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July 29, 2008

Victoria Lustbader: Inspired by Reading Groups

Posted by carol
Today's guest blogger, Victoria Lustbader, talks about why she never considered becoming a member of a reading group...until a recent conversation with book club members about her two novels, Stone Creek and Hidden, helped change her mind.

Although I've been an avid reader all my life, and an avid writer for the last 6 years (!), I have never considered becoming a member of a reading group or book club. I'm not sure why, since many of my friends are devoted members of reading groups, I love talking about books, keep a list of my favorite books to share with friends, and am always asking friends to share their favorites with me. It might be that I'm not a joiner by nature, or that I am away from home so much it would be hard for me to attend consistently. Or maybe it's just that I'm a stubborn cuss and don't want to be told what to read!

But since I've now written two novels that I believe are terrific choices for book clubs, Hidden and Stone Creek, I've been paying a little more attention to the existence of reading groups and what they're reading. You'd have to be living in a cave not to have noticed the incredible proliferation of reading groups over these past years. And I think it's one of the most exciting and wonderful phenomena to hit the book world since the printing press! As I've lately had reason to troll through book club sites and see their recommendations of what's worth reading, I realize too that I'm missing out on what are likely many fabulous books that I had not heard of before and would not have found on my own. So, I am now --- avidly, I might add! --- looking for a group in my hometown I might join that will forgive my occasional absence.

My desire to do that was truly hammered home last week when I did a live interview on the terrific book-dedicated website --- --- with its founder and host, Jennifer Hart, and a number of readers, themselves members of reading groups, and bonded together around books by their participation in this website. It was the best 30 minutes of give and take, and talking about my new book, Stone Creek, that I could ever imagine. (If you're interested in hearing it, click here.) I realized that I was missing out on more than finding good books to read. I've been missing out on the pleasure and exhilaration of being in the company of fellow book lovers, and sharing stimulating, intelligent conversation about words and ideas and emotions.

Reading is first of course an intensely personal experience --- just you and the writer and the images and feelings his or her words create in you. But a good reading experience becomes something beyond personal; it expands into the realm of the social and cultural when you appreciate that the thousands, perhaps millions, of other people out there reading the same book as you are having the same experience, and likely many of the same feelings as you as well.

Reading groups are the perfect vehicle for merging the personal and social aspects of reading. Discussions about books can't help but enrich the personal experience by allowing us to appreciate its true universality, and opening us up to our in-common experiences and feelings. Which is surely what all writers hope to do with their words --- expose and illuminate our common humanity.

---Victoria Lustbader