Author John Searles loves book clubs and has set himself the challenge of meeting with one book club in every state in the nation to discuss Help for the Haunted. If he makes it to all 50 states by 7/31/15, the first book club to talk to him in each state will win a tote bag full of books for every member. Interested? You can sign up your book club here. For the next few months, John will be updating us on his progress and filling us in on his experiences as he meets book lovers from across the nation.
John, where did the idea for the 50 States/50 Book Clubs challenge come from?
For years, I was the Books Editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. Every fall, we would hold a national search for 50 bachelors from 50 states. It was silly and fun and got lots of attention from readers and the press. And let me tell you, when those 50 very good-looking single men descended on our offices, it led to mayhem — and even the occasional one night-stand with a member of our staff. Ahem. Anyway, I was remembering how much fun that event used to be, and I thought it might be just as fun to create a similar challenge with books clubs — minus the one-night stands, of course!
Reading a great book is such a pleasure, and it’s made even better by sharing it with other people. Why do you love book clubs?
I have been very lucky as a writer that so many book clubs choose Strange but True or Help for the Haunted, or even my first book, Boy Still Missing, to discuss, then invite me to join them. The thing I’ve noticed is that book clubs are about more than just the book. (Frankly, many are about the booze! Ha.) Really, book clubs are about friendship and getting to spend time with like-minded people. The conversations that arise from the book have a way of telling you about the different members of the group. Often a simple discussion about understanding a character’s motivation or an unexpected plot-twist leads to people sharing their own stories too.
Why do you think Help For the Haunted lends itself to a book club discussion?
I think of Help for the Haunted first as a family story and a coming-of-age story. So, while there are elements of mystery and certainly some creepy moments on account of the protagonist’s parents’ very unusual occupation, at heart it is a book about family, and nothing inspires better discussions than mixed-up families!
It strikes me as very brave to put yourself out there face-to-face with readers who’ll study and dissect every sentence of your novel, and it’s the nature of a book club for people to disagree and have conflicting opinions. It’s impossible to stay impartial about a discussion about your own creation, but how do you manage to avoid becoming a proponent for your work when responding to qualms or criticisms?
Really brave or really foolish! Truly, so long as people are thoughtful about their opinions, I’m very open to hearing different viewpoints because it makes for a livelier discussion. Then again, you might want to ask me at the end of the challenge and see if I still give the same answer!
What are the some of books you’ve had great discussions about in a book club before?
I’ve always found that books by Wally Lamb, Jodi Picoult, Chris Bohjalian, Alice Hoffman and Anne Tyler make for great discussions. They are wondrous and full of complex characters and surprises. Also, I hear that Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a great book club read, and it is next on my list.
Sign up to invite John Searles to your book club here. If you’re the first book club from your state to sign up, John will reach out to you to set up a time to Skype. And based on his schedule, John will also chat with as many additional book clubs as possible. So what’re you waiting for? We can’t wait to hear from John on his progress!