Reading Rituals: “Good Books by Dead People”

 Do you belong to a reading group? 

For me, a book group combines two of the things I love most in this world: books and traditions. One of the most satisfying things I ever did was belonging to the same book group for 20 years.

I want to share some of the best books we read, but I also want to share some of the rituals that made the experience richer.

The group began shortly after I moved to New York City. My friend and agent Geri Thoma and I decided to start a group and Geri declared: “I read bad books by living people for work, so we are only going to read good books by dead people!” Thus we embarked on a mission to read only “classics” and we stuck with fiction, mostly novels.  I think having some sort of theme or area of concentration is a great idea for reading groups, and helps when trying to assemble a like-minded group of readers. Sticking to an organizing principle means that the more books you read, the more you can explore and comment on them in relation to one another, giving you a deeper understanding.

First Meeting: at my tiny East Village apartment.

First Meeting: at my tiny East Village apartment.

Book groups vary in their rules and composition. Ours was about half men, half women. We switched between different members’ apartments, and we always had dinner first.

There was a strict rule that the book could not be discussed while eating, and that once we started the discussion, no chitchat was allowed. But it was wonderful having a very social meal, where we could get caught up on everyone’s private life before plunging into a serious discussion.

Bill Borders' Famous Meatloaf

Bill Borders’ Famous Meatloaf

 The members were extremely well-read and discussions ranged from lively to heated. It was such a joy to read novels I had read as an English major (or should have), but with plenty of time to digest them, and no tests or grades. We devoured multiple tomes by some of my favorite authors including Dickens, Wharton, Conrad,  and Austen.

At the same time, I made new discoveries, reading major authors like Anthony Trollope, Emile Zola and Ralph Ellison for the first time. I don’t think I ever would have tackled the Mt. Olympus of James Joyce’s Ulysses without the support of this group, but it was so worth reading and discussing.  Who knew that Emile Zola wrote a page-turning novel about shopping (The Ladies’ Paradise)?  How had I ever missed Middlemarch? And where had British author George Gissing been hiding all my life?

The closer the group got over the years, the more we started creating traditions. One of the best was turning the December meeting into an annual Christmas party. This included voting for the best and worst book of that year, as well as the best discussion. Also, we each brought a gift-wrapped book and had a gift grab bag.

We met 10 times a year, taking off August and one other month. It was good to schedule a mega-tome like War and Peace for when we had two months to read. Most summers, we would spend a weekend at the summer lake house of one of the members in an exercise we called Book Group Summer Camp, and this was heavenly.

Book Group Summer Camp

Book Group Summer Camp

If you are in a book group you love, consider ways to celebrate and deepen your connections. When our group turned 10 years old, we had a wonderful party with a book-shaped cake, and I had special bookmarks made for party favors.

10 year party

We even had signature gifts for special occasions: any member of the book group who got married, was given a set of bookends featuring the famous lions that guard the New York Public Library. And, when a book grouper had a baby, each member gave the parents a wrapped copy of his or her favorite children’s book.

Is this one Patience or Fortitude?

Is this one Patience or Fortitude?

It was difficult to commute to a NYC book group from Princeton, so I stopped going a few years back, but I have indelible memories of this wonderful group of people and the 200 books we read together. What brought it all back to me was a request for a charity auction item. I decided to put together 10 Amazing Classics Most People Haven’t Read, and share some of the group’s greatest “finds,” including The Odd Women by George Gissing and Germinal by Emile Zola. Would you like to see my full list of 10, with my reasons for the picks? Just shoot me an email at and I’ll send it to you.

My Basket of 10 Hidden Classics

My Basket of 10 Hidden Classics

Meanwhile, what about you? What do you like best about your book group?

Please share some of you favorite reading group books – and traditions.

And if you have never tried a classics book group — Do It!!!!

10 years books


This Rocket Has LAUNCHED!!!

The author speaks!


My book launch party on Saturday night was a blast!!!!

Now, it is true that the bookstore neglected to get the press release out in time to meet local media deadlines, but the end result is that almost all the people who came were close friends.

It was so awesome to celebrate the book’s release with friends from every part of my life: quilters, writers, former colleagues from the Wall Street Journal, friends from church, my yoga teacher, my Pilates teacher (really, I should be in MUC better shape), and the librarian from my son’s grade school.
Not only that, almost everybody bought at least 2 books: one for themselves, and one for a gift.

There was such an outpouring of cookies, I was able to supply the church picnic the next day.
Thank you so much for all my dear, dear friends who came out and partied with me on this milestone day.

Special thanks to my pal Deb Hunter who not only stayed and helped me clean up the church kitchen, but hauled the garbage all the way to the dumpster and stayed behind to make sure I managed to lock ALL the many doors to the church.
My heart is full!!!!

My Book is OUT!!!! (Go Buy It, OK?)

Window at Jazams in Princeton


Finally, my publication date has arrived, and the book is landing in stores and online. 

I’ve already gotten my first reader review at (5 stars, no less).

I hope you’ll want to buy a copy: more than 300 rituals and celebrations for $16 is a steal.

If you want to buy an autographed copy, just click on the store photo above. Jazams, a fantastic toy and book store in Princeton, will mail you a signed copy, even a personalized one, if you are not in a hurry.

Wanna come to my book party? I’m having a Bring Your Own Cookies party on Saturday June 2, from 7 to 9 pm at the Unitarian Church in Princeton, 50 Cherry Hill Rod.

Need more information? send me an email at