Ask a Book Club: Nina Berman

Book clubs are full of passionate readers who go out and buy books throughout the year. They are always on the hunt for new titles to read, and are recommendation engines for the family and friends outside of the club. In Ask A Book Club, we help you better understand how book clubs find the books they read, and where they talk about books beyond their club. We look at individual book clubs to learn more about what they look for in a book and how groups of passionate readers come together to choose their titles.

We’re kicking off this series featuring NetGalley’s Communications Assistant, Nina Berman’s book club.

Photo Credit: Instagram @nnbrmn

Nina Berman’s Book Club: Brooklyn, NY

About the book club

We are group of 10 or so women in our mid-20s-30s living in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Most of us work in creative industries, nonprofits, or are in graduate school. We meet every month at rotating members’ apartments. Most of us prefer to read physical books rather than e-books, although a few of us do read on Kindle. We celebrated our 1-year book club anniversary with mimosas and homemade cinnamon rolls in May.

While none of us are book reviewers, or book bloggers, we are book recommenders, book lenders, and book buyers. One of our members, Razi, shares the titles she reads on Kindle with her mother, and lends physical copies to her neighbor.

Reading scope

Like many book clubs, we tend to gravitate towards literary fiction and literary memoir. We did take a winter detour into True Crime, but have since returned to our wheelhouse. We are looking for books that help us experience the world through other perspectives, and books that help us reframe our own experiences.

To date, my book club has only read books written by women. This is not to say that we haven’t considered books written by men (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and The Railroad by Colson Whitehead have both been previous nominations). But, we deliberately seek out titles written by underrepresented voices (especially queer voices, women’s voices, and POC voices) and our book club picks tend to reflect that, even though that is not the explicit focus of our club.

Finding new titles

We tend to find new titles from critics and influencers whose opinions and tastes we trust. We recommend books that our friends outside of the book club recommend to us.

For example, I suggested Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose because I had recently listened to an interview with her on the podcast, Another Round and remembered seeing a blurb about the collection in The New Yorker.

Other sources of inspiration include:

Nominating titles

Every month, we vote on three nominations. Two of those nominations come from rotating members of our club, and one of the nominations comes from the book club’s founder, Emily. We nominate books that we’ve been hearing a lot about, or that we have been meaning to read for a long time. Our lists tend to sway between well known authors who have been on our lists for a long time and authors whose names have been cropping up in the media we consume. When our imaginations fail us, we also have a shared Google Doc with titles we collected in the beginning of our book club. When the Google Doc becomes too lean, we add new titles that we have kept in the backs of our minds.

Most of our choices have been published within the past few years (South and West by Joan Didion and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin) rather than the newest titles from the biggest publishing houses. These are the books that we just keep hearing about!

We also let our current book choices influence our future ones, wandering down paths of interest as they crop up organically. Essentially, we make our own comp lists. Last fall, after we read Too Much and Not the Mood, we recognized echoes of Maggie Nelson’s introspective essay style, so we read The Argonauts next. When we discussed which Maggie Nelson title to read, some of us suggested Jane: A Murder or The Red Parts, both of which deal with her aunt’s murder by a serial killer. Still wanting to pick up some true crime, the next title on the list after The Argonauts was the classic true crime tome, The Stranger Beside Me.

Recent reads

  • The Goldfinch (2013) by Donna Tartt, Little, Brown and Company
  • The Stranger Beside Me (1980) by Ann Rule, W. W. Norton & Company
  • The Argonauts (2015) by Maggie Nelson, Graywolf Press
  • Too Much and Not the Mood (2017) by Durga Chew-Bose, FSG Originals
  • Black Swans (1993) by Eve Babitz, Counterpoint

 

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2 thoughts on “Ask a Book Club: Nina Berman

  1. Love this! Nina, so nice to see the interworkings of how your book club selects–it’s somewhat similar to one of mine. We use Facebook polls to help in the selection though, instead of google docs. Our next read is The Goldfinch (which I’ve actually already read)!

  2. Nina – I enjoyed your observations very much. As an “author” of two books that fall into the book club genre I have been fortunate enough to meet with several dozen book clubs who have selected my books – quite an interesting experience.

    I would be interested in getting your and other reactions to one issue. Some book clubs frown on anyone speaking who has not read the book. One goes around the table and asks each person to spend a minute or two with their opinion of the book (to get around the issue of one member speaking too much – and to put peer pressure on members to read the book – reminiscent of school book reports). For other book clubs it doesn’t seem to matter if anyone has read the book. Of course, wine and food, time of day, day of week all contribute.

    I know that book clubs are social occasions but… .How do you “enforce” the sense that one should not offer an opinion unless they have finished the book? My sense is that some evolve to be more social and others evolve to become more serious.

    As for me I am always thrilled when anyone reads my books and reacts….and even if they haven’t, I hope they will as a result of the book club..

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