The reports from National Reading Group Month events just keep on coming! Today we hear from Christina Baker Kline, author of The Way Life Should Be about her experience at the New Jersey Library Association's NRGM celebration at the end of October. I love the idea of a New Jersey Book Festival that is explored below. You can browse inside Kline's novel, which People magazine called "an unassumingly beautiful story of human relationships and self-discovery," here. And check out the reading group guide here.
I was delighted to participate, along with four other authors, in the New Jersey Library Association’s celebration of National Reading Group Month on October 30th at the Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library. About 60 librarians from all over the state came to network, exchange information about how to start reading groups in their libraries and communities, and listen to writers talk about our work and our own experiences with book clubs.
At first the format was a little unsettling: we writers talked for 20 minutes to one group of about 20 people, then immediately moved to another group. In less than two hours, we gave five fast presentations. It was a blur! By the end of it we were all hoarse and a bit dizzy – but I loved every minute of it. Depending on questions and my own whims, I talked about different things with each group, so the experience of listening to me must have been like the proverbial blind man with the elephant: some people got the ears, some got the trunk; some (perhaps unfortunately) the tail. When you spend your days working alone in a room, it’s truly exciting to get out and talk about the finished product, especially to such a warm and enthusiastic group of dedicated readers.
One of the best parts of the day was getting to meet the other novelists after the presentations were over. A group of us – four writers and about 10 librarians and administrators – were taken to lunch by the dynamic program director, April Judge. The hilarious Alison Larkin (author of The English American), who in her other life is a stand-up comedian, had us in stitches. MaryAnn McFadden, who wrote The Richest Season, recently returned from promoting her book, and regaled us with stories about being on the road. And Jack Getze (Big Money), talked thoughtfully about his style and inspirations. (Chris Grabenstein, author of the Jersey Shore Mystery Series, had to leave early.) It was so nice to chat with writers about process – something we address in our work every day, but don’t often articulate out loud.
Toward the end of the lunch, we took part in an exciting brainstorm session. April Judge, Jill Tardiff, Chair of the National Reading Group Month Committee, and Nancy Dowd, Head of Marketing for NRGM, led a discussion about how libraries are increasingly becoming neighborhood centers, and are playing a much broader role in communities in general – by starting reading groups in assisted living homes, juvenile justice centers, schools, women’s shelters, and even prisons. They talked about identifying and linking groups of people who want to read specific kinds of books together –new mothers, people who are divorced, cancer survivors, history buffs – and training library staff to lead discussion groups. They also plan to convene reading groups around events such as National Cookbook Month, Black History Month, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Finally, we talked about the idea of talked about creating a “destination event” in New Jersey in the spring: a statewide book festival in a town with an active center, to benefit the community.
It was late afternoon when we reluctantly said our goodbyes. What an exhilarating, thought-provoking day. I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with some of the writers, and I definitely hope to work with this dynamic team of librarians and administrators again. I am so grateful to April Judge for planning and coordinating this event. As one librarian said, when we were talking about the role of libraries in communities, “You just say it to April, and she’ll make it happen!”