others' ideas. We're all fallible, and discussions are made up of differing opinions. You don't have to be a 1950s good girl in your manners—just follow the basics. To neglect that is to risk losing members who might otherwise contribute to the understanding of a selection.

Area book groups for April

A reader suggests forming a network of area groups to allow shared resources, such as an author visit, and communications. Not sure how to go about that, but it's worth considering. Any ideas? Send them to the address following the column.
Worcester Public Library readers will meet at 7 p.m., May 20, to discuss "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguru.
The Women's Issues Group, meeting April 14 at Barnes & Noble, Worcester, will focus on "Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers," by Valerie Lawson. (This story is also at the movies, as "Saving Mr. Banks").
Members of the Crawford Library group in Dudley will discuss "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak at their 6 p.m., April 3 meeting.
The C.S. Lewis Society of Central Massachusetts will discuss Henri Nouwen's "The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming" at both April meetings, at 9 a.m. April 12 and 26 (Saturdays) in Auburn Public Library. Nouwen's encounter with Rembrandt's masterpiece is the topic.
Readers at Fitchburg Public Library will discuss "Defending Jacob" by William Landay during meetings at 1 and 6 p.m., April 9. Call 978-829-1780 for details.
On April 10, at noon, members of Leominster Public Library's book group will discuss "Mudbound," by Hillary Jordan. Edward Bergman, director of adult services, has details. The Brown Bag Book Group meets one Thursday each month for an informal book chat led by Jane Maguire. Bring your lunch; Friends of the Library provides beverages. On April 28, there's a 7 p.m. discussion of Stephanie Reents' "The Kissing List," short stories written by Holy Cross faculty member Reents. Patrick Ireland will lead the discussion.
Lancaster's Off-Track Bookies will discuss B.A. Shapiro's "The Art Forger" on April 10.
O'Connor's Books, Brews and Banters group will discuss Ann Patchett's "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage" at 6:30 p.m., April 23.
The April 30 selection at Heywood Library in Gardner is "The Interestings," a novel by Meg Wolitzer.

Ann Connery Frantz invites your ideas and questions about book club gatherings at ann.frantz@gmail.com. Groups, send the next month's selection by mid-month for end of month publication.