“This is not your Mom's book club,” declared Diana Gettinger. “We drink. It's noisy.”
Gettinger, an actress and writer, is also the director of the Spare Room Book Club, which takes place at the Spare Room bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The drinks are created specifically for the event by mixologist Naomi Schimek and inspired by the book of choice. The noise is the loud clanging of the swanky bar's Monday night bowling league. What's a bar without twin bowling lanes, after all?
In this speakeasy setting right out of a noir novel, a trendy crowd gathered on a Monday last month to discuss Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. As the cocktails flowed, themes and characters were explored, with Gettinger's list of questions as the guide.
“L.A. can be so hermetic,” Gettinger, a native New Yorker, explained about the club in an interview. “I like pulling different communities together.” Spare Room co-owner Med Abrous concurred, adding, “The whole concept behind the Spare Room is based on social interaction. It's about bringing groups of people together and getting them off their phones.”
Reading is a solitary pastime. Whether on the beach or in bed, whether turning the pages of a hardcover or scrolling down an iPad, we read alone. But as Oprah — and now The Today Show — can attest, a good book demands discussion and creates community. “One of the first things I did when I moved to L.A. was to find a new book club,” said author Janet Tashjian. “It seemed like one of the best ways to connect with people in a new city.”
While many of us have been a part of a private book club, a public book club is an altogether different experience. Like a great book, a public book club can broaden your horizons by exposing you to people and opinions outside your immediate circle. Los Angeles has book clubs for teenagers, women, the LGBT community, sci-fi junkies and even Joseph Campbell fans.
For the eternal intellectual, there is the Coyotes Book Club at Skylight bookstore, where an ambitious group of readers pore over epics like Ulysses for six months. “I'm supposed to be getting a Phd right now,” said Karl Bauer, director of the Coyotes Book Club. “Instead I'm teaching for free at a bookstore.”
Bauer moved to Los Angeles a year ago and found himself tasked with taking over the store's long-running book club. Bauer took it as an opportunity to challenge his readers, choosing dense books by the likes of Nabokov and Pynchon.
“I like to think of the book club as a place where people can read books that they might not necessarily read on their own,” Bauer said of his choices, adding that his purpose is “to give people an understanding of the book that they might not have if they read it by themselves.”
If you prefer your literary conversation to include some laughs, look no further than the book club of comedian Jeff Garlin, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. Garlin has been running his book club at West Hollywood's Book Soup for over two years. “Early on, it was a Q and A about Curb Your Enthusiasm and nobody read the book,” Garlin bemoaned, cautioning attendees against showing up without having done their homework.
During his latest discussion of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, an elderly woman confessed she hadn't read the book because she was on the waiting list for it at the library. Garlin shook his head and replied, “The purpose of the book club is that Book Soup sells books.
“I want this place to last forever,” Garlin added. “If they ever got into trouble, I would try and buy it.” His passion for the store is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's love for the New Beverly Cinema, which the director bought in 2010 and vowed to keep open as long as he is alive.
Still, there are plenty of clubs around for readers who prefer to check their books out at the local library. Tony Valenzuela, who runs the LGBT-themed Lambda Literary Book Club in the stunning new West Hollywood library, works with the library to make sure they have enough books in stock for readers, often persuading publishers to donate books.
Valenzuela experimented recently with having author Richard Kramer present for the book club discussion of his moving debut novel, These Things Happen. “I left having learned things about the book that I never knew,” said Kramer of the experience. “Book clubs are the best places to talk about your book. You're not selling; you're discussing. Which is why most authors write books, I think. For the joy of the discussion.”
“L.A., despite what people might think, is a literary town,” Garlin proudly exclaimed. We host the largest book festival in the country, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. We are home to countless independent bookstores. And we have welcomed a long list of authors, from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler to Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski. We can add to this list our devotion to the public book club.
The Spare Room Book Club: 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 769-7296, www.facebook.com/SpareRoomHwood.
The Coyotes Book Club: Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 660-1175, www.skylightbooks.com/Coyotes.
The Lambda Literary Book Club: West Hollywood Library, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 652-5340, www.lambdaliterary.org/book-clubs/lambda-lit-book-club. It next meets on Aug. 27, reading The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar.
Jeff Garlin's Book Club: Book Soup on Facebook: Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-3110, www.facebook.com/book.soup
Abdi Nazemian is a screenwriter. His first novel will be published in 2014. Follow Abdi on Twitter:
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