While we live several states away from each other, my conversation with author Brandy Bruce felt like we were chatting over dinner.
So it only made sense to continue the conversation with part two…
Christa Banister: For anyone who doesn’t know her already, Brandy pulls out all the stops with her book club gatherings. What do you think makes for a successful book club and what has been your all-time favorite novel to discuss and why? Also, as someone who has attended book clubs where the novel in question is barely mentioned, let alone discussed, how do you solve that issue?
Brandy Bruce: This is one of my favorite topics, Christa! Book clubs are the best. Years ago, I went to the first meeting of a new book club that was starting at our local library. We read the Hunger Games and then met back at the library for discussion. After a few months the group kind of dwindled down to a few girls who were dedicated readers and started meeting together at their houses or coffee shops. I was part of that group of just a few girls. We’d read and come together to discuss the book. I loved every minute.
I’ll admit right now that I’m someone who likes hosting things. I’d come across a book I liked (I think it was one you really liked too, Christa) called 800 Grapes. It was such a good read that I really wanted to share it with everyone I knew. I emailed practically every friend I had and said I was hosting a summer book club. Everyone had about eight weeks to read the book and then I’d host a book club/party in late summer for us to discuss it. I printed discussion questions. I looked up Pinterest book club ideas for decorating. I made this long table runner out of book pages, bought lots of different kinds of wine and cheese to go along with the theme of the book, wrote my favorite quote from the book on the chalkboard in my kitchen, and scheduled the party.
Everyone came and it was better than I could have hoped for. Probably twenty of us sat crowded around my living room. I passed around the questions, and whenever conversation started heading down a rabbit trail, I’d gently bring us back to the book. It was important to me that everyone (who wanted to) got an opportunity to share their thoughts. At one point, someone asked, “What are we reading next?” I had no idea! My plan was only for summer! Lol! Afterward, everyone hung around and talked late into the night. My husband was shocked at the trashcan chocked full of empty wine bottles the next morning. A sure sign of a perfect summer evening.
It can be hard to sustain that kind of event/group. I couldn’t throw that kind of party every month of course. And schedules get very full in the fall—mine too. So, I just kept reading with my small group of friends. We’d meet at a coffee shop usually every month. Our meetings were focused on the book (friendship too—we’re still great friends); we really enjoyed digging deep into what we were reading, and I loved it. We’d even read huge books like Outlander or Gone with the Wind. I hosted at my house when we read Outlander and I had ‘Missing’ posters of Claire on the front door for when the girls arrived, and little bottles of Scottish whiskey as favors. I love that book!
My family moved to Virginia four years ago, and I really missed that group of reader friends. When I met one of the neighbors here, I asked if any of the women in the neighborhood were in a book club. She said she didn’t know of one but she wouldn’t doubt that people would be glad if I started one. That was the encouragement I needed. My younger sister Laura lives nearby (much younger!), and while she’s never been a big reader, I know she wanted to help me find my footing as I settled into our new town. I invited several of the women I’d met in the neighborhood, and Laura invited her best friends, and voila! A book club was formed.
Here’s what I’ve found: You have to start somewhere. There will be people who stay and some who don’t, and that’s absolutely fine. It’s okay for all of us to try new things and then maybe realize it’s not our cup of tea or maybe it just won’t work with our schedule. Over time, the group that wants to be there will emerge and that’s worth the stretching you go through at the beginning. Also, it’s fine if not everyone loves to read at the same level! There are some girls in our group who have very hectic schedules and finding time to read every month isn’t possible, but they still love to come, ask questions, hear about the book, and read when they can.
Since I started the group, I tend to feel responsible for keeping us on track when it comes to discussion. Reading takes effort and if you’ve spent hours reading the book, I want to know your thoughts. We’re women and can easily shift into discussion about the smallest thing! Ha! When that happens, I’ll find a point to steer us back so that we get through discussion.
Our group prints off book quotes (instead of reading questions), and we each read one and share our thoughts on it and the book itself. Once everyone’s had a chance to read a quote and share, I let conversation move beyond the book. Again, sometimes we’re all just so glad for a night out that we stay up late and go through a few bottles of wine. We talk about marriage and kids and work. These women are my friends and I’m incredibly grateful for them.
We take turns hosting usually, and I’ve been so impressed with how these women incorporate something from the book into our book club night. When we read the Nightingale, we ate French food and Donna hung a branch with strips of cloth like the women did in the book, representing their lost loves. When we read Home Before Dark, Julie had the Sound of Music on a record player, like the eerie music playing in the house from the story. She used vintage thriller books as part of her tablescape. Shenandoah had a smorgasbord of antipasto when we read about the Romano family in A Merry Little Christmas. When Lizzie hosted for Beach Read, we ate outside on the back porch and drank mimosas. Crysty had a gorgeous bouquet of fresh flowers in the center of her table in honor of Lily’s Blooms from It Ends With Us. When I realized that one of the books I was reading (The Darkest Flower) was written by a local author, I chose that book for book club and invited the author to join us! The book is a suspenseful story about a woman whose purple smoothie is poisoned at a PTA meeting. I found little bottles of violet-colored smoothies to give as party favors. The author came and we had a great discussion.
It’s fun to add things to make it special, but I’ll be honest, even if it’s been a rough few weeks and all we can manage is delivery pizza and half of us haven’t finished the book—it’s still one of my favorite nights of the month. It’s the community we’re building together. We laugh, cry, and share our thoughts. That’s all it takes to make a book club memorable.
Brandy was also kind enough to be the first participant in The Banister Questionnaire. Here are her replies to these all-important questions:
What’s the first book that made you crazy about reading?
BB: There’s no way I can say for sure because I’ve loved so many books ever since I learned to read. Even early reader books thrilled me. But I read the book A Family Apart when I was really young by Joan Lowery Nixon. It’s a orphan-train book that teaches about sacrifice and it’s message and characters are still in my heart.
Which authors’ books do you you always buy no matter what the story is about?
BB: Well, I’m more of a library-borrower, to be honest. I don’t have a large area for books. (I have a teeny bookshelf!) So my shelves are reserved for favorites such as Robin Gunn, Diana Gabaldon, and J.K. Rowling. I’m always open to new authors and books though. Lately, Emily Henry is a win-win. And I’m just starting to realize what all the hype about Colleen Hoover is. (She’s amazing!) Megan Miranda is always good for a thriller ride. (Obviously I like all kinds of genres.) Julie Klassen writes wonderful historical fiction. (Jen Turano too!)
Are you a plotter or a pantser and why does that method work best for you?
BB: A bit of both. I usually have some idea of where I want to end up, but how I’m going to get there is rarely known. Ha!
Actual book or digital download?
BB: Both! And audio.
What’s your favorite bookstore? Location, please.
BB: A couple of them. Tattered Cover in downtown Denver. Givens Books in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Describe your ideal writing environment.
BB: My kitchen table. Coffee with hazelnut-flavored creamer. Taylor Swift on low, or a period film on mute.
Coffee or tea?
BB: Both, but coffee is my first choice.
What’s your favorite way to procrastinate when you know you should be writing but don’t feel like it?
BB: Girl, I’m a PROFESSIONAL procrastinator. I don’t even have to try. It’s who I am!!
What are you working on at the moment?
BB: I’m on a break at the moment. I have a couple of book edits on the horizon, but I think I needed a little breathing space after such a hectic holiday season.