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January 29, 2009

Field Trips for Book Clubs

Posted by carol
Does your reading group need a change of scenery? Jayne Pupek offers some terrific suggestions for a wide array of book club field trips --- including some ideas on where to go when talking about her Southern-set debut novel, Tomato Girl. Jayne is also the author of a book of poems, Forms of Intercession, and lives near Richmond, Virginia. Click here to watch a video about Tomato Girl.

Book clubs, like all groups, can fall into a rut. The same routines that provide structure and organization to meetings can also lead to complacency, boredom and lower attendance. What better way to prevent or alleviate a case of book club doldrums than to plan a field trip for the group? An outing can not only jumpstart new conversations, but can also strengthen bonds between members and spark renewed interest in the group.

One of the simplest and most affordable field trips is to head to the local movie theater to see the film adaptation of a book the club has read or is currently reading. Revolutionary Road, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are current releases based on either a novel or short story. Forthcoming adaptations include The Lovely Bones and The Road. As an alternative, the group might hold a movie night by staying in and watching a DVD. This option allows the group to consider art house and independent films that might not be shown widely on the big screen, as well as older classics and recent movies the group may have missed. (I'm always surprised at how few people have seen Iris, a film based on the life of British novelist Iris Murdoch. Kate Winslet plays the young Iris; Judi Dench plays the mature version.)

A restaurant, too, can be a fun and satisfying field trip, especially if the cuisine ties in with the theme or setting of the book. Consider meeting at a Chinese restaurant if your club is reading a book by Amy Tan, or try an Irish pub for discussions about works by Samuel Beckett or Maeve Binchy. What about a trip to the chocolatier to sample truffles while reading the novel Chocolat? A vineyard with alfresco dining is a lovely spot to discuss any book. Try a coffee shop for a discussion of the latest cozy mystery or a bar and grill to talk over a relevant thriller.

Sometimes a simple change of scenery boosts enthusiasm. Why not plan a picnic at the lake or spend the afternoon at the beach, a museum or a botanical garden? Consider, too, outings and events that relate to the main character of the book your club is reading. Is the heroine a music teacher? Then consider a recital or concert. Does the hero perform in a circus or rehabilitate horses? If so, a trip to the circus or stables might be the perfect activity. If your club is reading any of the wonderful fiction or nonfiction works about dogs, hold your next meeting at the dog park and invite members to bring their canine companions along.

Most avid readers also love to shop for books. A fun activity for any club is to make the rounds at specialty book shops, including second hand book shops and those catering to a specific category such as all mysteries, children's books or women's books. Don't overlook library sales and book sales hosted by colleges and universities.

Finally, get to know your local book community and keep informed of events held at bookstores, libraries and universities. I had the great privilege of hearing a lecture by Toni Morrison a few years ago, an experience I would have missed had I not seen the announcement from the university hosting the event. Sign up for newsletters and announcements so that you can be aware of writers visiting your area. Most of these events are free and open to the public. Your local chamber of commerce or state office on tourism may also be able to provide you with information on museums or festivals that may be of interest to book clubs.

I'd like to also share some suggestions for trips book clubs might take if they select my novel, Tomato Girl, for their group read. Tomato Girl is narrated by eleven-year-old Ellie Sanders, whose father comes under the thrall of a pretty teenage vegetable peddler, leaving Ellie to cope with her mother's deteriorating mental health. The story takes place in a fictional rural Virginia town in the late 1960s, which would make a trip to a county fair or a farmer's market an ideal event to accompany the book. As an alternative, to honor Clara, the African American clairvoyant who cares for Ellie, the group might choose to attend a psychic fair or arrange to have tarot card readings, events frequently held at New Age book stores. Another alternative might be to visit a lapidary shop and purchase a favorite crystal or gemstone as a symbol for Clara's "magic." A meal at a restaurant that serves Southern cuisine is another great option; everyone should eat grits and fried tomatoes at least once.

With a little imagination and planning, you may find your book club members looking forward to their next field trip with the same enthusiasm they show for the next great book.

---Jayne Pupek