Why I Love Speaking at Book Clubs

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Since writing The Improv, I have had the pleasure of being the guest author at several book clubs. I knew it would be fun to speak at a book club meeting, but I have been delighted to find that the experience is rewarding way beyond “fun.”

The first time I was a guest at a book club was BEFORE my book was even published. Kathy’s book club read a draft of my book and I had the opportunity to hear comments and questions from readers that I could incorporate in the final version of the book. They had many constructive things to say, but mainly they were enthusiastic about the book and I gained confidence in its impending publication. In fact, I was encouraged to call myself an “author.”

And it was the first time that the “magic moment” happened. The “magic moment” has happened at every book club meeting I’ve attended and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Here’s what happens . . .

I walk into the home of the book club host and introduce myself, as the women bustle about putting food together and making the room ready. (By the way, every book club I’ve been to except for one had only women members.)   Sometimes I know the members, or at least one of them, so I chat with that person or persons, feeling a little uncomfortable. People are friendly but a little formal. You know, polite chit chat, comments on what a cute necklace that is, or where did you get your haircut. Members arrive, put together a plate of food and a glass of wine or sparkling water. Chit chat turns to the food, how someone lost weight, started a new workout or diet or how they’re dealing with a food intolerance.

We all gather in the host’s living room and the meeting begins. I talk about my past, how I came to write The Improv, clarify some bits in the book that I made up. Then I start talking about how it felt at the time and how it felt to write the book. We talk about sexual abuse on college campuses. People share their feelings and experiences.

And somewhere in the flow of conversation, the “niceties” leave and we have what I would call a “real” conversation. This is the “magic moment,” when the conversation gets real. People share stories of abuse in their lives, their fears for their children or grandchildren, their disgust with abusers – the Catholic priests, the football program at Penn State, a creepy professor they stupidly dated in college.

Because The Improv is about acting, we discuss why I finally left acting and how few roles there are for women in film, TV or stage. I mention the research being done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media -- http://www.seejane.org/index.php   We talk about how about 70-80% of the roles in TV and film go to men. And women’s roles are usually for young beautiful women who wear scant clothing. That the entertainment industry is driven by commerce and that films/TV shows/plays with male story lines make way more money than ones with female story lines.

I mention the Bechdel Test – which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. I mention that the Geena Davis Institute found that only 17% of people in CROWD scenes are women. That we have an image of the world where women are only 17% of the population.

We talk about how there are “Chick Flicks” that men won’t be caught dead going to. And there’s no comparable name for films with men’s stories. They’re just called films. And women happily see all the superhero blockbusters out there, the mafia films, the police films, and the gross-out comedies.

When I spoke at the Elliott Bay Book Company and talked about this, someone mentioned that it’s the same in publishing. Even though women buy more books and read more, men’s stories are still valued more than women’s stories. There is “Chic Lit” and “Women’s Fiction,” and men rarely or never read these books. How many men do you know who have read Eat Pray Love? But there is nothing called “Men’s Fiction” or “Dude Lit.” It’s just called “Fiction.”

We usually end up talking and talking beyond my allotted time. And I feel blessed to be a part of the conversation.

(Photos above of Sharon's book club in Edmonds and Jo's book club in Ballard.)

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