The beautiful ladies pictured above are members of the Best Cellars Book Club. The photo is of a pre-Covid-19 era gathering. I love these ladies. They have been extraordinarily kind to me and my writing avocation. Thanks, girls!
I love book clubs. I especially love book clubs that choose my novels for reading and discussion! I really, really love book clubs when they invite me to their gathering to discuss my novels and my writing process!! The food and drinks (usually wine, a lot of wine) that they provide are also greatly appreciated, and if we’re being honest, may be the actual cause of the current popularity of book clubs in America, where it is estimated that over five million people belong to one.
In recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of being the guest of honor for two local book clubs. Because, as is typical, both clubs were entirely comprised of women, as I approached the venue, I could briefly empathize with the trepidation a male stripper must experience as he enters a bachelorette party. In some ways, I felt myself to be the more vulnerable of the two. The stripper is only required to bare his body; whereas, the author is expected to bare something far more personal: his innermost thoughts. Also, the stripper goes home with a G-string full of ones and fives. If I’m lucky, I may be able to coax a positive Amazon review or two from the ladies. Of course, there is the wine.
I actually belong to a book club myself; however, the gender balance is like 6 to 1 male to female. Therefore, a preponderance of the books we read are nonfiction. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good nonfiction read, but I much prefer a thought and emotion-provoking novel. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung might have diagnosed my affinity for fiction as an expression of my anima or feminine side. I diagnosis with which I’m totally cool.
I never fail to be impressed by the insights, questions, and suggestions for alternative plot twists and endings that I receive from book club members. I often find the suggestions most humbling, especially when I realize their ideas may have been better than those I’d chosen.
For Island No. 6, a common question from book clubbers has been, “How did you know a pandemic was coming?” The answer, of course, is that I didn’t. I’ve long been a fan of pandemic stories, so in 2011, when I was struggling to land on a new idea for a novel, I decided to write a pandemic narrative of my own. In 2018, I finished it, so it just happened be hot and ready when Covid-19 struck.
I’ve been surprised how interested book club readers have been in the the Muslim character, Jalil, who is a fairly minor one. They want to know what happened to him when he fled the island. Did he make it through the naval blockade? Did he make it home? Was he infected? Did he spread the virus? The answer to all these questions is I don’t know. I have never even pondered those questions, but I think it’s a good thing for a novelist to leave a few questions unanswered and open to the readers’ imaginations.
Another point of high interest is the resemblance of characters from my novel to real life islanders. That, I guarantee you, is either pure coincidence from my end or projection from those who see the similarities. I don’t really know any full-time residents of the island. If my islanders, or “lifers” as I refer to them, appear to be a cantankerous and unwelcoming lot, it is only because I needed them to be that way to tell the story I wanted to tell. It was in no way meant to be a slight against island inhabitants.
I just think it’s so cool that – in a time when there are so many modes of mindless and much flashier entertainment than reading a book available and when it’s so easy to choose to cocoon yourself alone in your living room – many people still do choose to read and to gather with friends and fellow readers to have a conversation about a shared experience. Oh, and don’t forget the wine.
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