Theme: Focus on food
Books that mention specific foods or recipes, whether prepared by a character or as simply part of the storyline, lend themselves to lively in-person discussions. Beth E. of Long Island, N.Y., recently met up with her book club at a local Mexican restaurant to dish about Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. While many book clubs are hosted at people’s homes, going out takes the pressure off of having to host, so you can concentrate on the book at hand rather than worrying about when to replenish the chips and salsa.
Ethnic and culturally diverse books are ripe for discussions that allow readers to experience cuisine outside their traditional diet. Julie Goler, a Los Angeles-based professional book club facilitator, recommends that if you happen to be playing hostess, you can share your own upbringing via the book and its featured food. When leading a discussion of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Goler’s host served scallion pancakes and Korean foods flavored with ginseng. “It’s particularly meaningful when members of the book group can speak to the nuances of the culture,” says Goler.
Theme: Let’s drink to that
Pairing books with themed beverages is another way to enhance a book club gathering. Anna Brindley in Dallas, Texas, recently hosted a discussion about The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. In addition to serving pu-erh tea, participants sampled other tea varieties while dining on chicken satay, Korean beef lettuce wraps, and dumplings.
For a cocktail-themed book group, Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility is ideal for an evening soiree of drinks and discussion. One of Goler’s clients hired a bartender who met guests at the door with freshly made martinis. Or you can play mixologist yourself and set out chilled glasses, pitchers of gin and vermouth, and all the fixings. (The Great Gatsby’s gin rickey is another recipe worth reproducing.)
Theme: Keep it sweet
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. Themed desserts can also produce a sugar rush — particularly if the discussion is waning — and provide context for further analysis. Favorites from Goler’s list include donuts from Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kittredge and caramel cake from The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Theme: The sound of music
Theme: Leave it to the experts
To keep your meeting from going off-topic, playing up the book’s educational component engages readers on a deeper level. Once Goler worked with an art historian to add context to a book club conversation. Similarly, she invited a history teacher to speak about the history of Ireland when discussing Trespasses by Louise Kennedy. Also, if a fellow book club member’s expertise piques the interest of your group, use that as a stepping stone when choosing a book. “Capitalizing on the knowledge base of your group can make for a lively discussion,” says Goler.