This month’s book club profile focuses on Hip & Well Read in Philadelphia. The club’s leader, Michelle Murphy Niedziela, was nice enough to tell us more about her book club. So without further ado, please help me welcome Michelle and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.
SB (Sarahlyn Bruck): What is the name of your book club and what region are you located?
MMN (Michelle Murphy Niedziela):Hip & Well Read – Philadelphia, PA
SB: How and when did the book club start?
MMN: I’m not exactly sure. I took it over from someone else, who took it over for another person. Our meetup profile suggests it was started in February 2006.
SB: How has it evolved?
MM: It’s certainly grown! When I started in early 2009, we had maybe 400 people and now have over 1000 members!
SB: Who are your members and how did you meet each other?
MMN: We use meetup.com to organize our meetings and limit our meetings to once a month and only 20 people at a time. You have to RSVP to get a spot. We meet at a local bar that’s not too loud and has space for us.
SB: What kinds of books do you read? How do you choose? What criteria do you use?
MMN: We mainly stick with contemporary fiction, though sometimes have graphic novels and short story collections. During the summer we read at least one “classic read.” We have a discussion board on the website where members can make suggestions. And I will create a poll every couple of months with choices from this list or from things I come across. All members can vote on our books.
SB: Where do you meet and how often?
MMN: We meet at a local bar, once a month. We sometimes will make additional meetings if someone can run them if a book is really popular and more people want to join in but couldn’t make the RSVP list.
SB: Are there any selections that were universally loved?
MMN: We do seem to really like most Murakami. And I think we would all agree that Cloud Atlas was one of our favorites. Our best discussions, however, and often book that we either don’t like or when there is a lot of variability in who likes it and who doesn’t.
SB: Any that were particularly divisive?
MMN: Philadelphia has a community city-wide book event called “One book, One Philadelphia” and while we always participate, we typically do not like the book they choose. We aren’t really fans of typical summer read or book club books. Our members are pretty critical, so pop fiction isn’t usually a fave.
SB: What are meetings like—give us a sense of the order and feel of the meetings.
MMN: Everyone participates. We definitely aren’t one of those book clubs where people don’t actually read or discuss the book. I usually open it up with introductions and asking what everyone’s first impressions were, then we talk about characters, themes, the story line. Then end on the ending, overall impressions and we rate the books on a scale from 0-5.
SB: How would you say your book club is different from other book clubs?
MMN: I’ve actually never attended any other book club. I’d never even been to a book club meeting when I took over the club. The person who ran it before me was shutting it down before I had a chance to participate. So I don’t have a point of comparison. But I think our dialog is really rich and our participation is really high. Another unique thing we do from time to time is hold “Silent Reading Parties,” where we show up at a bar and read separately and silently (but together). If you are going to read at home alone, why not read in a bar with food, beer and friends. After a couple of hours of reading it usually opens up for conversation and everyone seems to enjoy it.
SB: Any advice for those looking to start their own book club?
MMN: You have to be a leader, you have to be willing to get conversation going. Have some stock questions, but also get to know everyone’s name so you can call them out for their opinions if they aren’t getting a chance to speak.
–SARAHLYN BRUCK, www.sarahlynbruck.com