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October 8, 2009

Jamie Ford's Top 10 Most Memorable Book Group Moments

Posted by webmaster
Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is a story about Japanese interment in Seattle during World War II, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese boy searching for his first love forty years after they met during that tumultuous time. Jamie has spoken with many book clubs over the last year, and today he shares his top 10 memorable moments.

here to read Jamie's previous post, "Bleeding on the Page," in which he talks about how he drew on his own experiences and those of his family for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Book groups are as unique as their members. Some read fiction, others non-fiction. Some are wild and some are more subdued. It's been an adventure meeting so many groups along the way --- I thought I'd share a few thoughts from the road.

10) A Shot in the Dark. I'm always happy to do telephone call-ins. I can be there via phone line, I don't get patted down at the airport, and no one loses my luggage. The bad part is (confession time), sometimes I don't know where I'm calling to --- occasionally I just get a number and a time zone. I recall greeting a lovely group with, "I only have two questions: who's on the phone, and how much wine have you had?" The call was to a group in Salt Lake City. Yeah, that joke went over like a keg-stand at a green Jell-O picnic.

9) The Party Line. Then there's the flipside, calling a group that's already into an hour of margaritas. Enthusiastic questions, plenty of interaction, and everyone is usually speaking at once.

8) Tickets? Please. I've done several ticketed book group events --- which always amaze me. A) Because it's weird when someone is actually paying to hear me speak, and B), because...nah...A) is weird enough all on its own. If a bookstore can sell a chicken dinner and put a mic in my hand, I'm happy to oblige. Though usually when I have a mic that long it's because I'm singing, in which case people would probably pay to shut me up.

7) The Lifestylists. One particular group truly lives the books they read. When they chose a memoir by a certain Irish writer, they went to Ireland. When they read Ambrose's book about D-Day, they went to Normandy. I keep waiting for them to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, followed by a jaunt on the space shuttle.

6) Cinematic Auteurs. Another group was so enthusiastic about a particular novel that they pooled their resources and actually bought the film-rights. I marveled at their enthusiasm. I applauded their effort. But a part of me kept thinking, "The book's always better than the movie..."

5) Food Networking. It's always a special treat to visit with a group that has enthusiastically embraced the gastronomical aspects of my book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. (Plug, plug). Some bring sushi; others make Chinese food (I put recipes on my website). One group even made delicious bittersweet chocolate-chip cookies. As a writer, I try to involve all the senses in my narratives, especially the ones that melt in your mouth.

4) United Nations. I met with one group in Seattle comprised entirely of ESL students. I went expecting Japanese and Chinese undergrads, but they were from everywhere --- Thailand, Bahrain, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ballard (Sorry, Seattle joke --- couldn't resist). The students made special thank-you notes sharing their own journeys of self-identity and discovery. I was touched, humbled and inspired.

3) Live Nude Authors. Okay, not the nude part. But live is always an exciting thing. Some book groups throw in a classic now and then --- which is always a great idea. But it's awfully hard to get the author to participate and answer questions when they passed away in the great Flu Epidemic of 1918. I relish the opportunity to answer questions in person, because once I'm gone, the rest is just conjecture. (And if you're wondering, no, Ethel didn't know. At least, I don't think she knew...)

2) My Exorbitant Fee. While visiting the Tattered Cover in Denver, a woman asked if I'd consider visiting her book group in Colorado Springs the next time I'm in the area. I said, "Sure, I'd love to!" Then she asked, "How much do you charge?" Um, how about a brownie? A cup of tea? Then she told me that another author had asked for...wait for it...$12,000. I'll pause to let that sink in. $12k? That's a used Honda. That's a year of community college. That's liposuction and Botox. I guess I'm just a cheap date.

1) I Get to Ask Questions Too. I'm a writer, but I'm also a reader --- and I love to talk books --- mine and everyone else's. Book groups are never a one-way affair. And I think we all have a lot more fun when it's a dialog and not just a monolog. Want to talk about it? You'll find me at