I used to love to sneak into the adult section of the library when I
was in grade school. I lived in a small Michigan town with a very loving yet stern librarian who I remember vividly, Miss Lillian Crawford. She knew my my grandparents, my parents, and probably most of the parents of children who came to the library. My mom dropped me off on Saturdays while she got her hair done, making the library both a source of child care and intellectual stimulation.
Occasionally I drifted from the sections that Miss Crawford deemed appropriate for my young mind into the adult fiction. Ohh, la, la–swearing, sex, and ideas I didn’t understand. Actually, I probably didn’t understand the sex, either. Miss Crawford ratted me out to my mother. I was a super good girl and Mom, fortunately, thought it was amusing that I went astray in such a way. What a rebel!
Forgive me, Miss Crawford
During this week’s discussion and celebration of banned books, I have to say both Mrs. Crawford and my mom were right. There’s nothing wrong with guiding young people in their reading, getting them to read in the first place, and encouraging age-appropriate, quality literature. So, I have some sympathy for parents who worry about the books their children are exposed to in school. But, though it was probably benign neglect rather than liberal thinking, I’d err on my mother’s more permissive side every time. What is reading about if not about challenging old ideas, learning about other people, the wider world, and about ourselves?
One the the most frequently banned authors currently is Sherman Alexie. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. His stories about life on the reservation are often far from the mainstream portrayal of Native Americans and consequently his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is regularly at the top of the most challenged list. He says on his website, “It means I’m scaring the right people. Hooray! I keep hoping somebody will organize a national boycott against me.”
Banning books is all about fear. Fear of ideas that challenge our religious and world view. Fear of children learning about sex and fear of people whose skin color is different. In an article on Huffington Post, Bonnie Stiles, mother of four students in Meridian, Idaho schools where Alexie’s book was recently banned, said she pushed for its removal from the high school curriculum after reading the book and counting 133 profane or offensive words in its 230 pages. Really, if that’s your worry, you need to ban your children from riding the school bus where that language is freely shared.
Forgive me Mrs. Crawford! But, friends, I encourage you to be a rebel and let your freak flag fly. Read those banned books yourself and, rather than counting swear words, discuss the books with your children. Encourage your book club to join you in reading banned books. Take a look at the ideas and recommendations some of my favorite books bloggers are offering this week: Sheila at Book Journey, Epic Reads, and Banned Books Club. You’ll also find lists of current and classic banned books and this list of banned classics from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Finally, for inspiration, listen to what Bill Moyers said a couple of years ago.
I was delighted to see this coverage of Off The Beaten Page in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I hope it inspired others to make their travels “literary travels.” Check out the article, Literary traveler goes ‘Off the Beaten Page’ and please be sure to tell your friends.
The article offers inspiration for anyone in a book club who has been thinking of organizing a book-inspired getaway. You’ll want to read other articles there, too, about the “positive difference books make in people’s lives.” So true.
The most famous travel books have been written by men: Travels with Charley, On the Road, and Blue Highways, to name a few. But women have been “on the road,” too, and not just Route 66.
I love reading books about women’s adventures. I especially like funny stories, with plenty of travel mistakes, misadventures, mix-ups. And, I appreciate most the stories that weren’t inspired by trauma, bad boyfriends, dead or abusive husbands, or the authors’ search for new love. Eat…pray…you know what I’m talking about. Instead, I go for the stories that were simply rooted in a woman’s daring and love of adventure. Here are a few favorites.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird
The amazing Isabella Bird was an Englishwoman who lived a life of continual travel and was, as a result, the first woman to be elected the the Royal Geographic Society. She came to Colorado in 1873, three years before it became a state. She traveled solo through the wilderness and covered more than eight hundred miles during her journey around Colorado, which she described in letters that she wrote to her younger sister in Scotland. The letters were published in 1879 as A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, part travelogue, part memoir, part character study of the people who settled on the frontier, especially “Mountain Jim,” a handsome trapper and desperado with whom she was fascinated. Bird was also one of the first of a genre that we now call “environmental writers.”
By Motor to the Golden Gate, Emily Post Emily Post was a travel writer. Who knew? This book is a reprint of articles originally published on Colliers Magazine seven years before she became famous for her book on etiquette. In 1915, Post documented her New York-to-San Francisco road trip investigating whether it was possible to drive comfortably across the country an automobile. That was a valid question since few women of her Gilded Age background did such daring things and because she was driving on the Lincoln Highway, this country’s first transcontinental highway.
The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure
Do you travel to visit places where you can pursue hobbies or a particular interest? Wendy McClure sets the bar high for anyone who travels in pursuit of a particular passion. In her case it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and her effort to re-create “Laura World” for herself. She investigates the settings and activities that have made several generations of young readers flock to the Little House books and to the sites across the Midwest where they took place. See my article my previous post on this book and my article, Novel Destinations, for my own encounter with Laura World.
The Good Girls Guide to Getting Lost, Rachel Freidman
We’ve read plenty about bad boys on the road; Jack Kerouac is the most famous. That’s why it’s nice to learn that good girls like Rachel Friedman can take risks and open themselves to great new experiences. She goes to Ireland on a whim where she forms a friendship with a free-spirited Australian girl, a born adventurer, who spurs her on to a yearlong odyssey that takes her to Australia and South America, too, and learns to cultivate her love for adventure.
No Touch Monkey, Ayun Halliday
If you’ve ever made grievous errors in judgement while traveling, you’ll relate to Halliday’s experiences, which she doesn’t hesitate to share— from hygiene to intestinal problems to a collagen implant demonstration during Paris fashion week with her mother.I enjoyed her sarcastic writing style, her impressive globe-trotting, and her openness to adventures that wouldn’t even occur to me. She’s a witty observer of the details that most travelers see but forget about. For example, the title comes from a sign she saw in Bali with rules to assure “your enjoymen and safety” including: “Never grab a monkey. If a monkey gets on you, drop all your food and walk a way until it jumps off.”
Sheila DeChantal is a fellow book fanatic who lives in Brainerd, Minnesota. She reviews books and frequently shares the antics of her book club on her blog, Book Journey. It always looks like they’re having so much fun, I asked Sheila to share of a few of their activities, ideas for what makes a successful book club, and how to connect with books beyond the typical book club meeting.
Tell me a bit about your book club. Our book club, “The Bookies,” started in August of 2001. I had worked with the same group of people for over 10 years and I thought it was sad that we hardly knew each other. (Granted there were 300+ people working there and I did not want to know them all… ha ha!) I put up a sign one day in July on the time clock with a book title – Dance Upon The Air by Nora Roberts, and invited people to join me at a local restaurant in four weeks to discuss this book. Nobody said a word to me about it… I very well thought I would be at the restaurant alone but the day came, and two of my co-workers showed up and we discussed the book. The next month, three came… and by the end of the year we had eight, currently we have 17 members.
When we first started the Bookies we had a few choice authors that we recycled through the group until finally we began to branch out… new authors… new genres…. Now we read all over the board, mostly fiction, but occasionally non-fiction and every October we read a classic.
What ways does your group get involved with books beyond the typical books- and-wine discussion? As the group became bigger I learned that the old ways no longer worked for us. We were no longer at the size where casual book conversation at a restaurant table was going to work. For one thing, it was harder to get everyone on topic. Also, in restaurants it became difficult to hear one another and I feared that our laughter or discussion might interfere with the other patrons’ experience. We started meeting more at homes and only go to a restaurant occasionally.
It also became important to go beyond just the standard book discussion so we started cooking food that goes with the book. At first we all brought something but, as you can imagine, it was way too much food. Now we assign two people to main dishes, two people to sides, and one to dessert. If we can make something that refers to the book, all the better.
And, we dress up whenever we can. The first time I mentioned dressing up I remember driving through town in a yellow taffeta prom dress afraid of being pulled over. I was sure I would be the only one dressed up but when I arrived I was thrilled to see that most of us participated. Last winter we readGarlic and Sapphires , about a food critic who dressed up differently to see how she was treated. We also dress up frequently for the classic. When we reviewed Cleopatra, the Bookies were surprised to see their host dressed up as… well, Cleopatra. Every July we have a Queen event where we dress up in formal wear, eat and compete for the royal throne (which is a toilet spray-painted gold and bedazzled). You can find pictures for most of our crazy book club stuff on my blog under For Book Clubs Only.
We have had a few authors skype in and we have gone to movies together for books we have read. Due to our busy schedules it is hard to get us all together to do anything that takes more than a few hours, although we try.
Is there an example of one trip or outing that you’ve done related to a book that you most enjoyed? I am going to have to go with the “Wine and Words” event [a dinner and author event that raises funds for the Brainerd Public Library]. The Bookies filled two tables and had quite a presence at the event. It was fun for us to dress up for real and not because we were imitating a book or era, although while I type this I think that could be interesting! It was fun to meet the authors.
Why do these extras? The extras have bonded us together as a group. As the group became bigger I knew I had to do something to bring it above and beyond your average book club to hold their interest. Amazingly, it worked and it was not a one person thing; they all got into it! We have had some very emotional reviews and by doing this, it does bring us deeper into the book. Often I hear from people or receive comments on my blog that they are envious of our group and wish they could find such a group of book lovers. As much as I love my group to my toes and think they are so AWESOME for what we do together – I think other groups could do this too.Do not be afraid to add the little extras. It may take a while to catch on but it is the extras that get people talking about the books outside of the group. Start something new and I hope it catches like wild fire.
Any tips or examples for organizing book-related activities? Just go for it! My advice is think outside the box and pull in the extras that make the books come alive. If you can go somewhere as a group, even if it is a movie to expand the book, do it! If you can actually visit a place mentioned in a book, don’t miss out! Last year we read a book centered around the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN. We are trying to find a time when we can all go tour it as a group. One of the girls in our group is taking a trip to Italy this fall with her husband because of what she read in an Adrianna Trigiani book. The books make us want to fully experience the settings.
Anything else you want to add? Our group now has a wait list. Last year we decided we were just getting too big so we capped it. I hate doing that. I wish we could accommodate all book lovers! There are other book clubs in town, in fact there are many! I think the difference is the extras. Our group has so much fun together that others want in on that fun.
It’s a strange feeling when the story line in a book you’re reading matches front page news. I just finished reading The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal’s exploration of his family’s history through its art collection, in particular a set of Japanese netsuke, miniature sculptures, that were passed down through his family from the late 1800s onward. His fabulously wealthy Jewish family lived in a “palais” in Vienna packed with art. But when the Nazis moved into Austria, they confiscated the family’s possessions, their home, and in some cases took their lives, too. I finished the book just as the news hit that a huge amount of Nazi-confiscated art had been found in a Berlin apartment, about 1,500 works estimated to be worth $1.4 billion. If you’re not familiar with the unfolding story, you can read about it in this New York Times article. You have to wonder if any of De Waal’s family art collection will be discovered in this trove of paintings.
On a similar topic, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert M. Edsel has been made into a movie with George Clooney and Matt Damon. Though the trailer for The Monuments Men says it will be out in December, the release is now scheduled for February.
It’s no wonder that stolen art is such a hot topic in literature lately. The real-life stories have a plot line worthy of Robert Ludlum. My book club recently read B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which weaves the fictional story of a young woman who forges a work by Degas with the story of the heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, the largest unsolved art theft in history. See Shapiro’s excellent book trailer to understand how she used it as the foundation of her story. And, if you’re thinking of a trip to Boston, read The Art Forger and go visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’ll bring alive both your reading and your travel.
In addition, the Los Angeles/Santa Monica chapter of my book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways, offers a weekend itinerary that includes a visit to the fabulous Getty Museum in Los Angeles. And on the reading list for that chapter is Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt to Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum. It’s an investigation of the museum’s dealing in illegal antiquities from Los Angeles Times reporters, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino.
Looking for more on art heists? Here’s a Goodreads list that will keep you reading, and on the edge of your seat, well into the new year.
I’m the world’s biggest dog lover, but I generally avoid “dog stories” because I invariably wind up sobbing. They’re always sad. I’ve never really recovered from reading Old Yeller in grade school. But, I recently discovered author Leigh Brill Singh, a fellow dog lover who has her own dog story, A Dog Named Slugger, about how her service dog transformed her life as a person with cerebral palsy. When I heard how much she travels from her Virginia home to promote her book, “ability awareness,” and the Saint Francis Service dogs that have changed her life, I had to share her story on Off The Beaten Page Travel. Our interview will appear in two parts, so stay tuned for Leigh’s ideas and tips about traveling with pets, whether they’re service animals or not. Before you read this post, grab your Kleenex and check out a video about Leigh and her canines. http://vimeo.com/12630552 And, be sure to check out part two of our Q and A.
Okay, Leigh, I’m tearing up just looking at the cover A Dog Named Slugger, so tell me a bit about your book and why it’s worth getting dehydrated to read it.
A Dog Named Slugger is more than “a dog book.” The story offers an intimate look at what it means to live with a congenital disability. It goes on to reveal how my own life was shaped by cerebral palsy and ultimately re-shaped through my partnership with an amazing Labrador. My first service dog, Slugger, taught me to define myself not by what I had to overcome, but by what I had the courage to become. His message to me was, “I’m here for you. No matter what.” That message inspired me. It gave me hope. Given the challenges so many folks face these days—from economic worries, to the multi-level stressors of war, to threats to health and well-being—we all need hope. That’s a big part of why I wrote A Dog Named Slugger. It’s one way I can pass along some of the many gifts that my big yellow Lab first offered me. Just like the remarkable dog who romps through its pages, the book proves that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared.
Do you have other books in the works?
I’ve been very honored to hear from readers throughout the world who have described A Dog Named Slugger as an eye-opening, entertaining, and uplifting read, one they’ve read over and over until the spine is creased and the their favorite pages are “dog-eared.” Readers ask, “What happens next?” and I am hard at work on the answer. My second book will pick up where the first ended and I’ll also be introducing some new friends, both human and canine. But, my well-trained service dogs could tell you I’m not always good at executing a “sit/stay” at my writing desk; these days my sweet Lab Kenda and my hard-working Golden, Pato are helping me improve that skill. In addition to writing the sequel to Slugger, I’m exploring some ideas for a fictional children’s book series featuring a young girl who solves mysteries with the help of her service dog. It will likely be a while before the project is ready to launch, but it sure is fun.
I understand that the book has become a springboard for your efforts to promote the importance of service dogs and “ability awareness.”
I serve on the board of directors for Saint Francis Service Dogs and volunteer in a variety of ways to further the foundation’s mission. I especially enjoy talking with other service dog partners and lending support to new teams. My dogs and I often provide ability awareness presentations, that is, teaching people about the abilities of people with special needs rather than their disabilities. Whether we are teaching elementary school youngsters about diversity or assisting with fundraising efforts for Saint Francis Service Dogs, my canine partners and I love every opportunity to spread a positive message.
Recently, my efforts have reached even further than I could have imagined. I was contacted by the Centre for Learning Resources (CLR), in India. CLR’s mission includes broadening educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth living in rural India. Now, after months of hard work and collaboration, an adaptation of my book will be included in the centre’s ESL (English as a Second Language) materials to help inspire and educate youngsters there.
I often encourage people to read books, then go do something related to the topic/story of the book. So, if one were to read A Dog Named Slugger, what would you suggest doing as an activity? For example is there someplace to visit or volunteer where they train service dogs? Maybe have a fundraiser for the cause?
I love the concept of reading a book and then following up with a related activity. That
would likely add to the “take home value” of both the book AND the experience. That pairing could also lead to unexpected treasures—a new hobby, greater understanding… the possibilities are endless. Readers of A Dog Named Slugger might enjoy learning about service dog organizations. I encourage everyone to find out more about Saint Francis Service Dogs. Tours, and special events at the training center in Roanoke Virginia are a great way to get involved. Assistance Dogs International also provides a helpful list of other service dog organizations throughout the nation and beyond. In my experience, most service dog organizations are thrilled to have volunteers—the work of raising, training, and placing service dogs offers lots of opportunities for folks to use individual talents and interests.
I also hope that people who read my book will incorporate new awareness into their everyday lives. Perhaps the story I’ve shared will enable readers to have greater insight into what it means to deal with a disability. Hopefully my work will also illuminate the important roles that service dogs play in the lives of their human partners. Here’s one example: If you are traveling and you happen to see a beautiful dog assisting a disabled person, DO NOT PET the dog. I know that for many dog-loving folks (including me), petting the animal feels like an automatic response, but it’s not the wisest one. It is far better to ask a working dog’s handler if petting is permitted. If not, it isn’t because the handler is being unfriendly or snobby; it is simply because petting a service dog who is working can distract the animal and cause problems for the dog’s partner. Such service dog etiquette is helpful for service dog teams everywhere no matter where you roam.
Any other great dog books you love?
I love good books of all descriptions! Some of my all time favorite dog-themed books include:
Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale—by Dan Dye
A Big Little Life—by Dean Koontz
The Art of Racing in the Rain—by Garth Stein
A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans—by W. Bruce Cameron
Reading and travel make a dynamite combination. Camaraderie is also a key attraction of literary getaways. Traveling to a literary destination with friends allows you to get away, at least for a while, from the pressures and distractions of work, motherhood, soccer practice, and so many other responsbilities. You gain just a little time to explore new places and ideas, try new things and expand your personal horizons. If nothing else, lit trips offer the chance to have a lot of fun in each other’s company.
If you’ve considered taking a trip with your book club or any other group of friends, you’ll want to take a look at Have Tote Will Travel, the work of Oregon-based Nicole Meier. She says, “I’ve got two incredible, older sisters with whom I love to travel. I hope my blog inspires other women, whether they are friends or sisters, to take the time to travel together and create amazing girls’ trip experiences of their own.” Meier recently posted her interview with me about literary travel and my book Off The Beaten Page in her “Travel Reads” section. She has tons of gals’ travel ideas, so if you’ve been thinking about a trip with your book club or a getaway with mothers, daughters, sisters or a group of friends, check out Have Tote Will Travel.
And, a reminder, if you have had a great lit trip experience, please tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love sharing those stories. You’ll find them on the “Book Club Travel Tales” section of this blog.
This is the second part of an interview with Susan Jessop who has shared with me the experiences of her fabulous book club in Ottawa, Canada. In my previous post, we covered some the group’s ideas for book-related travel close-to-home and some suggestions for Canadian authors you’ll want to add to your reading list, no matter where you live.
Next, we cover the group’s big trip: to Lubeck (a.k.a. Luebeck), Germany. Admittedly, they have a leg up because Susan has family there, hence, the inside scoop on accommodations and tours. I’ve never been to Lubeck, but from the pictures I’ve seen it’s old town area looks wildly charming. She has excellent tips to make a successful trip. Hopefully, their ideas will inspire you and your travel companions to venture out into the world with a few good books.
So, Susan, tell us in a nutshell about your lit trip to Germany.
I’m not sure who launched the idea initially but as I own a condo in the town of Lubeck, Germany and my brother has several tourist apartments, I thought that this was quite doable. I checked with family for dates and availability. Once we’d settled on a date, I agreed to put together a program and run it past our group (I was really hoping for full executive control knowing that I’d wear this if we took a haphazard approach!). We had a planning meeting with the six ladies who finally committed to going.
I settled on the book Buddenbrooks: A Family in Decline written by Thomas Mann in 1918 at the age of 23. The selection was a no-brainer as there is nary a German alive who doesn’t know of and admire this book. Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 mainly for this novel. Lubeck is the setting for the book and many landmarks are still there today. In fact, a few years earlier a German production was filmed on location and my sister-in-law and nephew were film extras. It was a natural choice, but at over 700 pages and written almost 100 years ago I was worried the ladies would kill me if they didn’t like it!
Our itinerary included a hop on/hop off tour, which had the worst English translations imaginable, of the city highlights. We were in stitches as we travelled through town. Fortunately, the tour I arranged at Buddenbrook Haus [if you can read German, check out their Web site, http://buddenbrookhaus.de%5D was led by a highly competent tour guide who captivated us for two hours on Mann family lore. We also arranged for a viewing of the movie (the very one featuring my nephew walking down the street from behind!). My brother has a wonderful retro home theatre complete with red velvet movie seats for 20. He served us champagne and home made popcorn! We also took an afternoon boat trip up the Trave River to the Baltic Sea where the Buddenbrooks holidayed, and a day trip to Hamburg where one of the characters lived. In between, I made sure there was lots of down time for shopping and entertainment (notably wine and good food). I think we had a really good time. The book was also a great read and really came alive as we walked the streets of this lovely medieval town.
Did the trip bring your group closer together? How so?
I think the trip did bring us closer together. It’s an interesting group. Some women are close friends but mostly I would describe us as acquaintances that really enjoy each others’ company in the context of books. We all know the old adage that traveling is the surest way to get to know someone, for better or worse! We did indeed get to know each other better. There was a cranky moment or two, but when you have that many independent, take charge women together, it’s bound to happen!
Did it give you a greater understanding of the book(s) you read relating to the trip and the culture where you traveled? Please explain.
Absolutely! My imagination has been fueled by reading all my life, but as an English major in university, the feelings I had when I finally walked through the locations from my favourite novels were special.
Any tips or suggestions for people who are organizing book-related travel?
I think I implied in one of the previous answers that planning is really important! You want to make sure that you have your activities lined up and not left to chance. If you’re the organizer, ask your book club members for permission to take charge and give them a bit of a preview before the trip to confirm that you’re not out in left field. Our trip was about 6-7 days but I still made sure there were a couple of down days. For sure the first day has to be relaxed to allow for some recovery from jet lag if that’s a factor and leave time for shopping during the trip.
One other thing that proved to work well was that I provided a budget in advance, so that folks could have a sense of what the costs would be for the week (everything but the airfare). I collected the money at the beginning and we made all our purchases from “the kitty,” including food, wine, restaurants, admissions, bus, boat and rail fares, etc… I had calculated it quite carefully and we came in almost exactly on the Euro! As such we had no fussing around money and going to the bank, etc…
Anything else you want to add?
Do try this! Book club outings enrich the experience! You could reasonably begin with a local outing and move up to a weekend and finally an international trip. We are starting to talk and plan our next trip to Bath, England …. Jane Austen territory!!!! Woo Hoo. One of our members has a sister in Bath and she is doing some reconnaissance for us. One activity we’ve discussed is bringing her sister’s book group together for a meeting with ours while we are there. Now that will be interesting!
Susan Jessop, a lit lover and travel enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada, contacted me to share her book club’s literary travel experiences. Little did I know that I’d want to hop in the car and join them for their next outing. She had so much information, I’m going to share it in two posts, starting with their ideas for inviting authors to attend their meetings, and taking short “lit trips” close to home (from cottages to a penitentiary!). You’ll find their “field trips” inspiring and you’ll want to check out the books she mentions, a nice list of Canadian authors. It’s always interesting to me how people in different regions are reading fantastic books you’ve never heard of. This is how to spread the word about your favorite authors. My next post will feature their really big book club travel tales.
Please tell me a little about your book group.
We are a group of women based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, our nation’s capital city. The group was established in 1996 and still has 3 founding members.The women come from many different professional backgrounds: urban planners, lawyers, museologists, a token engineer (!) and not unexpectedly, a few public servants… We share a love of literature, good food, wine and laughter! The group has always consisted of approximately 10 women, an optimal number to ensure manageable conversation. We think 10 is the ideal number.
What kinds of local trips or outings has your group enjoyed?
The group has done a number of local expeditions that related to books we were reading. The first was to Aylmer, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa to where the book Leaning, Leaning Over Water was set. This book, a “novel in stories” marked the transition from short story writer to novelist for the author, Frances Itani, who went on to international recognition with her later novel Deafening. We drove to several sites along the Ottawa River, our best guesses of the locations in the book. We ended up at a local pub with an astounding international selection of beer, and some locals who it turned out were from the same neighbourhood as two of the book club women who had grown up in Aylmer.
One of our book club participants works at the national Museum of Civilization, and we’ve had a couple of fascinating excursions there. The first was an evening devoted to the famous Klondike poet Robert W. Service, and featured readings of his poetry in a replica of the “Wildcat Cafe” from his adopted home town of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Tracey Riley, a singer and waitress from that café, performed for us, and we were served authentic grub. The museum later featured a fabulous exhibit on “The Bog People.” As part of its lecture series, the museum featured Kathy Reichs, (who is both a working forensic anthropologist and a crime writer) so we read her novel du jour Deja Dead and went off to hear her lecture and visit the exhibit.
For the past 9 years or so, we end our season with a weekend of merriment at one member’s cottage, about an hour and a half out of Ottawa. It’s a great sign off to the book season (we take a summer hiatus). Our host arranged to have a local author, Merilyn Simonds, attend our meeting to discuss her novel The Holding as well as her earlier non-fiction book The Convict Lover, which some of us also read. Since the latter book was set in and around the Kingston Penitentiary, we took a field trip from the cottage and had a fascinating visit at Kingston’s Penitentiary Museum. We met with Merilyn a second time a few years later and visited her garden which was the subject of her book A New Leaf, a collection of anecdotes and meditations focused on that very garden.
Do you ever invite authors to attend your meetings?
We have looked for opportunities to invite local authors that we know (or through a friend of a friend of a friend) or that someone decided to “cold call.” Surprisingly, most authors are flattered and pleased to attend. They sell a few extra books and get direct feedback. We’re always careful to get together a half hour or so before the author arrives to speak frankly about the book (and to make sure we didn’t all hate it!), and that we have a reasonable set of questions to ask. Happily, we have, for the most part, enjoyed those books. We have also welcomed authors: mystery writer R.J. Harlick (whose sister is one of the members) with The River Runs Orange, Terence Rundle West (twice)–Ripe for the Picking and Not In My Father’s Footsteps; David Sacks, author of a history of the alphabet (!) that was issued under three different titles: Language Visible, Letter Perfect, and the less imaginative The Alphabet. We will be hosting a new author this May, Missy Marston and her book The Love Monster and next fall, Ruth E. Walker whose book is Living Underground.
And, on many occasions, we’ve taken our “excursions” by way of the silver screen, pairing books with their filmed versions, usually on video but sometimes in theatres. One member has a sister who’s a film-maker, so we’ve been lucky enough to view some of her films. I should mention too that we have an annual Christmas party (last year accompanied by a karaoke outing after dinner), with a secret Santa gift exchange.
Why take trips? Why not just meet in your homes and keep it at that?
The local trips or discussion with authors brought added context to the discussions and, frankly, were a lot of fun. Didn’t we all enjoy our school field trips a lot more than just the classroom discussion?! The same principle applies here, I think.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.