College Hill Book Club
Kevin Smith is a member of the "College Hill Book Club" in Tulsa, OK. In this interview, Kevin discusses the importance of taking the varied interests and lifestyles of fellow members into account when selecting titles for upcoming months. He shares a few anecdotes about some of the groupís most memorable discussions and talks about their yearly anniversary gathering.
Q: Does your group have a name and/or a theme? How long has your group been in existence?
A: We are the “College Hill Book Club.” (We considered calling ourselves “The Sunday Philosophy Club” at one point after reading the book --- which we loved --- by Alexander McCall Smith, but the name never stuck.) We started in April 2003, but took a year and a half hiatus (from August 2006 until March 2008) when our schedules became too busy. We resumed our book club in March 2008. We are members of the same (College Hill) Presbyterian church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, although we invite anyone to join us.
Q: How many members do you have? How many men, how many women? What age are most of your members?
A: Attendance varies from seven to nine usually, mostly women. Interestingly, the few men who join don't seem to stick around very long --- except for me. Our book club is comprised of people of various ages (30s to 80s) and experiences. We have members who are widowed, married, single, in committed relationships, heterosexual, gay, etc... (We are a progressively-minded church.)
Q: How often do you meet? Where do you meet?
A: We usually meet the third Sunday of each month, at our church in the memorial parlor. In 2006, we experimented with meeting every other month because we were so busy, but this resulted in an unintended result --- inertia among the group, which is why we took a hiatus until this year.
Q: Do you eat at your meetings? What do you eat? Who brings the food?
A: Yes, we usually eat pizza and drink diet soda (they cancel each other out, right?), which is provided by the host (the person who picked the book). Sometimes, we also have dessert if the host is feeling generous. We chip in to reimburse the host for the expense.
Q: Who leads the discussion? Do you use reading group guides?
A: The person who picked the book leads the discussion. We often use questions from ReadingGroupGuides.com as well as other sources.
Q: What kind of books do you read?
A: All kinds. We read classic and contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Lately, we seem to be reading a lot of nonfiction, but we will probably return to fiction this summer.
Q: How do you choose your books? Do you choose one new book at each meeting, or do you choose the books for a number of meetings ahead of time?
A: Based on the other book club interviews, I would say we are a lot less uptight about the selection process. Anyone can select a book. We just ask that anyone who wishes to do so selects the book at least two months in advance so he or she has time to order the book at our local independent bookstore and to write an article for the church newsletter. The next month's book is announced at the current book club meeting. We try to limit ourselves to trade paperbacks with 300 or less pages.
Q: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the group read?
A: That's a difficult one since I think all of our discussions are great. Favorite books would probably be While I Was Gone by Sue Miller (our first book!), The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.
Q: How do you keep things fun?
A: We genuinely love each other and cherish the opportunity to meet and discuss these books. Once a year we have an anniversary party at a member's home where we enjoy a potluck dinner, some wine and party games related to the past year's book choices. Winners win bookmarks, gift certificates or other items donated by local bookstores. We also have brought one book we are willing to part with and used these as prizes as well.
We sometimes will view a movie made from our book choice in addition to our book club discussion. We did this for Holes by Louis Sachar, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (the movie is called Smoke Signals), Finding Fish by Antwone Q. Fisher, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (we watched Finding Neverland) and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.
Q: What advice would you give to other reading groups?
A: Keep it fun. Don't get too rigid and try to take into account the reading interests and lifestyles of your group. Don't select a 500-page Russian novel for a bunch of people who are very, very busy. There are some books I enjoy that I wouldn't select for my book club because I know they wouldn't enjoy it or it wouldn't lend itself to discussion (although I must say I think we can find something to discuss about even the books we didn't like so much). And we appreciate that our book club helps us to read outside of the boundaries of what we would normally read.
Q: Do you have any horror stories, amusing anecdotes, or other special tales to tell?
A: I can think of three stories. When we discussed Black and Blue (which I had selected and which deals with domestic violence) by Anna Quindlen, one of our members (who was a male) disclosed that he had been abused by his ex-wife. Another member (female) who had been abused by her ex-husband told him he should have hit her back. Somehow, I don't think that it is what Anna Quindlen had in mind when she wrote the book. Both of them have since left the book club.
When we discussed The Da Vinci Code, our pastor at the time attended. I had to leave early, but it is my understanding that the pastor became increasingly aggravated because folks were taking the book as a work of nonfiction rather than fiction. The member who selected the book said the pastor would barely talk to her for months afterward. This was our most attended book club meeting (30 or so people).
Lastly, we had one woman who came to church and then decided to stay for our book club discussion of Finding Fish after worship even though she hadn't read it. It turned out she was an addict, who may or may not have been still using, and was apparently still involved in prostitution. We tried to make her feel welcome, even letting her select a book for our meeting in two months, but she never returned.
Q: Is there anything else unique or noteworthy about your group that you would like to share?
A: Others think it is odd that since we are a church book club, we don't discuss overtly religious books. However, we believe you can find God and spirituality everywhere.
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