Another strange-but-true book group experience

I wrote the following for Susan Gregg Gilmore‘s web site, to celebrate the paperback publication of her gem of a novel, “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”

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I speak to a lot of book groups via speakerphone or Skype, and I always have a terrific time. It wasn’t all that long ago that my books sold briskly, but only among people related to me by blood. I try never to lose sight of that.

And the thing I love best is how candid readers are. The sort of women and men who commit themselves to book groups tend to view reading as a communal experience and are not especially reticent. They tell me precisely what they think of my books: What works and what doesn’t.

Not too long ago, I was speaking with a group that had just finished my 2004 novel, “Before You Know Kindness.” It was one of those discussions that would have made English professors proud of the way their students could put Tolstoy or Wolff in their place. (“The problem with Anna,Professor, and why she doesn’t succeed as a character. . .”) Even my reasonably healthy ego was a little ragged by the time the group had finished eviscerating my characters, my pacing, and my prose.

The next day I got an email from the group’s leader, thanking me for spending a half-hour with them the night before. Apparently, this group rates every book they read for posterity on a ten-point scale, as well as the author’s persona on the telephone or Skype screen.

“You were so charming with our group and so insightful,” the leader wrote. “We gave your book group presence a 9.6 to be precise.”

I noticed there was no rating for the novel, and so I wrote back, curious how the book had scored.

“Do you really want to tug at that thread?” the leader emailed me. I wrote her that I did.

“The book only earned a 4.1,” she confessed, and then added – apparently trying to make me feel better – “but isn’t it more important to be a good person than a good writer?”

I am not completely sure Hemingway would have agreed. But I appreciated the candor.

My sense is that if your book group dives into Susan Gregg Gilmore’s “TheImproper Life of Bezellia Grove” – new in paperback this week – you’ll give both her and her book a perfect ten.

Happy reading.


Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Another strange-but-true book group experience

  1. Shannon @ A Mom's Year says:

    And this is why I should just go back to writing textbooks. Ouch. But it’s a very funny story, and I admire you for sharing it. I’m visiting your blog after reading your essay in Maeve Binchy’s book and this laugh alone has been worth the trip!

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