where the writers are
Booked for the Holidays

"I don't read books without pictures.

Can we bring porn?"

Can I bring a book that I wrote?

Can I bring a used book I found at Starbucks?

Can we bring husbands?

 Yes to all of the above real-life questions asked in anticipation of my holiday book swap party.

If you are local and are reading this, you are probably already on the guest list--but if you are not and, even after reading this, still want to attend, send me an e-mail and I'll send back the details.

Want to try this in your own home or library? Here are the rules:

1)Have each guest select a book that has some sort of personal meaning to them.  Readers can like the book or hate it--but it has to have some  personal or literary connection to their lives.  People who come as part of a couple, can bring one or two books--but those who bring one book, only get to take one book home to share.

2)Tell each guest to gift wrap the book--without including a card or any identifying labels. No one should be able to tell the book by the gift wrap.

3)Bring the book to the book swap party and put it on the coffee table in the living room, or any other predetermined location.

4) At some point in the festivities, which, at my home, will include buffet, desserts, and wine, we will sit around the coffee table  and briefly admire how well everyone wrapped the books.

Here's what happens next:

One person, at random, will choose a wrapped book.

That person will then open the package, announce the title and author of the book, and proceed to read out loud the first paragraph. (Plan to recycle or take home the wrapping paper and provide recycling bin for that purpose. If organic matter is used in the gift wrapping--consider composting and have the bin nearby. And if the receiver really hates the book and no one else wants it, I suppose that the book can be recycled as well or donated to your nearest library.)

Then the person who selected the book, wrapped it and brought it to the party--will then tell us why it was chosen. Hopefully there will be an interesting anecdote or comment or insight, but maybe not. Maybe other people will chime in--or maybe not.

This one at a time selection, unwrapping and discussion process will continue until the last book is chosen and discussed.

At that point, if people don't like the book that they received, or they have already read it, they can trade.                         


Here's how I screwed it up the first time.

Clearly, the book swap party is not an original idea and there are lots of ways to do it--including a simple grab bag with no explanations or readings. But, as a discussion leader, I really like the chatty format and I thank author/literary event producer, Susanne Pari for introducing me to it.  

Back in 2006, hostess extraordinaire,Susanne, filled her Atherton living room with a stellar guest list including Amy Tan (and a small dog), Lalita Tademy, Firoozeh Dumas and her then newborn daughter, Ellen Sussman, Bridget Kinsella, Harriet Chessman, Kathy Kamen Goldmark, and other awesome talent I can no longer remember.  I was there, in part, because I was helping with Book Group Expo--a booklovers festival that took place a few months later at the San Jose Exposition Center.

I do remember being filled with awe. As a librarian, I knew who the authors were and what they had written. I have an amazing ability to gush--which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse--but usually comes in handy when authors and artists are around. 

Anyway, at Susanne's remarkable gathering with an abundance of fine food, desserts and a living room aglow with holiday light, the book du jour was Dave Eggers book What Is The What,  The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. This tale about the "lost boys" of Sudan, truly was one of the best books of 2006 and several people took copies home.

I was not one of the people who brought the Dave Eggers book. Instead, I played it safe with a classic and brought Thornton Wilder's The Bridge Over San Luis Rey,  a novel/parable which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The setting is Lima, Peru, in 1714, where a Franciscan monk witnesses the collapse of a bridge that has stood for over a century, killing the five people on it. The priest becomes determined to figure out if this was a random tragedy or a higher plan of our creator.  In fact, in his memorial tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, British prime minister Tony Blair quoted from the book, and since then it has become even more popular, as the world has struggled to reconcile faith with catastrophe.

To be honest with you, Bridge Over San Luis Rey, is a plodding read. The language is dated and I didn't really connect to any of the  people who fell off the bridge.  Actually,  I would not expect anyone in my book group to finish it. But  in 2006, trying to build a reputation as a book group leader, with these stellar authors in attendance, I was out to impress. So, I figured, Bridge Over San Luis Rey, won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1928 no less), Tony Blair (then more in favor than now) quoted from it,  there's talk of existentialism --that oughta impress 'em.

In any event, as a lagniappe, (a.k.a. parting gift) Susanne e-mailed us the list of all the books chosen and discussed.

This was a wonderful way to create a holiday gift gifting list and/or a personal reading list for the New Year.

 Getting it right this time

This year, at my house, I'm thinking of wrapping up Going Rogue by Sarah Palin, because everyone I know wants to read it, but no one wants to buy it--so I'll go out on a limb and buy it for someone.  Am also loving Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, about a writer who "goes home again" to a California Mennonite community, when her marriage and her life fall apart.  So maybe that will show up on the coffee table.

There will be some talented authors in attendance--but most of the group will be readers. I will not be scared of the people around me! I will not try to unduly impress them!

I may or may not gush. One cannot always control these things.

If you try this in your own home, write and let me know how it goes.

16 Comment count
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"God created man because he

"God created man because he loves stories" --Eli Weisel

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"God created man because he

"God created man because he loves stories" --Eli Weisel

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Swapping books - a librarian's dream party!

Dear Lauren,

I like this idea and will print out your handy instructions for our library staff lunch.

Thank you People's Librarian and Happy Thanksgiving!


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YA Readings for the Holidays

Hello Ruth:

Thanks for stopping by the blog. How did you learn about it? Were you one of my online students at Infopeople?  Your name sounds very familiar to me.

How wonderful to be working in the land of Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. I know that much has happened in Monterey since then, but I so love their writing of some fifty/sixty years ago. Also love Pacific Grove and Passionfish and Tillie Gort's--maybe you eat there since you appear to know and write about good food.

So now that I have your attention. What should be on the Young Adult Christmas book list. If you were coming to my book party, what would you bring and why?

Thanks for being a part of Redroom

Lauren John

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Warning: Librarians doing reader's advisory

Hi Lauren,

I found your blog by searching for "book clubs" on redroom and naturally your book came up.  By the way, I was a member of my library system's committee that put together our Book-Club-to-Go program.  Your book is one of those we have listed as a resource.

Young Adult Reads for Christmas - I asked my in-house teen advisor (my daughter) about what she would give her friends for Christmas. These were her recommendations:

1. Nightlight by t he Harvard Lampoon, which, well, lampoons Twilight while promoting that series even more.

2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - another spoof book.

3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - nice murder book for the holidays, but it's interesting according to my daughter.

I have to admit I have been playing a little hooky on my young adult reading.  I've been reading books for adults, but will get back into the swing of things again beginning next year.

And, for the party, I would bring my travel literature like the book I just finished called The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool:  A Syrian Journey by Marius Kociejowksi.  I love learning about other cultures and have since I was a dinky kid when my mom took me on a trip to England.

I'm sorry Ryoma and I kind of hijacked your blog for awhile, but that can happen when you're running a good salon-type blog like yours.

Have a great day!




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Thanks for the readers advisory

Wow--My husband is of Syrian descent and we are meeting Syrian cousins for the first time this weekend.

Am going to check out the Street Philosopher Book.

Feel free to hijack this blog any time!


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Another great book about Syria for women

Hi Lauren,

For the women's point of view, I enjoyed Elizabeth Fernea's book Guests of the Sheikh very much.  Fernea's husband is an anthropologist and he did his fieldwork in Syria.  Elizabeth had to live in the women's  quarters not speaking a single word of Arabic at the beginning of her stay.  I read this as a young woman and think she has perhaps published many more books.

 Also, for food, Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Cookery or her Mediterranean Cookery (Out-of-Print) have great recipes that are easy to follow along with information on the culture.

Have fun with your cousins!

Ruth :)

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Great blog!

Thanks, this is a fascinating read and appreciate the fact that you posted it here. Fabulous.

I love libraries! By the way, I your quotation made me smile because it made me think of the other quote that I have often read on internet forums "God created man because she had a sense of humour". :)

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Become a librarian Ryoma

Hi Ryoma,

 The library profession needs folks like you especially in youth services.  Think about it.  It's a two year master's degree in the United States - not sure how it works in the U.K., but you have the personality for it.



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Greetings from San Francisco

Hello Ryoma:

Thanks for stopping by all the way from Birmingham! I have the same question for you, that I had for Ruth. If you were coming to my book swap party, what wrapped book would you bring and why? Or would you wrap your autho-support prototype?  You could do entertain at book fairs and writers conferences with that concept! Better yet, if there really is a prototype robot!

But enough about you--let's talk about me! While we are on the topic of supportive spouses, I will tell you what my husband George  said when he and I met the gorgeous and charismatic Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, at Book Group Expo.

I was a panelist, George was the accompanying spouse (a very unusual role for us, as he is usually the panelist at the many technology conferences we have attended over the years).

 Anyway, Elizabeth, promoting Eat, Pray, Love at the time (pre-Oprah appearance)  was praising her book tour driver to the skies. "How wonderful it is to have a personal driver. It's a new and wonderful experience, " she exclaimed joyously.

 "Well good for you," George said. "But remember...you don't want to become the next David Halberstam!"

All conversation stopped. People gulped, Halberstam had died that year in a car crash in our hometown of Menlo Park--driven by an inexperienced student driver who was so in awe of the author, he did not keep his eyes on the road. Halberstam died--the student lived.

I was distressed. "I can't believe you just said that," I whined to George.

Elizabeth Gilbert cracked up.

"Don't worry," she said. "Halberstam was a great reporter and a cynical one at that. If he was here right now, he would think it was hilarious."

George fell in love with Elizabeth Gilbert.

"She's gorgeous and funny," he said. "And that author thing is cool, too!"

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What a great story!

Loved it and thank you for sharing. :)

Sorry for the late response, I have been a little pre-occupied this past week or so.

In answer to your question, it would be very hard for me to decide on one book to bring. I would want to bring along at least three books I think.

One would be Gina's novel The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy. My reason isn't just because I am married to her or that I promote it at every given opportunity, hahaa, it's because I passionately believe in how wonderful the book is and love to see the story shared with people. Apart from being funny and dark, it's a clever social commentary and is brilliantly written. I also think that once people realise that it is based on real life events, it adds an extra dimension to the experience. It has also helped many people who have suffered at the hands of bullies, harassment and abuse. Love it!

Another that I would bring along is Candide by Voltaire. I love this and think everyone should read it! Philosophical, political, funny, shocking. I think it's brilliant and would lead to very lively debate, to say the least! It's also a fast read. 

The final book I would bring along would be Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett. Although it's the eighth novel in the Discworld series, it's the first to introduce the City Watch. Most of series provides outstanding entertainment, often with social commentary liberally thrown in with a mix of laugh out loud humour. If I could introduce the series to even one new reader, I would be over the moon. It will keep them occupied for years! I have a personal soft spot for the City Watch characters, which is why I would bring this book to share first.

There, that's my selection. I have never been part of a bookclub or anything similar before (actually maybe got involved once) so I don't know how people go about recommending good reads. Sounds like fun!

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Hi Ruth

That is an incredible compliment, especially coming from you. It's very much appreciated. At this point in my working life it would be difficult to do it though. I have spent 23 years in my profession and am still walking along the career path, although I am temporarily unemployed at the moment.

I think I would enjoy being a librarian, but am not so sure I would be a very good one! I canbe a little disorganised at times and have a tendency to let out belly laughs before being able to stop - not good in a library!

Thanks again for the suggestion, it has made me smile.

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Just remember kids and even teens love belly laughs :)

Ryoma, I certainly appreciate your humor especially the photoshopped image of you as the wife marketing app. My husband is very helpful to me as well, but he gets annoyed with me for not promoting my work more.

I get so wrapped up in youth services work that I forget to write sometimes, but I am trying to 1) do Redroom's weekly blog - it's better than crossword puzzles for keeping my mind in shape, 2) respond to blogs, 3)write a weekly redroom pieces that challenge me to write about art - I have loved art history since high school. I will eventually purchase Gina's book. I studied mostly Buddhist Japanese art in school and know that I will learn so much about Japan from reading Gina's book.

Thank you for your amusing posts and have a really great day.

Ruth :)

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Hi Ruth

Self promotion is not easy for most people. Even for sales people, after working with thousands of sales people all over the world, I would hazard a guess that only one or two in ten are as good at it as they should be.

That's why I wrote the blog about partners helping in some way, because I think that authors have loving partner or family or friends who want to help, but don't know how.


By the way, I love your interests!

Lauren, sorry to divert the conversation from your blog. I find the fact that you are helping others with your blogs to be so commendable, especially with such detail and shared knowledge. Astounding. Thank you again for such a great blog!

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Of the three books that you mentioned, Candide is probably the first one I would choose both for gift giving and for book discussion--because of its classic appeal.
But I will also check out Gina's book, The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy and report back!

"God created man because he loves stories" --Eli Weisel

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Candide amazes me, the pace it moves at is quite incredible and yet the way it's written let's the imagination fill out the tiny chapters into something so much bigger. I love it!

I am honoured that you will check out Gina's book. If it helps you decide if it's your cup of tea, then the first chapter is here at http://www.ginacolliasuzuki.com/guppy-excerpt.html

All the best to you.