Book Clubs – A Changing Dynamic

bookclub participationWhen asked about book clubs, 31% of participants in the 2013 reader survey said they belong to one or more book clubs. Included in that number are those who belong to online book clubs.

For some, online book clubs are a poor substitute for meeting in person, relaxing over coffee or wine and a bit of food before getting down to the more serious business of debating the merits of a given book. The social aspect of physical meetings seems to augment the experience, as does the ability to watch expressions and gestures for clues to what others are thinking. Proximity brings immediacy to the exchange and a liveliness that cannot be replicated over the Internet.

Physical or virtual, as a book club newbie, individuals who refer blithely to Proust, Woolf, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and others as though they are friends might intimidate. Over time, discovering books you would never have read and enjoying the lively conversations that follow will lead to a deeper appreciation of reading as exploration, encountering characters whose life philosophies and experiences are vastly different from yours, discovering unknown places and cultures, vicariously inhabiting challenging circumstances. Book clubs demonstrate the importance of an open mind when reading and encourage you to consider character arcs, story structure, language use, underlying themes, symbolism and a host of other features that make books great. Regardless of size, with just a little effort a great discussion can ensue.

Author Shilpi Somaya Gowda had this to say about books: “Books provided both the opportunity to reflect on our lives, and to think about the larger world — to consider ourselves in the context of generations before us and cultures beyond our borders. That opportunity for reflection and connection is, in my opinion, the greatest role art can play in life.”

What better way to explore those opportunities than in a book club? Yours could be serious, academic, and scholarly, or social, therapeutic, and bonding. Discussions prompted by a book club setting will stretch your mind and take you to places of thought you haven’t been to before. Reading a book knowing you will share your perspectives with others adds depth to your experience. The benefits include community, intellectual stimulation, new books and new people, a break from everyday life, an opportunity for self-expression, the contemplation of deeper issues, and the chance to read more often.

Physical book clubs are the traditional forum for discussing books. A newer forum is social reading: the use of blogs, social media and other online sites for reading recommendations and discussion. Online book clubs mentioned above are one example. Broadly speaking, social reading involves relationships: readers with writers; readers with readers; readers with reviewers and bloggers. Social readers seek like-minded people. They enjoy the give and take of conversations that occur via social media and the ability to establish connections. Reading is no longer a solo activity.

Some refer to social reading as a synchronous activity: discussing content (i.e. books) while inside the content and there are new technologies to enable such activity. Others prefer an asynchronous view of social reading: first I read then I discuss. Variations abound. You can read-discuss-read-discuss just as you might do in a classroom setting. Or you can read-annotate-share-read-annotate-share so that others can follow along with your exploration of whatever content you’re reading. Ultimately, the separation between writer and reader blurs.

Online, in person, small group, large group, synchronous or asynchronous—it doesn’t really matter. The point is to talk about books, share your thoughts, and open your mind to different points of view.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Mapping Favourite Reading Sites

Last March I reported on favourite reading sites mentioned by those participating in the latest reader survey. How do these stack up against two dimensions of social reading: (1) the degree of socializing enabled and (2) the breadth of functionality provided?

Here’s my take on it. It’s interesting to me to see the proliferation in the bottom left quadrant. 

Please note that the position of each bubble is approximate as I wanted to make sure that you could read each one.

Social Reading & Reading Sites


Search sites – Bing and Google for example

Industry sites – Harper Collins was mentioned

Social media – Twitter and Facebook fit in this category

Traditional – online sites created by traditional media such as The Guardian

Author sites – Elizabeth Chadwick has a popular one

Book Blogs – hundreds mentioned by survey participants

Retailers – Amazon and others

Forums – example Historical Fiction Online

Fan Sites – Diana Gabaldon has several

Reading Sites – Goodreads is the biggest one (that’s why Amazon bought it)

Open to your feedback as always.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


Historical Fiction – readers have their say


You, dear readers, have been patient with the charts and numbers I’ve thrown at you from last year’s survey. Who knows, some of you may even have changed the way you market your novels or the novels themselves as a result of insights from the data.

As 2014 closes, I thought you might be interested in what readers had to say when asked the following question: Reflecting on your favourite historical fiction books, how relatively important are the following factors? That question was followed by ten factors from ‘feeling immersed in time and place’ to ‘romance and/or sex’. And a space for write in comments.

Let’s hear from readers directly. I’ve picked a range of responses I found interesting. At some point I can create a graph organized by topics mentioned.

If the story moves me that is what is really the most important. I have to be drawn in, to be swept back in time and into this world created by the author. I do strongly prefer that the historical elements be researched and as authentic as possible without detracting from the story (it is fiction after all).


I loathe anachronistic details like names that were not commonly used in that era, or anyone saying ‘okay’.


I love to be swept up in a good story. A historical setting just makes it even more of an escape.


I read for entertainment mostly, so I can be forgiving of minor issues. I prefer stories with humor to balance the drama, and a good sense of setting and detail. It’s nice to learn something from HF but when I want just the facts I read non-fiction.


Modern mindsets and values placed in historical fiction is a major fault with some writers.


I prefer historical authors who can both be relatively accurate but also weave together compelling stories. Blatant anachronism bothers me. I won’t stick with a book if I’m not completely immersed in it.


I want to care about the characters. I also want to feel the author has done their homework. I want to trust that the information I’m given is true and correct.


Historical accuracy is very important to me. Poor research is the main reason why I stop reading a book or decide to avoid an author.


I enjoy a story that takes me out of my own life for a period of time. I want to laugh, cry and see characters who are real people not larger than life characters who are too perfect or too faulty for me to identify with. I want heroes who fall down and heroines who love them when they do.


I want a good, thumping read where I can’t put the book down.


Lately, a lot of historical fiction has turned into a sexy soap opera. This takes away from the serious events and often times puts the focus of an era or a family onto bickering wives and affairs rather than on those who changed a significant aspect of history.


It varies considerably. Some writers I read just for the pleasure of their writing. Others I look for strong characters and interesting plots.


A great story well told is irresistible. I look for favorite authors but am delighted to discover new ones. Dislike formulaic books of any kind but good romances can certainly add interest. I am a voracious reader who has read thousands of books in my lifetime. A good book is almost as essential as food.


Like the romance. Hate explicit sex.


If a character has faults this makes him more human. If he fails to gain favour or position, again a believable human trait. It is how the author deals with some of the lesser characters which are necessary to the plot that puts realism into the retelling of a historical event or time-line.


The lives of ordinary people who find themselves at the heart of extraordinary, historic events.


I want the history/events to be more than backdrop. I want the history to be as important as the characters and the conflict tied as much to the history as the journey of the characters.


Plot construction just as important in historical fiction even though it follows historical fact.


Looks like a great list to consult as I write novel number three. I’ll be back in the new year.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.