Although I belong to several book clubs, I’ve been a member of a local group for years. The size has morphed from a handful of people to over thirty when the snow birds are in town. Snow birds, for those of you who live in the same place year round, is that category of lucky people who fly South or West to winter in warm lazy climes and return to their civilized home territory, complete with neighborhood bookstores, professional theater, and real newspapers, in the Spring – the best of both worlds.
I live in the same place year round – and it’s not the one with the bookstores, theater, and newspapers – but with great weather and amazing views. Lately, traveling has been a distant dream of days in the past. Even before the pandemic, I had become wary of attending this book club. As my dear friend, Julia Child, always said, I lacked the cour- ahge (courage). More about this later.
I have just finished Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – bought from the only small independent bookstore in the neighborhood – and decided it is perfect for the next zoom meeting of this book club. Not only is it upbeat, fun, and easy to follow, but the back of the book has a Reader’s Guide with questions for discussion – and some even go beyond literal meaning.
Answering prescribed questions has become the standard for this book club, despite a few members’ attempts to steer the discussion into a real conversation. The new zoom format begs for structure, and prepared questions seem to be an easy organizational tool, and a way to corral a group of participants.
Here’s where my courage is lacking. Before I can take a quiz on a book I’ve read – and the questions usually are testing factual knowledge – I’d have to read the book at least twice and take notes. I’ve decided life is too short to read many books twice; there are too many other books I want to read first. And, knowing there will be a quiz can be scary – feels too much like being in Sister Eugene Marie’s sophomore literature class.
But I will be reading Waxman’s book again to take notes, not only for the books mentioned that I want to read, but also to outline the sights and sounds of the Los Angeles I seem to have missed whenever I visited there. Next time, when I finally use the cancelled airplane ticket, which now will be free of its change charge, I will be ready to find the food, the streets, and the city Waxman describes. And all those books she mentions, from Saroyan’s The Human Comedy to Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham will be on my list to read on the plane.
The story follows Nina, who prefers reading to anything else – even people. Of course, she works in a bookstore and has floor to ceiling bookshelves in her little apartment. But Nina is not just the smart bookish stereotype; she’s clever and witty. She discovers her missing father when he dies and writes her into his will, suddenly immersing her into a family of brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, leading to a series of hilarious conversations and not too shabby inheritance. Romance is added to her life when she connects with someone on a rival trivia team in a classic meet-cute scene. If you enjoy Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones), add Abbi Waxman to your list of modern Jane Austen novelists.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was fun and refreshing. Go ahead – ask me a question.
TIPS For Your Next Zoom Book Discussion:
- Keep participation optional, including the video – not all of us can get to our hair dresser these days.
- Send the discussion questions a few weeks before the meeting, and be sure to include open ended questions. No one likes to have to remember what Aunt Mildred was wearing on the third Tuesday before the murder. But relational questions can help connect the book to the reader, e.g., Would you have handled the character’s anxiety differently?
- Steer away from the “Writer’s Process.” Instead ask readers to identify a favorite character, a plot twist they found believable or unbelievable, the value of the setting (locations) in the story – could it have been anywhere or did the setting make a difference?
- Have readers identify a favorite quote or passage from the book.
- Reading Guides are usually available, but don’t feel compelled to use all the questions. Remember it’s a guide, not a quiz.
- Have fun – isn’t that the point?