Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why I Love Book Groups by Ann Weisgarber

Today we welcome Ann Weisgarber to Historical Tapestry as part of her blog tour for The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. My review of the book will be up in a couple of days time as part of the same tour.


I joined my first book discussion group soon after I moved to Des Moines, Iowa. It was sponsored by one of the branch libraries, and I wanted to meet people who were not work-related. The group had been meeting for years, but the members welcomed me as though I were a cherished friend. After they settled me in with coffee and cookies, all thoughts turned to Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. They saw Robinson as the local author since she lived in Iowa, and they considered her a neighbor. They didn’t spare her feelings, though. A major point of discussion: the title. They weren’t crazy about it.

At that time, I hadn’t thought about writing a book but years later, when I had to think about a title for Rachel DuPree, the voices from that discussion group pounded in my head. I love that group for reminding me about the importance of titles.

We also read Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, another author who lived in Iowa. This, too, was an eye-opening discussion. The portrayal of farmers hurt the members’ feelings. “We aren’t all like this,” the readers said. “Some of us travel to Europe, we go to New York for Broadway shows. We know the world beyond our farms.”

This was another valuable lesson for a writer. When writing about a real location, that place is home to many people. I thought about this when writing Rachel DuPree, a story located in the South Dakota Badlands. There needed to be a sensitive balance when portraying the Badlands. It was not perfect, but it had its beauty. It was a difficult place, but it offered opportunity and hope for some.

When I moved back to Sugar Land, Texas, I immediately joined a library-based book discussion group. A few years later, I joined a second library-based group. Our reading lists included Socrates, Hemingway, and J.K. Rowling. We’ve read books of which I had never heard. There were some that I didn’t like, but I came to appreciate them after hearing my fellow readers’ comments. Once I waltzed into a meeting in love with the selected novel. I was sure everyone else felt the same. They didn’t. I was the only one who liked it.

A book doesn’t glow for everyone. Writers need to remember that. But when a book does glow, the reader connects and is passionate about the characters. Characters stay fixed in the reader’s mind long after the book ends.

Book discussions highlight the personal relationship between readers and books. Each person brings her own perspective to the book. Each carries her life experiences and those shape her view of the story. Someone might see a theme that no one else notices. Another reader will underline a sentence that moves him to tears while the rest of the group glosses over that sentence. It is not the same book for each person.

I love my two groups, and I’ve scheduled trips and vacations so I can avoid missing meetings. Now we have even more conversations about books through blogs. We are talking, analyzing, and giving meaning to words on the page. Readers are voicing opinions, and those opinions remind me that readers are central characters in every book.

To find out more about Ann, visit her at


  1. This is just how I feel about my book group. It's fascinating to see a book you've read through the eyes of others; to get those different insights and perspectives. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thanks, LisaMM. I'd be lost without my two book discussion groups.

    Marj, thank you so much for including this on your blog. I also appreciate your patience! Just to let you know, one of my editors with Pan Macmillan in England tweeted about the post.

  3. Thanks for featuring Ms. Weisgarber on Historical Tapestry!