For most of my adult life I have run a book club. This year, I am taking a break and find I really miss it. I love the discussion and camaraderie that come from a good book club meeting. In the past, all of my book clubs have read “serious” literature—Booker Prize winners, classics, indie fiction. I’ve never been in a book club that read just for fun—as opposed to edification. So it was with pleasure and curiosity that I went to a meeting of the Romance Novel Lovers book club at a nearby local library.
The book club is run by Jennifer Lohmann, the librarian chosen by Romance Writers of America as Librarian of the Year in 2010. (Next week I’ll have my interview with her.) Jennifer is a big fan of romance novels and thought running an evening book club at her library would be a great way to introduce readers to the genre. Currently her book club has 27 readers, although on any given meeting—they meet once a month—there are usually around eight to ten members. Jennifer picks all the books and they discuss two each time they meet. The two books usually share a common theme and she picks books easily found at the library or in paperback. She posts the schedule on Meetup.com months in advance so that everyone has plenty of time to find and read the books.
The night I went, the group was discussing Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband and Jennifer Ashley’s Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage. In both books the protagonists are married but separated. Those who came to the book club that night were women ranging in age from around 30 to 60. All but one of them had finished both books. We met in a conference room at the library where Jennifer works. Everyone was there, sitting around the table, by a little after 7 p.m. when discussion began.
Jennifer began by asking the group what they thought of Not Quite a Husband. Most of the group really enjoyed it and spent some time talking about how interesting the setting was. (Most of the book takes place in what is now Pakistan, but was then colonized India.) It was interesting to hear how readers felt about the heroine and hero, Bryony and Leo. Listening to the differing perspectives on why they were the way they were and whether or not either was truly capable of great love made me rethink my perception of the leads in the book. (While I love Sherry Thomas, this had not been my favorite of her books largely because I found Bryony and Leo to both be fairly unsympathetic characters.) We talked about all aspects of the book—plot, setting, pace and, fairly humorously, sex. I came out of the discussion really wanting to read the book again—hearing about how others saw it made me aware of parts I had missed or glossed over.
We then discussed Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage which was far less lauded. Several had read and loved the first book in the series, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, and found this sequel to be a disappointment. Others felt the book was a fun read but not particularly believable. Everyone felt the sex scenes were a bit over the top.
In both books, the couples are childless and in Not Quite a Husband appear to never have children. We talked about how unusual that is in romance in general—especially in historical romance. And while we began by talking about parenthood in the two books we’d read, we ended up talking about what women look for in romance novels—often it’s not just a fun read or a happy ending, but characters one can relate to. I was engrossed and I plan to go back next month.
I wonder if there are many other romance novel lovers’ book clubs out there. I know that in my city —a well-heeled college town—our public library stocks very few romances and the only non-campus bookstore in town doesn’t sell them. I am pretty certain there isn’t a romance novel book club here. I think it would be great if there were. I got so much out of the discussion at Jennifer’s book club. I was so much fun I’m thinking about starting one. I thought I might start on Facebook—create a virtual book club and see where it leads.
Does anyone else have any experience with romance novel book clubs? Are you in one? If you are, how is it run? If you aren’t, would you want to be in one? Do you know of any in your town? Let us know.
(Thanks again to Jennifer Lohmann and her book club!)
- Dabney AAR