Today I’m featuring an interview with the very talented Kelly Dearth, Book Club Designer Extraordinaire! The Delicious Read’s Book Club is her baby, and I have been attending for a little over two years. We meet once a month and take turns moderating the book of choice. I was in charge of moderating last month’s selection – “Between Shades of Gray (NOT 50 Shades of Grey….).” which was an amazing experience! The book is about the a Lithuanian family who is deported during WWII. An AMAZING book. You can go here to see all the pictures and events from the night. (Soon I will post my review of the book, along with my FREE powerpoint presentation you can download to use for your own book club if you’d like.)
BUT. Today is about KELLY and the DELICIOUS READS BOOKCLUB!
This is no ordinary book club… it’s basically a crazy-amazing book club – on steroids! I’m very impressed with the entire thing, so I thought it would be fun to share with readers how she pulls off these extravagant gatherings!
So, my readers, meet Kelly:
Me: Kelly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today! I’m obviously a huge fan of your creativity! Why don’t you start by telling me a little about how it got started in the first place. How many years have you been doing this? Did you intend for it to be such a smashing success? Did you want it to have as many components as is has now? Walk us through its evolution.
Kelly: A little over seven years ago my book club started off with me in a brand new neighborhood, wishing there were other people that I could talk books with (which my husband fully supported because he was tired of listening about which boy I preferred in that month’s current love triangle!)
I handmade about 20 invitations that I delivered in person to try and guilt people into attending my first official book club meeting.
Seven of us met at my house a few weeks later and gathered around my kitchen table with some slightly burnt cookies to discuss, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom. The discussion went…okay, but I didn’t see any real enthusiasm from anyone which got me thinking that I wanted to take things up a notch at our next meeting.
At our next meeting I had made some simple book marks with a quote from our current book which I handed out to each member and provided a simple dinner for everyone which seemed to elicit a lot more interest and enthusiasm out of each member. From that meeting on, I continued to take things up another notch and before I knew it, I was sending out monthly evite reminders with detailed menu food sign ups, hosting monthly give-a-ways, assigning “Moderators” and “Bloggers” for each book, asking members to dress up when the book called for it and turning my home into a blank slate to decorate in whatever theme or culture our book dictated!
The short answer to your original question is NO, I did not initially intend for my book club meetings to be as big or as elaborate as they are now.
Exactly seven years ago this month I held my first book club and I’ve never once had to cancel or had a no show meeting which I find pretty remarkable! (Not to say we didn’t have to improvise a few meetings.) I can’t wait to see how Delicious Reads will evolve from here.
Me: I can’t wait either, since I planning on always attending! That’s a pretty amazing thing to never have cancelled! Why don’t you describe the Delicious Reads Book Club for my readers. What sets your book club apart from all the others?
Kelly: I think what sets my book club apart from others is the fact that I never stop looking for new, creative, fun and innovative ways to keep our meetings not only enjoyable by educational as well. I love finding that balance between fun and informative! The members who come to my book club tell me that they feel enriched and rejuvenated at each meeting they attend and I think that has a direct correlation with the balance I mentioned. Plus, we always have REALLY delicious food at each meeting which could also play a part. ;
Me: How do you pick the books you read and discuss each month? Do you have certain genres you focus on? Do the selections ever get changed as the year goes on? How do you ensure the books you’re picking are going to be good “discussion” type of books?
Kelly: For me, choosing the books we read is one of the biggest challenges I face each year. I am always anxious as I try to do my best to make sure every one of my 30+ members feels and knows that their opinion and suggestions are being heard. While simultaneously attempting to line up a diverse selection of books that the majority will hopefully enjoy reading and making sure no one’s feelings are hurt. (It can be intimidating to suggest a book that no one seems interested in reading.) No big deal right?
After many years of trial and error and trying many different combinations, I have found that the easiest way for our group to choose books is to only do it ONCE a year! By choosing our books a year in advance it allows everyone the freedom to buy, borrow and read the books in advance and prepare as necessary at a more leisurely pace.
How do we choose our books? After our discussion at our October meeting, we take a short break before switching gears to choose the next years book line up. I hook my laptop into my TV and we look up every book suggested on Goodreads and Amazon to view their ratings and reviews. We do our best to make sure the books we choose are GOOD books that have high ratings for a reason. We are not always successful in our attempts but for the most part, I’d say we choose wisely. 😉
We keep our book selections diverse on purpose…it’s the best way to appease everyone to make sure each member feels they are reading something they really respond to while also stretching our comfort zones of what we would normally read.
Our typical book selection breakdown looks something like this:
1 -Non fiction
2-3 -Young Adult fictions
3-4 -Adult fictions
-We choose some kind of “spooky” or gothic book for our October read.
-And for our Special “Couples Book Club” we typically choose a SiFi book to appease the guys who join us for the month. 😉
We almost always stick to the books we pick but occasionally a book replacement is necessary. If the moderator for one of the books reads in advance and finds that the book would not be enjoyed by our group for one reason or another, we don’t hesitate to replace it with a book that would be a better fit. Sometimes we replace a book because another book or opportunity comes along and we have to squeeze it in! For example, occasionally I have new authors that I met come to our book club after they have released their first book so in a situation like that we will always make a space for their books!
Click HERE to see our 2013 Lineup!
Me: As an aspiring author, I really admire that part! Tell me a little bit about the different options everyone has for participation in your book club. This is a pretty hands-on, get-involved group. How have you organized it?
Kelly: (laughing) it’s true, I put my members to WORK!
I learned early on that members want and need to feel included in book club and it runs SO much better when they are involved! When I first started my book club I tried to “make it easy” on the people who came by doing all the work myself. I made the treats each month, organized the discussions and put together handouts for the books. But the harder I worked to make things easier for the members, the less people attended. I realized that I needed to give members a reason to come and feel involved and to know that they were a part of something. That’s when I created the different “positions” that members volunteer for which are:
MODERATOR: A moderator is in charge EVERYTHING for the book they sign up for. They come up with our discussion questions, power points, handouts, give-a-ways, games, decorations or anything else they want to do to bring their book to life.
BLOGGER: The blogger takes all the notes on what we discuss at that book club meeting; our star rating of the book, review of the book from our members point of view, specific topics discussed, quotes from other members etc. The blogger then takes their notes and publishes our “official review” on our book club blog.
Many of our members who may not be comfortable volunteering for a larger position help in many other ways like bringing food! On the Evite I send out each month, members can sign up to bring food that usually relates with the book we read. For example, when we read Sense & Sensibility, we themed our menu around an English tea party complete with bite size cucumber sandwiches, mini fruit tarts, chocolate dipped strawberries and of course, lots of tea.
Me: When did you launch your Delicious Reads Blog? Tell me about the different aspects you feature on it. I know you just did a whole overhaul- what has worked well for you, specifically for your online/social media presence?
Kelly: I launched our blog about four or five years ago back when we called ourselves “Book Klubbers.” The only reason we had that name was because I had to title the blog SOMETHING to get it started and book klubbers came to mind first. Before I knew it, we were book klubbers for two years!! Whoops! To fix my wrong I decided to host a give-a-way by asking members to submit possible names for renaming our book club. I choose my preferred five titles from the submissions fbefore having the members vote on their favorite, which ended up being “Delicious Reads.” I did my best to make our blog style reflect our personality but blog design is not my forte and so I enlisted some professional help this year! I love the way our design turned out…it feels cleaner, more professional, easier to navigate and has loads of charm, just like us. 😉
Our blog features detailed picture recaps of our monthly meetings with all the details that made our night special. There is always an additional post right after the recap that is dedicated to the review of each book we read. I also post about books being turned into movies, local book and author events and anything else book related that I find interesting! I’m in the process of asking a few of my members to become contributors on our blog who would each “specialize” in different book related topics (book shelf styling, book crafts, writing a book, children’s parties based off of book, paring foods to books etc.
Me: Every year during the holidays, you do a special “favorite things’ gift exchange and holiday boutique that has become one of the favorite meetings of the year. Tell me about how that get-together works.
Kelly: Our December “Christmas party extravaganza” has been a tradition since our first year. We start the evening off as usual by discussing our monthly book while stuffing our faces with our customary cheese and chocolate fondue smorgasbord. Yea…it’s SO good and we made the fondue a tradition for a reason!
After our book discussion we take a moment to refill our plates for the third time before we begin our book club boutique. Several years ago, I recognized that quite a few of our members either sold or made different products and thought it would help everyone out if at Christmas time we held a “book club boutique.” That way, those who sold or made products could make a little money and members who were looking to find that perfect unique Christmas gift got what they needed as well! Win, win! It’s gotten bigger and bigger each year but I love it!
We squeeze a lot of fun into this one evening so the boutique only lasts about 45 minutes before we start what has become one of my best ideas ever…our favorite things gift exchange! Each member brings a wrapped gift that has an attached card with a short paragraph describing why the gift inside is “one of their favorite things.” The trick is, you cannot write your name on the present because whoever picks up the gift and reads the card has to guess who it belongs to BEFORE they are allowed to open it. This game has produced many hilarious moments and memories! We learn so much about each other in the process of guessing and usually end the evening in a fit of giggles and tears! Everyone goes home happy, well fed, stocked with a few Christmas gifts and a new favorite thing to enjoy.
Me: Every so often you have the author of the book we read come to our meetings. How do you get in touch with the authors to arrange this? What aspects of the night are different when an author comes? Can an author request to have their book featured at your book club?
Kelly: It has become my new goal to have at least one author visit Delicious Reads per year. I find it exhilarating and fascinating to have an author come to our book club so that we can berate them with questions and be in awe of their literary superstardom! It’s a completely different dynamic when an author visits because we are not meeting to criticize and praise the book in the same manner as usual. We are there to learn as much as possible about the author, the book and what went into the writing process as we soak it all in! I don’t have any specific “recipe” to arranging author visits, just being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. Going to author events and shopping at small book stores helps tremendously in getting acquainted with local authors as well as staying connected with them through social media.
Me: That was so much fun to have Brodi Ashton come! I know this is going to be a hard question, but if you had to recommend three books that you’ve discussed at your book club, what “MUST READS,” would you recommend?
Kelly: I’m going to cheat a little a give you my top four “must read” books instead of three, sorry. Actually, I’m not sorry! It took me 20 minutes to get my giant list of great books down to four so I’m not apologizing! 😉
Here is my list of books that generated some of the best discussions, brought out all our emotions and sparked our imaginations:
- “The book Thief” * by Markus Zusak– If for some reason you have not read this beautifully haunting book yet then stop reading this interview right now and go get this book. EVERYONE needs to read this poignant book; it will change you and stay with you like a friend from the past.
- “The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society” * by Mary Ann Shaffer- What a delightful and surprising read! This is one of those books that you look back on fondly and smile. We all enjoyed reading this immensely and felt like we had made a group of new friends in Guernsey.
- “The Night Circus” * by Erin Morgenstern– This book falls under the genre of magical realism and it is just that. Our senses, our emotions and our imaginations soared through every delectable page of this unique book. Our discussion that night seemed endless and we were all left feeling like there was magic in the air.
- “The Fault in our Stars” * by John Green– This YA book about two teens dealing with cancer seems like it would a major downer but it turns out to be quite the opposite. You will find yourself smiling and crying all within the same sentence and wonder how the author could write something so perfectly. This quick read will tug at your heart strings and tickle your funny bone all at once.
(**I linked each book to the PHOTO recap on the Delicious Reads Book Club blog. There are separate posts for our REVIEW, which you could find on the blog by searching the title.)
Me: What do you think is the biggest thing that has kept your group going over the years? How have you managed to run it so successfully?
Kelly: I think what’s kept my group going strong over the years is… well, me! (Laughing. I sound humble right?!) I definitely don’t mean that I’m this amazing person or anything silly like that but in reality, I have kept it going no matter what the circumstances. I’d like to think that my members can see the passion and love I have for our book club and maybe that’s part of what motivates them keep coming back month after month. But, I think the REAL reason so many of my members stay excited about book club is purely because it’s FUN! I always say that our meetings are more like “Book Parties” and who wouldn’t want to indulge in something like that if they had the chance? I mean, where else can you read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and show up to have your own “portrait” taken in a photo booth or draw some sinful detail on the “real portrait of Dorian?” Like I said, we like to have fun with our books!
Me: If readers are interested in starting their own book clubs, and patterning it after what you’ve done, what suggestions would you have for them? Do you have any resources available to share?
Kelly: The shortest answer to that question would be, just call me! I’ll explain all my book club secrets that I’ve gathered over the years over the phone. I don’t think we have enough time for me to go into all my suggestions and trial and error lessons learned but I will leave you with one recommendation. The number one reason I’ve observed that book clubs fail and dissolve is because no one steps in to take charge. SOMEONE needs to be the leader, the president, the organizer, the head honcho… you get my meaning? A successful book club needs some form of structure and continuity to allow members to make it a part of their lives. Members need feel that their time is not being wasted and that their efforts were for a good reason. Keep things structured, organized, fun and exciting and your book club with thrive, guaranteed.
Me: Out of all the aspects of your book club- the books, the power point presentations, the menus, the themes, the evites, the social media, the blogging, the moderating, the companionship, the discussions…. What is your most favorite element, and why?
Kelly: My book club has become a part of my life in many ways. From the books I read each month to keeping up with “business” end of things, book club is always on my mind. I truly love aspects of it but I think what motivates me the most is the members. In the quiet moments after one of our meeting when the majority of the book club ladies have left, I sometimes get the opportunity to chat one on one with people. It’s usually during those late night chats that I learn things that confirm to me that running book club is worth all the time, energy, and work I put into it. One of my members mentioned that she didn’t have any friends until she started to coming to book club. Another told me that she was never much of a reader before coming but now she reads a book a week which has also inspired her family to read more. I get ladies who tell me that book club is the only thing they have to look forward to each month, that it’s they only thing they make time for between their kids, jobs, school etc. Sometimes I get a member expressing their gratitude for pushing them outside of their box to read new genres, try new foods and meeting new people. That’s where my motivation comes from…from all of my incredible members! Those ladies, my friends and fellow readers are my favorite “element.”
Brooke: Ok Kelly, we’re winding it down with one last question. If you HAD to pick the most memorable book club- purely from a discussion standpoint, what would it be?
Kelly: The book club that fits that description and that comes to mind right away is “The Night Circus.” That book elicited almost every single member to attend that meeting which almost never happens. My house was stuffed to the gills with ladies anxiously waiting to talk about that enchanting and magical book! I think that is still one of our most memorable book clubs to date and one of our biggest hits on the blog!
That was an amazing night! Thank you so much Kelly, for taking the time to let us in on how you have created such a memorable group. I am honored to be a part of it!
Have a great weekend everyone!