Baltimore is a city of book clubs. I’ve been in my own book club for at least 10 years (who can remember any more!) Our “Book Club Has No Name” started in July 2005 (we have records with every book and meal and an admin who keeps track of it all. Thanks, Em!) We have thirteen members and usually have about 10 ladies at every meeting. Our ages and professions range, as do our zip codes—which stretch from the city to the county—and our book choices. Everyone gets to take a turn selecting a book and the accompanying restaurant. (My last pick was in May, “White Houses” by Amy Bloom. We met at the Bluebird Cocktail Room, steps away from Roosevelt Park.)
We’ve read countless books, eaten at a million different restaurants, and consumed a lot of wine. We always discuss the books. But we also talk about kids, spouses, jobs, and traveling. We’ve gone on yearly retreats, including last February when we spent a weekend in Philadelphia discussing “Lincoln in the Bardo” and having a private tour of the Rosenbach, visiting the Lincoln room at the Union League of Philadelphia, eating brunch, doing yoga and drinking wine (I hear those were Lincoln’s favorite pastimes). My ladies are wicked smart, big-hearted, and insightful. On the third Tuesday of every month, you better not try to make plans with me.
I am so excited for the book club entertaining guide in the new issue of HOME.
And I was so happy to read all your book club experiences.
Katharine Schildt Scrivener
I’ve loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. After majoring in English in college, I fell into a massive reading slump. A few years later I decided to create a separate Instagram account dedicated to books, both as a way to reignite my love of reading and to talk about books with like-minded individuals. I ended up finding a community full of smart, caring, supportive, and book-obsessed people—it’s by far one of the most welcoming and accepting corners of the internet. Growing this account has helped me improve my photography and social media skills and has served as a wonderful creative outlet.
It’s an enormous amount of fun to connect with people across the world—they’ve introduced me to books and genres I might not have otherwise tried before. A few times a week, I share what I'm currently reading or the books I’m eagerly anticipating. I've been able to develop relationships with other readers, as well as people in the publishing world. I think reading is important because it teaches empathy, which is vitally important, especially today. Reading is cool again.
It started five years ago with a post in a neighborhood Facebook page asking if people would be interested in a book club, with the first 10 people to respond being included. While some of the members have changed over the years, we are still going strong and have developed lifelong friendships. We take our books seriously, setting a minimum time of 90 minutes for discussion. Hosts rotate, providing a spread of (usually) cheese and wine. The sessions usually last far longer than the 90 minutes, however. Sometimes because of the books, sometimes simply because of the camaraderie.
Each holiday season, we have a party and white elephant book exchange, where we give a book that we personally loved and want to share with others. Sometimes we pair it with a bottle of something that fits the theme. We have also started the tradition of having a book club retreat every year, where we rent a house somewhere drivable, plan to discuss two books, have amazing food, and enjoy a relaxing weekend together. One of the books is always something that has been turned into a movie, and we have a viewing party after the book discussion. As expected, that usually prompts more discussion!
I have never been luckier than I was when I was one of those first 10 all those years ago.
Nina Therese Kasniunas
What can I say about my book club? Over the years they have become some of the friends I treasure the most. We came together initially with various vulnerabilities that only could be revealed to strangers over time through the discussion of books. It might have taken us a year or two to realize that we had shared so much with each other that we could share with very few others. That is the special aspect of sharing a reading and discussing it with others—you are able to open up while discussing a book in a way you are unable in ordinary conversation. It is definitely an avenue into otherwise very difficult discussions.
Through our book club, we have read all types of genres of books, but seemingly have read a fair share of books gravitating toward some aspect of justice—racially, economic, or otherwise. The discussions have not always been easy, but we have always known that we could take on difficult issues and still be friends no matter how intensely we disagree. Rare are the books in which we all agree in our assessment of how good it was, although we have encountered a few in which all gave the highest praise.
There was an election during which we surprisingly found out that we weren’t all liberal Democrats. (Although, truth be told, had we thought about it all that much we wouldn’t have needed those declarations during that election or had been so shocked by them.) We have socialized outside of our monthly meetings when we can, although as very busy adults that is difficult to do. One of our most fun weekends is the one weekend during the summer where we take off to an Airbnb somewhere nearby for a book club retreat—which among other things, includes a lot of time for relaxing, reading, and talking about books.
We tell each other often how lucky we are to have one another, but as much as we say it, I feel I need to say it again—my book club friends are treasures almost as precious as the time book club gives me to read for pleasure.
We started after I posted to our neighborhood Facebook page asking if anyone wanted to start a book club and we went with the first 10 people to reply.
I think what's most special about our group is the randomness of our members and the great friendships that have evolved over a love of reading. The only thing that really united us at the start was living in the same neighborhood. We’ve got men, women, Christians, agnostics, straight, gay, with and without kids, and a variety of occupations. Seven of our original 10 are still part of our group and a year ago we recruited three additional members (again from our neighborhood Facebook group). Sure, we drink our fair share of wine, but our gatherings truly are about the books full of lively and respectful discourse.
We meet monthly, rotating as hosts and read an eclectic mix of books (typically nominated in genre categories and voted on by all, but most recently we had each member choose a book of their choosing).
Another great experience has been our weekend retreat that we started two summers ago where we relax, read, discuss two books and watch a corresponding movie, and have fun together.
On February 21, 2014, a girl posted on Facebook in the Canton Neighbors group asking if anyone was interested in starting a book club with her and her roommate. The post caught a lot of attention, including mine. A few of my football teammates and I had tried to start a book club a few years back, but only three of us took it seriously and the rest were there for the drinks. We disbanded, but I still missed talking about books.
So, I responded to the thread, and the original poster, Rachel Warm Allshouse, messaged me asking for some advice/feedback. Because the Facebook thread had gotten so unwieldy, I decided to create a Google spreadsheet where people could sign up and indicate their areas of interest: fiction, non-fiction, romance, memoirs, historical fiction, self-help, etc. I would then try to organize the interested folk into groups based on common interests. I also added my two teammates, since I knew they missed our sort-of book club, as well.
Rachel and I split the spreadsheet up into three groups and thought it made sense for us to be in the same group since we had talked via Facebook a bit at this point and our interests were similar. Rachel and her roommate were a pair, my football teammates and I knew each other, but none of us knew anyone else. An email exchange between the eight girls in our group led to our first meeting at Chesapeake Wine Company on Thursday, March 6, 2014—where we decided on the structure of our book club. Incidentally, during this first meeting, two of the girls discovered they grew up in the same town and lived across the street from each other, but had never met before.
The rules: one book each month, hosts would rotate by month, and everyone contributes food and/or drink. Our very first book was “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer, and Rachel and her roommate hosted at their house.
Nearly five years later, we’ve added a few and lost a few (mainly due to moves), but are still going strong. We’ve met 53 times and each year, we have an anniversary meeting where we purely socialize and enjoy each other's company. (See attached photo from our last anniversary meeting, where we did a book swap!)
We’ve mostly met in houses, but have also done book club on a boat, in the park, and in a few restaurants. I think we would all unanimously agree that book club on a boat is our favorite way to meet—and we also marvel that what was originally a group of strangers now get along so well that spending a full day together is a total blast.
We celebrate birthdays, babies, job transitions, career successes, house purchases, engagements, marriages, and major life changes. And yes, we talk about the book at length. I don’t think we have a collective favorite, but that's part of the fun—we all have such different approaches to how we read and interpret the book that it makes for a lively discussion every time.
We’ve each formed relationships with the other girls in the club, which is just another fabulous perk of book club. I leave book club each month feeling so happy to have spent the evening with a group of positive, funny, smart, and engaging women. I can say that I personally have traveled internationally with a girl I met through book club, celebrated several birthdays with these former strangers, and attended the wedding of another girl I met through book club—Rachel’s.
Really, book club is one of the best things in our lives—and we have pretty good lives.
TL;DR: Facebook and Google docs sometimes brings people together in an extraordinary way.
I've been a reader ever since I can remember. I would always talk about new bestsellers with my friends and enjoyed frequent outings to Barnes and Noble. So naturally, I started my own book club. The club, Lit Chicks, was started with about 11 people in 2014. We are now up to 14 members and meet monthly, alternating houses. Sometimes instead of meeting at our houses we meet out in different locations.
We have read about Asian cultures and held our book club at various Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Other times, we have met at the movies when we read a book that comes into the theatre. We usually pick our books together as a group at the end of the book club. People bring suggestions, and we check them out on Goodreads and decide together.
Once we pick a book, I always try to reach out to the author to see if we can Skype with them. So far, we have talked with Lisa See, Jane Green, Renee Carlino, Amy Impellizeri and Martha Hall Kelly, just to name a few. We have even had one author, Liv Constantine, come meet us at book club. Some of our favorite books are: “Lemongrass Hope” by Amy Impellizeri, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “The Nightingale” by Kristen Hannah, “The Light We Lost” by Jill Santoplo and “This is How it Always is” by Laurie Frankel.
Typically, we meet at 7:30 at someone’s house and chat for a bit while enjoying wine and snacks that usually go along with the theme of the book, if possible. After snacking, we head to the couches and go through some questions I bring that are usually printed from a book club guide online. It's been a great four years with the Lit Chicks and I can't wait for more exciting books and great chats.
When I was 7 months pregnant with my first child I saw a post on the Southeast Baltimore City Kids listserv seeking members for a new book club. Most of my college friends were no longer in Baltimore and I was looking to make some new connections with other city moms. That first meeting, there were probably 20 women stuffed into a Canton living room eager to meet other book lovers, but as the months went on, our numbers dwindled. Many women, including the organizer, moved out of the city or to another state.
It’s now been nine years since that first meeting and there are five of us who are still meeting monthly. We realized long ago that going out worked better for us—we all had small children and hosting dinner at home during the week was purely aspirational. Now I think of it as a book/dinner club. Each month one of us gets to pick the book and make the reservation. We’ve rarely repeated a restaurant.
Sometimes the book is discussed briefly, maybe we all loved it but there wasn’t much to discuss, or it was so bad nobody finished it. Other times the book sparks great conversations. One surprising favorite for us was “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. It was the first graphic novel for many of us. I remember we met at the old Bottega space on Maryland Ave, and we had the best discussion lasting all through dinner in that cozy, candlelit space. We’re looking forward to seeing the play at Center Stage next year. Over the years there have been new babies, loss of parents, job changes, end of a marriage, a cookbook published—all discussed monthly along with the book, among a group of wonderful women.
Most of us in the group have never been big joiners or eager to be a member of a formal organization, yet the synergy of this group of women reflects something essential about who we are, so we’re drawn to it. At the heart of it is companionship. Reading is not inherently a social activity, but books give us a reason to duck out of the traffic of our lives and get together for a respite.
The group expanded as friends invited friends, although some members were picked up on a bus or as acquaintances on a hunch that they’d fit in. We gather every other month for a potluck, catch up on lives, and discuss together what we’ve read on our own. We tend to it and do our part to keep it going because what we get from it is special. It’s reliable—a tradition of our very own creation that anchors us. We forgive each other for falling short sometimes and not meeting expectations (finishing the book). It reminds us that besides being responsible for day-to-day obligations we have imaginations that want to be fed by impossible worlds or accounts of other people’s lives.
As the Czarina (benevolent dictator), I select what we read and organize our gatherings. We have a Google Doc for people to enter their requests and I pick from there, typically alternating between fiction and non-fiction. Occasionally I’ll get an itch to read a certain book and we’ll tackle it. We’ve done classics, graphic novels, science fiction, investigative science, and historical fiction among others. Some of the books have been duds. Sometimes they’re masterpieces. I usually prepare questions or some sort of way to engage with the text. It’s not that we have a formal structure that we follow, but it’s helpful to have something that lets us shift from free-form chatting to reflecting on what we’ve read. Mostly we meet at someone’s house, but occasionally we’ll go out. We’ve kept it going for seven years and hopefully it’ll go on for many more.