20 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY JUNE 27-JULY 3, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com Some years ago, Nina Alcaraz was walking through the Old Monterey Farmers Market when she overheard two strangers talking about forming a book club. She walked up to them and, maybe before even introducing herself, asked: “Can I come? Can my partner come?” That’s how she and David Dubrowksi of Salinas joined a book club together that became both a source of literary ideas and community—they eventually invited fellow members to their wedding. A lot of book clubs begin as groups of friends, but this one brought together a constellation of members who didn’t all know each other, and who came from different socioeconomic statuses, ages and life experiences. They didn’t all read the same book and discuss it; instead at each meeting, they’d each present on a book. “It became a mini pitch for, ‘here’s what I liked,’” Alcaraz says. “Maybe you were inspired to read a book outside the genres you normally would’ve.” Emphasis on maybe—Dubrowski remembers there was a member who would always pitch a self-help book (not his genre). He once was moved to read a mystery told from the perspective of sheep trying to solve the question of who murdered their shepherd, and that was a good book but otherwise— well, if he was going to join another book club, he questions other people’s selections. “It sounds so judgy, but there are a lot of not-great books,” he says. “I spend lots of time reading about books and figuring out things that are well written and interesting. I might do it if I was the only person who got to pick the books.” ~~t~~ Book selection is one of the keys to a successful book club, says Jennifer Carson, a professional book club facilitator through her Pacific Grove-based business, To The Lighthouse. “The one rule I have is we do not read nonfiction,” Carson says. “In a lot of private book clubs, people choose nonfiction. I think that’s really a mistake.” That’s because it’s hard to get deep into discussions beyond “that was interesting”— fiction invites richer discussion. Carson runs a public book club at BookWorks (her first cohort just wrapped up their ninth and final session on June 20 with The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li) and is available for hire to facilitate private book clubs. (The nine-session club costs $270, including the books. For private facilitation, it’s $350 for one session, with package deals available.) Usually calls to facilitate come from book clubs that are fraying. “I just had someone reach out and say, ‘I think my book club is in trouble and I don’t know how to fix it,’” Carson says. There are a few recurring pitfalls and if you’ve ever joined a book club—especially one without a clearly appointed and prepared facilitator, professional or otherwise—you’ve probably experienced them. “What makes a successful book club is this balance of a deep conversation about the book—you get something out of the conversation that you wouldn’t have gotten to on your own—balanced with feeling like it’s a warm and social interaction, not a class,” Carson says. The primary indicators of trouble are that people feel lectured (like a class) or their discussion is not meaty enough and they are not getting more out of it than they did reading alone in their bedroom. Not that book clubs are a bad platform for socializing—Carson recommends that groups who hire her allocate time first for coffee or a meal, then begin the discussion. And for some book clubs, socializing is the point. ~~t~~ Rob Rapp of Monterey started a book club two years ago mostly because his wife, Serena Rapp, had started a book club with her friends. On the women’s book club nights, spouses were at home taking care of young kids. “I was like, ‘Hey, every month I’m getting the kids and you are getting a night out. Why don’t we do it too? I started it really as a response to my wife’s book club, and I invited everyone in her club’s husbands.” Depending on the book, they dive into a discussion for an hour or more— but at its core, the club is a gathering for men who might find few social gathering opportunities outside of sports or bars. “I can’t remember the last time before [book club] it was just me and 10 guys hanging out,” Rapp says. It’s become a community. The host of each gathering also cooks for the group (sometimes with a recipe inspired by the book; when they read Confederacy of Dunces, it was jambalaya for dinner). Their text thread started out just for scheduling meetings, but has evolved beyond that. DANIEL DREIFUSS Join the Club A great book club can expand minds and friendships. A bad book club is easy to fall into. By Sara Rubin Jennifer Carson (at the head of the table) leads the ninth and final session of her first public book club at BookWorks in Pacific Grove. Her next group will start in October. “My book club is in trouble and I don’t know how to fix it.” Summer Reading issue