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May 20, 2008

Book Club Mixer Olympics

Posted by carol
Beyond swimming and biking (unless we are talking hills), I have never been particularly good at sports. I do not have natural athletic ability nor do have the patience for practice. But reading comes naturally to me and books are something I know. Thus participating in the Book Club Mixer Olympics on Sunday at Books & Books in Coral Gables was right up my alley. Ah, if reading was a sport, I truly would have a gold medal...or three. I often joke that if turning pages or the number of words typed per minute was an athletic event, or the key to being in shape, I would be so there.

It brings back memories of being a child where I would win swimming medals over the summer and then prizes for summer reading when I got back to school in September. I even remember tying for the prize with Sandra Maresca in first grade and the doll we each won for it from Mrs. Falk. Mrs. Falk had not considered a tie thus there was only one doll. And thus I had to wait for mine. My mom is on a mission to clear everything from her attic, and the doll recently found its way to my house. It also reminded me of a far more innocent time when a doll was something to reward a child with, but those nostalgic moments could have a blog of their own.

This weekend I was tapped as a book club coach, and I have a medal on a ribbon to prove it. More than 125 people gathered at the store for this event with a promise that they could get "some training" in both books that are available now and those that were on the horizon this summer that are perfect for book club reading. Again Debra Linn showed her creative powers with this event as we walked through the Olympic analogy complete with every metaphor layered into the mix --- an athlete's village, relays and pumping up reading muscles. And plenty of time for mingling.

This is the third book club event that I have done at this location, and one of the fun things is seeing familiar faces mixed in with the new ones. Before the event I had a moment to catch up with Cristina and Patty, who I have met in the past, and chat about their current reading selection, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. This time they brought along the rest of their group for the event. It was nice to meet them. The crowd was filled with established groups and readers who wanted to join a group. The first event that we did like this ended up starting seven new groups!!

One of the other "coaches" was Kristy Kiernan, author of Catching Genius and the upcoming Matters of Faith, who hails from Naples, Florida. Her work is loved by book clubs, and it was clear from her talk that book clubs have been very inspirational to her. We often forget how solitary an experience writing can be. The opportunity for an author to speak with readers about her or his writing can be so rewarding. For me this event was a chance to discover a new author. Many audience members came up to me afterwards sharing how much they loved Kristy's writing. The coach learning from the athletes. Nice.

I gave a similar presentation to the one that I had done in the Caymans the day before. Clearly my choices were perfect for this group as I saw many readers headed for the register with books in hand. I was carrying a stack of the five books that I had been talking about, and at one point a woman came up to me and asked, "Can I take those from you? I would like them all." Was that the same as an athlete winning five gold medals?

There were brownies and cookies and beverages, all of which sure beat the vitamin drinks and protein bars usually consumed by athletes. And the crowd lingered after the formal talks for lots of bookish conversation. Hearing the passionate discussions about books and authors was completely invigorating. People were handing me books that I "had to read." All weekend Debra had been teasing me about the huge bag I was carrying. Well, I left for home with 10 extra pounds in it --- all books acquired along my travels!

That night on the flight back home I was sitting next to a woman who was reading Loving Frank. She had just picked it up after hearing a lot about it from other readers. I told her it had been on a short list of recommended titles that I had presented for book clubs that afternoon. She had just cracked the first few pages, and I found myself surreptitiously watching her as she read. I wished the flight was longer as I would have loved to hear what she thought about it. Hmmmm.... Book group discussions on that could make the time pass quickly. Picture people seated in rows by the title they were to discuss. Of course, the readers would have priority seating, their own version of elite access. Given the endless delays that travelers have these days, this just might work. I think I need to get Debra pondering this. Books & Books book discussion flights on the way to Miami. I think it works!

By the way, Kristy's talk was so inspiring that as soon as she walked away from the podium I scrawled a note asking her if we could share her speech with you as a blog post, which we will be doing tomorrow. I am not going to give away much more about this now except to say that we often forget how authors can find a home with book clubs as easily as readers do. After all, we all are bonded over a love of books and reading.

---Carol Fitzgerald