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Fiction Blog

Blockbusters and hidden gems in the literary world

A Novelist Reflects on Book Clubs by Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett’s Entitlement is a story about identity; about who we think we are, and where we really stand.  Set in rural Ontario, this novel takes a provocative and honest look at class, power, male relationships, death, and the familial bonds that protect and harm us the most.

Jonathan Bennett took the time to share a guest blog with us - on his experience as a writer, the value of book clubs, and advocates for his novel as your book club’s next pick.

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One of the great joys of being a writer is speaking with someone who has read you. Of course, most people don’t personally know novelists. So, in the beginning this poor reader often feels insecure, at times unsure of what to say about your book, or even how to say it. Once or twice I’ve even seen the English language completely vanish from a reader’s mind when confronted with the actual person that wrote the book they just read.

It’s easy for a writer to be falsely flattered by such circumstances. I’ve learned over the years, it’s not that the poor reader is misguidedly star-struck. I’m a regular person after all. It’s that me standing in front of them breaks a spell of sorts—that being, the storytelling voice inside their head was attached to a person only in theory. The reading experience was a largely private one in other words. Now, the person that put the entire story in their mind is right before them. Goodness me, they think, as they absorb the unexpected intimacy. And, making matters worse, their next thought is a worrying question. Will the (hopefully) rich and fulfilling reading experience be suddenly jeopardized or tainted by this very ordinary looking man before me, who is now smiling and mouthing hello politely and saying thank you for reading my book and I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s all a bit much for many readers.

Thank goodness, then, for the Book Club. Here, usually women in my experience, gather together to use reading as a thinly veiled excuse to drink wine. I jest. While, true, there is often wine, whenever I am invited into that closed circle of friends who gather together as a book club, my hope for humanity skyrockets. Brains are dusted off and quick wits are displayed. Arguments abound and opinions are freely expressed.

For the author, the book club visit usually goes like this. First, everyone is formal and polite. Then there is a glass of wine. Thank goodness for that. Then some food, maybe Lisa’s apple pie again or Jennifer’s fabulous cheese spread. Then I read a passage. And I talk about the book a little, but ask some questions, because, really, what do I know about their experience as a reader of my book? Then the talk unfurls faster and faster without me until there are two or three simultaneous conversations happening about the book. Finally, the host remembers that I am there and I am included once again. At some point in the evening, inevitably, I am asked adjudicate on a thorny point about which there is much disagreement regarding, horrifyingly, the intention. How will I handle this? Whose side will I come down on?

With my last novel, Entitlement, now released in a paperback “book club” edition complete with those very thorny questions helpfully listed in a special section at the back, I expect to find myself in the clutches of more book clubs over the next few years. And, I couldn’t be happier at the prospect. After all, as a novelist, readers are really all I’ve got. So, send those invitations my way.

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Jonathan Bennett is the author of five books ,including the critically acclaimed novel, Entitlement ,as well as two collections of poetry, most recently Civil and Civic. He is a winner of the K.M. Hunter Artists' Award in Literature. Born in Vancouver, raised in Sydney, Australia, Jonathan lives in the village of Keene, near Peterborough, Ontario. More at www.jonathanbennett.com

Thanks to ECW Press for facilitating this guest blog, and to Jonathan Bennett himself for sharing it.

 

 

 

 

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