A Post for Bookreporter.com

I wrote this piece about book clubs for Bookreporter.com and they have kindly allowed me to post it here too.  I highly recommend this website for information on books, book clubs, writers, and amusing publishing news.  Check it out!  And in the meantime, enjoy my trip down memory lane.

When I was a kid – oh, about forty years ago, and how scary is that? – my mom and step-father used to drag me along to their monthly “discussion group.” It was a book club made up of couples – all graduate students.  My step-father would complain all the way to whoever’s house we were going and all the way back about how so-and-so was a jackass or how the book selection was “moronic.”  My mom complained she never was as sleepy as she was at those meetings, digging her nails into her palms to stay awake when everyone was trying to prove that he or she was the smartest person in the room. I lingered on the edges, listening, and watching as everyone – as my mother has put it – “tried to fake their way into the adult community.”  This was the Sixties, so people had things like giant looms in the living room and homemade macramé for curtains.  We’d eat a potluck of tuna casseroles, hotdogs and beans, and other dishes that graduate students could afford to make. As the decade wore on, the members of the group became far less interested in discussing books like than smoking pot, drinking too much tequila, and committing adultery.  Fun for all!

Jump ahead to 1995 when my first book, On Gold Mountain, came out.  I was invited to talk to my first book club, which was comprised of parents from my son’s elementary school class.  (Let me say right here then I hadn’t known this book club existed, because my husband and I hadn’t been invited.  Not that I hold a grudge or anything.)  The women wanted to talk about the book, the characters, and the underlying themes.  But the men had something else on their minds altogether:  “How much money do you make?”  “How did you get an agent?”  “How does your husband feel about you shilling yourself?” “Did your editor help you write the book?” “Who takes care of Alexander when you’re writing?”  Yikes!

All I can say is thank God for Oprah.  She single handedly changed the dynamic of the book club.  Overnight men decided – for the most part – to stay home.  I can’t say how many book clubs I’ve visited in person in the last thirteen years, but it has to be in the hundreds.  These last three years, I’ve limited myself to visiting two book clubs a week by speaker phone.  By now, I think I’ve spoken to book clubs in nearly every state, as well as in several countries. Boy oh boy, have they changed!

I’ve visited book clubs made up of women who were either pregnant or had children under the age of two, who only wanted to talk about the pregnancies and births in Peony in Love.  I’ve talked to numerous book clubs with just mothers and daughters, and a few with granddaughters too.

I’ve seen a growth in book clubs with specialized membership: hospice-care worker, church, country club, retirement, Jewish, Mormon, lesbian, and sailing – all of them women-only book clubs.  Even the one that started in my son’s class sent the men home.  When I visited for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the ambiance had changed completely: better food, better wine, better discussion, more tears, and far more laughs.

This isn’t to say that women in book clubs these days don’t still drink or do some of that other stuff that I remember from my childhood.  Alcohol seems to play a major role in a lot of book clubs.  I spoke to one book club that called itself The Winos.  Another had an ongoing contest to see who could make the best margaritas.  And of course how can women gather together and not eat?  On the down side, there are still those occasional know-it-alls who try to monopolize the discussion.

The single biggest change I’ve seen and the one I love most – and maybe this will sound funny coming from a writer – is that the book is usually secondary to the experience of women talking to each other.  Often women tell me that they spend about twenty minutes talking about the book and the rest of the meeting talking about life.  I understand that.  We’re all so busy, yet we all desire companionship and a place to let down our hair.  When and where else do we get to be with other women to boast, complain, commiserate, and laugh at silly stuff?  I may be popping in to talk about my books, but what we’re really talking about is life.  I feel very privileged to get to be a part of those conversations.

Peony in Love the August 8th Choice for the Bag of Books!

Here is the info from the website:

It wouldn’t be summer without sun, surf and sizzling reading. You supply the beach chair and the sunblock, and we’ll provide the fantastic fiction in our Fourth Annual Beach Bag of Books feature and contests.

Every week, from May 16th through August 29th, a different title or collection of titles will be featured with a review and contest prize — a beach bag stocked with the featured book(s), plus summertime essentials that tie in to the weekly theme. Five FABULOUS beach bags will be given away each week, as well as five copies of the featured book(s) to additional winners.

» Click here to view a printable list of

Where to Find Peony in Love

Peony in Love can now be purchased in various electronic formats at Books on Board.
Peony in Love can now be purchased in various electronic formats at Books on Board.

Lisa is the featured author on the book site www.Lovereading.co.uk which has been running since June 2005. They work very closely with authors and publishers promoting books to Lovereading members, which now amount to over 150,000 and growing fast.

More Praise for Peony in Love

“I have read On Gold Mountain and Snowflower and the Secret Fan. I believe Peony In Love is Lisa See’s best novel yet. As always, the storytelling kept me completely absorbed, and the trip through the afterlife was unforgettable. I plan to recommend it to my book club at our next meeting.”

— Mary Schreiner

“Lisa See has done it again. Peony In Love is not only an interesting read but filled with the history and culture of the Chinese women. To be entertained and educated at the same time is such a treat The manner in which Lisa See intertwines the novel with the opera The Peony Pavilion is mesmerizing and a work of literary genius.”

—Mary Healey, Avon, Ct.

“I’m a really big fan of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan so I wasn’t sure she could pull off another story as great but she did. Not only will I recommend this book to other book clubs, I’ll pass along the recommendation to EVERYONE. This one has innocence, devastation, and joy–something for nearly everyone who loves the intriguing mystery of the Asian culture. It will certainly go down as a favorite for the year.”

–Anne Glasgow, Austin TX

“As anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It is a beautiful love story! I am meeting with my book club tonight and will be recommending that we read it this summer. This is definitely a book suggestion that I know will be accepted. All I have to say is that it’s written by Lisa See and just as wonderful as “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and they’ll say yes.”

—-Lynn Hough

“I enjoyed it very much even though this is not a genre I usually take to. It was an enchanting book that is sure to do well.”

–Amanda Ishtayeh from Mason, Ohio

“This was an enjoyable read & especially as it was historical fiction I had suggested Snow Flower & the Secret Fan to both my book clubs who read it We seem to be on a Mid Eastern & Eastern kick at present so I will suggest Peony next.”

Agnes Buckley in NC

“The intriguing story of Chinese culture and their understanding of the afterlife was fascinating and to learn about women in mid seventeenth century China who were published authors was so surprising. Lisa See has once again combined history with fiction to tell an amazing story.”

—Anna Robinson

Awards for Snow Flower, Sugared Taro Recipe

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an Honor Book of the Adult Literature of the Asian/American Award for Literature.

It is also a 2006 Book Sense Honor Book in Adult Fiction.

From Lisa: I get a lot of e-mail from people asking for a recipe to make the sugared taro dessert that Lily and Snow Flower loved. I found a good recipe for it on-line, click here.