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January 30, 2009

"So... What Should We Read Next?"

Posted by carol
Today contributor Jamie Layton offers a solution for the book club question "What should we read next?" and shares some news about The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.

Picking books can be the biggest bane of a book club. Not to beat a dead horse, but there really is no other instance where the phrase "So many books, so little time" rings truer. A lot of each meeting's precious time can be spent trying to figure out "what should we read next?" Here’s where your local Independent bookstore can be of valuable help. In our book group, I decided early on to take charge and for several reasons. As a bookseller there are many resources available to me that the average reader doesn't have access to.

Publishers' catalogs, advance reading copies, industry publications, weekly updates and hot-sheets from my reps, web sites and more. For instance, I know what's coming out in paperback at least six months in advance and therefore can hold off suggesting a pricey hardback my group will like until it shows up in a more affordable trade version just one season later. A bookseller might also suggest genres often ignored by book clubs. The first time our group read a short story collection I was amazed by how many members said they hardly ever read short stories, and I was thrilled when they found they enjoyed them immensely.

Booksellers will also have great recommendations in the non-fiction world --- awesome books that end up failing to get your club's attention simply because these shelves are so overwhelming. In addition, through our publishing world contacts, booksellers are also aware of unique opportunities --- like authors who are willing to join a book group's discussion via telephone for a memorable meeting! I can't urge you strongly enough to go to your local Indie bookstore, find the book buyer and say, "My book club could really use your input in our monthly selection process. Would you be willing to help us?" I am sure you will hear a resounding "I'd love to!"...and you can tell them I recommended them!

In Jamie's Book Club, my new bi-monthly subscription service, I'm pleased to say I have more than 20 founding members from California to Virginia! This month they received my debut selection --- The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz. Taking inspiration from actual events, Schwartz tells the story of Haruko, a well-bred, upper class Japanese girl who becomes the first non-aristocrat to wed into the Japanese Imperial family. The obstacles and heartbreaks she faces are daunting; the life she dreamed of...a fairy tale that never comes true. Schwartz had unparalleled access to intimates of the current Empress which makes this book not only the closest one to the truth, but the only one currently available on the subject of Japan's modern-day Imperial family. The Commoner is a peek behind the Chrysanthemum throne at the pomp and circumstances endured by the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.

This is a great book club read --- a blend of contemporary and historical fiction with a wide ranging appeal and tons of discussion potential. In order to further enhance my members' experience, I've begun a blog to support their reading by providing an outlet for comment and discussion. And for all my other readers, I will be posting regularly with other bookish and Outer Banks related commentary. I'm very excited to announce that today over at we feature a special guest blogger who is none other than John Burnham Schwartz! John will be sharing with us his inspiration and research behind this interesting novel and answering questions previously posted by readers. Thanks very much to Ginny Mortorff at Random House, Jennifer Marshall at Vintage and Mr. Schwartz for their support of this endeavor, their help with ensuring the success of Jamie's Book Club and, as always, for getting behind us Indies. So now that you've read my post here, jump over to and see what's happening there!

---Jamie Layton