Book clubs on boats. Book clubs in cars. Book clubs complete with game shows and nudity.

In the past nine years, I've attended hundreds of book clubs to talk about my books. It is by far one of my favorite ways to meet readers, because unlike a book store or library appearance, these folks have already read my book and are prepared to ask some interesting questions.

I've also learned that not all book clubs are alike. I've seen some strange and fascinating things over the years while visiting with book clubs, including:

  • Game shows - complete with theme music and large, colorful props - designed to test book club members' knowledge of the story
  • Power point presentations arguing in favor of the next book
  • Buffets only containing foods mentioned within the book
  • Skinny dipping (admittedly, that was my own book club, and not me)
  • End-of-year, Academy Award styled awards shows for favorite books and characters from the previous year (voted on by secret ballot by members of the book club)
  • Heated arguments (and one woman storming out of the house) over disagreements about themes and plot points, (even though the author was there to definitively answer the question)

I've attended book clubs in living rooms, restaurants, backyards, libraries, community centers, and churches. I've joined book clubs via Skype with people from all over the country and the world. I once spoke with a group of Saudi Arabian women wearing head scarves that covered everything but their eyes.

Twice I've attended a book club hosted on a boat.

Perhaps the strangest book club I ever visited was one who I joined while driving through the Bronx. Elysha and I were on the way to a Moth StorySLAM and planned to arrive early so I could join the group via Skype on my phone to answer a few questions before the show. Traffic slowed us, so the call from the book club came as I drove through the Bronx to the show. 

Elysha pointed the camera at me, and as I navigated my way through the streets, I answered questions about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. The group even asked Elysha some questions about being married to an author.

We spoke for about 15 minutes. In that time, I found the theater, parallel parked, and wrapped up the call in the car while Elysha went to get a spot in line. 

I've often thought about writing a book about my wide and varied experiences with book clubs: both my own book club and the ones I've visited. It wouldn't be a terribly long or especially profound book, but that might make it the perfect book for book clubs everywhere.  

4 good ideas and 4 bad ideas about book clubs

PopSugar's Elyssa Friedland offers 10 tips for a successful book club.

I've been a member of a book club for more than a decade. Six people - three couples - meet and talk about books over dinner 6-8 times per year.

I've also visited with well over 100 book clubs over the course of my publishing career. It's been interesting. I've learned that book clubs are as diverse as the books themselves.

I've seen some crazy things.  

I love my book club, and I love visiting with book clubs. That said, I'm not a fan of this PopSugar list.  

I didn't like the list right from the start because it has ten items. When it comes to list, I never trust round numbers, and ten is the worst round number of all. A list of ten items almost always means that that effort was made to bring the list to this round number, so it's likely that a less-than ideal item was added to the list to bring it to ten or a useful item was left off the list to reduce it to ten.

Why magazine editors like this number so much is beyond me.

Would "Want to Have a Successful Book Club? Here Are 9 Tips" been so bad?

I also strongly oppose some of the ideas on the list. The most egregious:

1. Don't do it with your best friends.

While I appreciate the idea that diversity in a book club can offer a variety of perspectives, a book club is supposed to be fun. If I can't hang out with my closest friends and talk about books, that's probably not going to be fun.

3. Send out advance questions and pass them out at the book club.

This sounds like an excellent way to turn reading into work, the equivalent of a teacher assigning a book report. Can you imagine being handed a list of questions prior to your book club meeting?

I can't.

If this happened to me, I think I'd find myself trapped between the desire to tear up the list in the person's face or fold it into a paper airplane and throw it at the person's eyeball.

Don't make a book club more than what it's supposed to be: A conversation about the book.

4. Do it at work.

I hate this advice. It presumes that most American workplaces offer employees control over their time and space. It's simply not true. Millions of Americans are working in factories, retail establishments, the service industry, and for the government, not to mention the enormous numbers of people who are unemployed, retired, or opting out of the workforce. For a majority of Americans, conducting a book club at work would be impossible.

Do you want your local DMV worker using taxpayer money to discuss the intricacies of the latest Jonathan Franzen novel?

Do you really think the sales rep at Best Buy or the waiter at Applebees or the mechanic at Pep Boys is going to be afforded the time to gather with fellow employees in the break room to debate the portrayal of racism in Huckleberry Finn? 

Do you really think that your hairdresser or furnace technician will be gathering at the end of the day to discuss the brilliance of the latest Matthew Dicks novel?

This is advice for the precious few whose boss might think it lovely for employees to gather and discuss literature or who have the opportunity to take a long lunch simultaneously. 

This just doesn't happen for most people. 

Also, alcohol always makes book club better. Can't drink at work. 

9. Have a cell-phone bowl (like a key party).

No, this is not like a key party at all. A key party is a strategy used by swingers to determine their sexual partners for the evening. Keys are randomly selected from a bowl, and the key you choose corresponds to the person who you will be having sex with later that night.

This sounds like an exciting new model for a book club, but I don't think it's what Elyssa Friedland meant when she proposed collecting phones at the beginning of the meeting.  

This is a proposal to treat adults like children, which never sits well with me. If your book club is populated by adults, and one of them is staring at his phone all night, say something. Ask him to stop. Un-invite him from the book club. Don't impose rules that stop adults from being adults. 

All that said, I like a few of Friedland's ideas a lot. 

2. Rotate who chooses the book (a policy my book club uses).
5. Call the writer (I'm often called and asked to visit).
8. Give ample time between sessions.
10. Venture into nonfiction.

These are all good ideas. Reasonable and doable ideas. 

Friedland says that book clubs sound amazing in theory but in practice tend to fall short. She gives the average book club about three meetings before the deterioration begins. 

This has not been my experience. My book club has not wavered in the slightest, and the book clubs that I visit are enthusiastic, tightly-knit groups of mostly women who love reading and discussing literature.

Even mine. Happily so. 

book club.jpeg

Book Club Adventures on Planes and Trains and Automobiles (sort of)

Since I published my first novel in 2009, I have attended well over 100 book club meetings both in person and over Skype with people from all over the world who have read my books. While I love speaking in book stores and libraries whenever given the opportunity, it's always a special honor to be invited to one of these book club meetings. These are folks who have already read my book and are armed with interesting comments and questions that I love to listen to and answer.

What I have discovered over the years is that no two book clubs are exactly alike. Each possesses a unique personality and culture that is often surprising and oftentimes unimaginable.

Simply put, I have witnessed a great many things over the years while visiting with book clubs. Occasionally, Elysha will join me for a book club meeting, making these experiences even more fun.

The methods by which book clubs choose the books they read are fascinating. From debates to democracy to diplomacy to the simple process of taking turns (the preferred method of my own book club), these decisions are fascinating to watch and sometimes a little overwhelming. I have witnessed two PowerPoint presentations at the end of book club meetings, filled with slides arguing why a particular book should be chosen next. I've watched people read book reviews aloud in an effort to win over their fellow book club members. And I've watched one woman offer to buy the book for all of the ladies in the club if they agreed to read it next.  

I have participated in living room game shows of sorts, designed by book club members to test their fellow members' knowledge of the plot and characters of the book. One of these games included theme music, an enormous scoreboard, and electronic buzzers.

I've attended book clubs where the only food served was food mentioned in the book.

I've attended book clubs where members skinny dipped in the adjacent pond. Granted that was my own book club, and one of the skinny dippers was my wife, but still. 

I've visited the book clubs of colleagues and friends. High school classmates and former students. Elysha's first babysitter. My ex-girlfriend. A fellow author.   

I visited a book club that rates the books they read on a 10-point scale, and these scores are averaged, giving the book a final score. In addition to assigning a number, each person also gives a reason for their determination. Members not present who finished the book can email in their rating and rationale. One of their members on the night I was there was in Korea but still took the time to email a score and a paragraph explaining her thinking.

At the end of the year, this book club meets for an awards night of sorts. The members vote on the books read during the year in categories like best and worst book, best passage from a book, best and worst male and female character, best discussion, best cover, and more. They run this awards gala like the Oscars. Members vote, and presumably one member (unless they also enlist the services of Price Waterhouse) collects the votes and places the winner’s names in Oscar-like envelopes for the dramatic reveal.  

I've Skyped with readers in at least half of the 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico, the UK, Denmark, Brazil, and Germany. I've spoken to a bookclub of women in Saudi Arabia who were all donning full burkas for the entire discussion. I've spoken to students in on the other side of the country and prisoners behind bars. 

I've often thought that I should write a book about my book club adventures. I have more than enough stories to fill the pages, 

And I continue to experience new and interesting moments with book clubs all the time. Last week I had two such experiences.

Early in the week, Elysha and I were invited to attend my first book club meeting on a boat. We traveled to Coventry, CT, where we boarded a small boat on Lake Wangumbaug and went for a ride on a warm, summer evening with about half a dozen ladies and two of their husbands. Barbecue chicken and other tasty morsels were served, as well as Blackstone wine, in honor of my hometown and the setting for The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs.

It was a beautiful summer evening and a picturesque setting for a chat about books, writing, schooling, and more. We met some fantastic people that evening and hope to see them again sometime soon.

Later in the week, I was scheduled to Skype with a book club in Strasburg, Ohio, but a mix-up on my part regarding the date of our meeting caused me to be double booked. I was supposed to be at a Moth StorySLAM at the National Black Theater in Harlem that night while also speaking to a group of library patrons who had just finished reading Something Missing.

So in another book club first, as we drove into Harlem, Elysha called the group via Skype on my phone and pointed the camera in my direction while I sat behind the wheel. While I navigated the surface streets of Harlem, I answered questions from the group about Something Missing and my writing process. And when things became dicey because I was traveling into unfamiliar sections of the city and needed to consult my GPS, Elysha turned the phone on herself and answered questions from the group.

Book clubs folks love to ask her questions. 

One of the questions asked was this:

"Is Matt as funny at home as he is in his books?"

Elysha's response:

"No, not really. But he makes like interesting."

Two weeks later and I'm still stinging from that answer.

But it was my first book club conducted from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, and while it caused Elysha to panic a few times, it was exciting, and the readers in Ohio got a kick out of listening to me speak while catching glimpses of New York that they only see in TV and movies.

I like to think that I turned a problem (double booking the evening) into something better than originally planned.  

I also offered to do a more traditional book club meeting with them anytime they want.

I've yet to meet with a book club while on a plane, train, bicycle, or horseback, but I'm sure that day will come. 

If you'd like to invite me to one of your book club meetings, either in person or Skype, simply send me an email. I'd be happy to get together with you and your fellow readers.

The moment for which every author longs, experienced by my wife.

My wife was checking out books at the library when a woman stepped up beside her and handed Unexpectedly, Milo to the adjacent librarian.


“That’s my husband’s book,” Elysha said.

“What?” the woman asked.

“What?” the librarian asked.

“That’s my husband’s book,” she repeated. “He wrote it.”

“He did?” the woman said.

“He did?” the librarian said.

I can count on two hands the number of times I have seen one of my novels in the wild, and I have never seen Unexpectedly, Milo in anyone’s hands outside of friends and family. I see it on bookstore and library shelves all the time, but rarely in a reader’s actual hands.

I dream of the day when I step on a plane or walk across a beach or stroll by a row of treadmills and see a handful of people reading my books. For a few select author

The woman returning the book, it turns out, knows me. I attended her book club a few months back to discuss Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, and she has since read my other two books. In fact, the library where the woman borrowed the book places a rating sheet on the back page, giving readers the chance to assign a numerical score and add comments about the book. She had been the first to take the time to fill out my book’s rating sheet.


It was exciting for my wife to see someone plop down one of my books right in front of her, and part of me is glad that my wife was able to experience that “in the wild” moment. I spend much of my life trying desperately to impress her, so a moment like this helps my cause.

Still, books in the wild are a tough thing to come by, and I was a little jealous that she was there to experience that moment and not me. Perhaps with the publication of my next book, set for the fall, my opportunities for seeing my books in the wild will increase substantially.

Fingers crossed.

PowerPoint presentations, game shows, skinny dipping, and now The Oscars: Quirks of the many book clubs I have attended

Last week I attended the meeting of Sheltering Trees, a book club in Wallingford, Connecticut. The members of the group (more than a dozen ladies ranging in ages from their twenties to their seventies) were kind enough to read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, so I joined them for their discussion.


As expected, it was great fun. Book club events always are.

After having attended the meetings of more than 100 book clubs over the past five years, I’ve discovered that every book club has its own traditions, rules, quirks, and eccentricities.

I’ve attended a book club meeting that opened with a game show created by the host, played by the other members, and was based upon the book they  read.

I watched a book club choose their next book via professional presentations that included PowerPoint presentations, heated discussions, and carefully chosen clips from New York Times reviews.

I attended a book club meeting where two of the women disappeared in the midst of the meeting, only to be later found skinny dipping in the pond.

The latter was my own book club.

I could probably write a book about my adventures attending book club meetings. I probably should.  

The book club that I met with last week ends their meeting by rating the book on a 1-10 scale, and these scores are averaged, giving the book a final score. These women  take this rating process very seriously. In addition to assigning a number, each person also gives a reason for their determination. Members not present who finished the book can email in their rating and rationale. One of their members was in Korea but still took the time to email a score and a paragraph explaining her thinking. 

As the author, it was both fascinating and a little terrifying to listen to these women, who pull no punches, rate my book. I offered to leave to allow them to be honest, but they insisted I stay. “Don’t worry,” one woman said. “we won’t be careful of your feelings.” Two of my ladies in the group assigned my book a perfect ten, which causes the rest to burst into spontaneous, uproarious applause.

These women take their perfect scores very seriously.

I also had my share of eights and nines from the group, and my book ultimately received an average score of a nine, which I was told is very good.

At the end of the year, the book club meets for an award’s night of sorts. The members vote on the books read during the year in categories like best and worst book, best passage from a book, best and worst male and female character, best discussion, best cover, and more. They run this awards gala like the Oscars. Members vote, and presumably one member (unless they also enlist the services of Price Waterhouse) collects the votes and places the winner’s names in Oscar-like envelopes for the dramatic reveal. 

No book is read for that December meeting. It’s simply a review of the previous year’s books.

The women were kind enough to invite me and Elysha to their awards celebration, and if the date is open, I’m going. This book club is comprised of an interesting cast of characters (they always are), and I suspect that the evening will be highly entertaining.

Maybe it will be the final straw that pushes me over the edge and makes me want to write that book.

My book club once featured skinny dipping. This book club has a big time college football player for a member. I think they win.

I’m not a big college football fan. I don’t have an allegiance to any college football team. But wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell may have turned me into a Georgia Bulldogs fan with his recent foray into, of all things, a book club.


It’s a great story. I can’t wait to show this video my students at the beginning of the school year. You must watch.

Go Bulldogs.

The career of an author is not all angst and loneliness. Some of the time.

I am not a starry eyed author. I expect little from my publishing career. When I published my first novel, Something Missing, in 2009, I was not under the illusion that I would be quitting my day job anytime soon. I saw that book as a small, uncertain, precarious step into a new career that came with no guarantees.


With each successive book, my attitude has changed very little. My most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, has sold well and has been translated into more than 20 languages worldwide, and I still view every book as possibly my last.


There are no guarantees. If I don’t write an excellent book every time, this career could end tomorrow. 

This pessimistic attitude means that I am rarely disappointed by my writing career and occasionally surprised and elated about truly unexpected surprises that my writing career brings. This week has been just such a week.

On Monday I made arrangements to Skype with a book club in Saudi Arabia about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. Saudi Arabia! The fact that people around the globe are reading my stories never fails to excite me. 

On that same day, one of my former students told me that her college roommate was discussing my most recent novel in her English class.

That same night I drove to New York City to compete in a Moth StorySLAM, and I won. My fifth won in  a row! I wouldn’t be nearly the storyteller that I am today without my writing career. 

On Tuesday I scheduled meetings with two local book clubs to talk about my my books and my writing career.

Yesterday I received updates on the film options on two of my novels. While there are absolutely positively no guarantees when it comes to Hollywood and movie deals, the fact that talented people are working hard to adapt and  develop my material is thrilling.

Last night a college student sent me a book trailer for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend that he created for class.

This has been an unusual week in terms of happy publishing moments. Most of the time, I am sitting at a table, fighting with words, struggling to find a few more minutes in my busy day to write. It’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s frightening and it’s always uncertain.

That said, weeks like this help a lot.

“Book club date night” is probably not the most romantic way to spend an evening with your wife

Since publishing my first novel in 2009, I’ve visited with more than one hundred book clubs throughout Connecticut and beyond, oftentimes in person and many times via conference call, Skype or a similar platform. I’ve video chatted with books clubs in Canada, Finland, Australia and the UK as well as clubs throughout the United States.

Last week I joined 23 women in my home state who had read my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING.

This particular meeting took place on a late Wednesday afternoon, but when the book club meets on a Friday or Saturday night, I make every effort to bring Elysha along and declare it “book club date night.”

Don’t try this at home.

Essentially, I’m asking my wife to join me at a stranger’s home and spend two hours listening to women (it’s always women) ask me questions about my books and my life while telling me how much they enjoy my work.

It’s rare for someone to tell me that they did not like my book. I try to arrive about 15 minutes late to every book club in order to allow any detractors to have their say before I arrive, but there have been a couple of women over the years who have been less than enthusiastic about my work and not afraid to tell me so.

I always admire these women for their moxie while simultaneously questioning their taste in literature. 

I’m always honored to be invited to attend a book club, and it’s fun to be able to talk to people who have read my novel already. The conversations tend to be deeper and more specific, and the food and drink is always surprisingly elaborate and good. Book clubs have even gone so far as to decorate the space in the theme of the book and design games for us to play related to the story.

It can be a lot of fun.

But still, asking your wife to join you for a stranger’s book club meeting on a Friday night might not be the best way to win points with your spouse. To her credit, Elysha almost always agrees to join me and always seems to have a great time.

Many times she almost becomes a part of the book club, sitting apart from me and chatting with the women like she’s known them all her life. Occasionally questions will be directed at her as the spouse of the writer, and sometimes she will even direct questions at me as well.

At the book club pictured below, the love seat was set aside for the two of us, but Elysha refused, choosing instead to sit amidst the ladies on the soda and chatting them up all night long.

I complained about her unwillingness to sit beside me, but I shouldn’t.

Getting her to agree to join me is always a victory.