Reading brings us unknown friends

Kait Smith: If someone was thinking about joining our Book Club, what could they expect when they came to one?

Dawn Heffron: They would meet a warm, affable, erudite group of people who enjoy a rousing discussion/conversation about, not only the nuances of the book, but the book’s relevance ……to life. Participants love learning new information as well as hearing first hand accounts of related experiences proffered by other members. Both men and women, ranging in age from about 40-81 years of age, participate passionately but respectfully.

KS: With Book Club starting up again in September, you’ve got a great variety of books picked for the next several months, how do you decide what books to pick?

DH: Book choices include a variety of genres, especially debut novels, books by local authors, work by authors featured on Writers on a New England Stage and Writer’s at the Loft, and nonfiction selections. Subject matters related to war and other cultures are of particular interest to our members, although the participants are more in tune with the quality of the discussion than the actual novel per se. I spend a lot of time reading reviews, book summaries and previewing selections.

KS:What makes this club different from other book clubs?

DH: Like me, some of the members are in other book clubs, usually with friends. Although there is a discussion about the book that takes place among friends, there is also a lot of social time because we are with friends.

In our Music Hall book club people chat as they arrive and partake of refreshments. However, once the discussion begins, it’s all about the book and book-related issues for about 1-1 1/2 hours. The format is casual but focused. I throw out a question or comment and people chime in. The biggest difference is that we routinely have 20-25 people per meeting, men and women of varying ages and backgrounds. I never know who will show up or how many people will be there. The experiences of this diverse and fluid group often redirects the focus of the conversation ultimately enriching the discussion depending on those present.

Our numbers have been as high as 33 like the night we discussed “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson. There was a gentleman who had worked for the navy. His contributions definitely steered the conversation in a different direction than if he had not been there. When we discussed “American Heiress” by Jeffrey Tobin which was about the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, a women in the group shared that when she was in college at Berkeley she remembers the FBI pounding on her door seeking information about Hearst and the SLA. I think this is what makes our book club unique.

KS: You’ve mentioned that you come prepared with some questions to help start the conversation, how do you come up with the questions?

DH: Paperback books often have questions put out by the publisher. If there are existing questions I may tailor a few that I think will work with the group and incorporate them with my own. The majority of the time, however,  I create questions or topics of information to be discussed as I read the book.  Author interviews/reviews also provide input for the discussion. 

KS: Some people pray, others stretch, some meditate——- do you have a ritual that you do right before every book club?

DH: I do a lot of prep so I usually end up with a plethora of notes and reference materials to review one more time prior to moderating the discussion. Then It’s a brisk walk to our meeting venue, The Aria Lounge at Portwalk, in time to help play “host”. I really enjoy greeting and touching base with as many people as possible. Each month there are new members who join a core group of regular attendees. I like to foster a welcoming atmosphere before we begin.

KS: Sounds like a fantastic group of people, do you have a favorite moment from Book Club? 

DH: There are moments from each meeting that I hold dear but there is one moment from our debut meeting in December 2013 that remains in the foreground. The weather was horrible. Only 3 people arrived and that was only because they lived in Portwalk. The first person to appear announced that she didn’t read books anymore! Oh, she read…. news and other things online…just not books! She was there to be convinced, to be prodded into reading books again. I was a bit flummoxed by this since I assumed anyone who joined the book club was an avid reader who looked forward to discussing novels. My most recent teaching experience prior to moderating the book club had been with middle schoolers some of whom did require prodding to read. I was with adults now. This didn’t bode well for me if one of my jobs was to encourage reading. Our reluctant reader turned out to be a sport. In the end, she did read and she did contribute to our discussions. And she did approve of sharing this message!

KS: Speaking of favorites, do you have a personal favorite book?

DH: Well…that’s like saying you have a favorite child! I love the classics…from Dickens to Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Edith Wharton. My burgeoning bookshelves hold many contemporary novels as well. I enjoy debut novels, historical, especially about other countries and different cultures.

KS: You also fill in as a guest moderator for some of the Writers in the Loft events, what’s that experience like?

DH: It’s both exhilarating and nerve-wracking! I’m very social so I enjoy the interaction but not the spotlight!