On Saturday, October 22nd, almost 300 book lovers joined authors and publishing professionals for Hachette’s annual Book Club Brunch — now in its fifth year. Boasting a variety of authors, books and snacks, this event is highly anticipated by readers and sells out nearly every year. The Book Report Network staffers were unable to make it, but we had seven generous readers share their experiences with us, including which authors they connected to most, which books they can’t wait to read, and how the discussion of Min Jin Lee’s PACHINKO — which readers were given the opportunity to read before the event — played out in such a large group.
The Book Report Network: Who did you attend the event with?
Valerie G (Secaucus, NJ): I attended the event with my friend, co-worker and book club member, Marilyn.
Denise N (Rockville, MD): A group of seven readers — made up of family and friends.
Linda J (Urbana, OH): My cousin and a fellow Booktopian.
Marcia C (Jeffersonville, PA): My sister-in-law, Jean Cook.
Melanie S (Long Island, NY): I attended the event with my friend Lily, who is an avid reader (she reads three to four books a WEEK!), but who had never attended the brunch before.She truly enjoyed the day!
Anne M (Readington, NJ): Kathy Cavanaugh.
Kathleen C (Whitehouse Station, NJ): Anne Magaw Mohan.
TBRN: How many Hachette Book Club Brunches have you attended?
Valerie: I have been to four out of five events. I have seen the first HBGB event grow from 70 book lovers attending to the fifth event, where almost 300 eager book lovers attend. Hachette provides a very nice brunch for us book enthusiasts, but we come to admire what book lovers might call the souls behind the words we love so much.
Denise: This is the third for me and my husband! The first for two in the group, and the second for the other three. (We are all already planning for next year.)
Marcia: This was my fourth.
Melanie: This was my third time attending the brunch.
Anne: This was my first time.
Kathleen: This is my second.
TBRN: Was there one particular author, or maybe two or three, that you were most looked forward to seeing? If so, what was that experience like?
Valerie: Hachette never disappoints us book enthusiasts; their panels are always interesting, their authors real, eager, bright and sometimes funny. Jane Hamilton and Robert Hicks were of interest to me only because I have read their books before. Hicks writes historical fiction, which is my favorite genre.
Denise: I LOVED the book TRUEVINE and couldn’t wait to hear Beth Macy speak. The premise of her fascinating nonfiction book seems so improbable: She documents the story of two albino African-American brothers, who became freaks in circus shows. Were they taken? Were they stolen? What was their story? She lived up to my high expectations:smart, engaging, a fantastic story teller. She spoke about how hard it was to get one particular critical source to speak to her. In order to get that source’s cooperation, she made a bargain that Macy will deliver her eulogy! That is how persuasive Macy is, and how determined she was to get her story.
Linda: I wasn’t anticipating any of the authors.
Marcia: Two authors, Min Jin Lee and Eowyn Ivey. I’ve wondered about Eowyn Ivey ever since her first book — THE SNOW CHILD. I was intrigued by her photo! Her sense of magic appeals to me. I also enjoyed her discussion of the challenge of writing only in the first person, and using letters and journals. I was unfamiliar with Min Jin Lee. I love her book and was looking forward to meeting the woman who wrote it. She didn’t disappoint. She was warm, empathetic and fun. She also spoke very clearly from her own experience about being Korean/Japanese. And her parents came to hear her!
Melanie: I most looked forward to hearing Min Jin Lee discuss PACHINKO, since it was the only book I had read by the presenting panelists.
Anne: I particularly looked forward to seeing Jane Hamilton, since I enjoy her work so much. She was amazing — very animated, funny and interesting.
Kathleen: I most looked forward to seeing D. Watkins — and it was a good experience.
TBRN: Which panel of the day was your favorite?
Valerie: Fiction is my preferred genre, so I favored the fiction panel. Jane Hamilton, Eowyn Ivey and Robert Hicks were all interesting and enjoyable. Love when they share their lives. Hachette’s nonfiction authors — D. Watkins, Amy Dickinson and Julissa Arce — had everyone’s attention, with not one head dipping forward in sleep mode. I was inspired to purchase D. Watkins’ book, THE COOK UP.
Denise: It would almost feel like a betrayal to answer that question, like choosing your favorite child. I loved both panels, and have different “favorite” things about each. So many great moments in each — authors and panel moderators alike were connected and on their game. The first panel, on narrative nonfiction, all discussed critical deaths as prompts for their writing.The second panel authors, on fiction, all discussed writing about places at times of challenge and change.
Linda: Tough to answer since they were all excellent. I guess I’ll say the Literary Fiction panel because we found out what a kook Jane Hamilton is, and Robert Hicks tugged at all of our hearts when he broke up telling us about his dog of 17 years that he had to put down two days before.
Marcia: The Narrative Nonfiction panel, featuring D. Watkins, Amy Dickinson, Julissa Arce. Their discussion of turning life into memoir was inspiring. All three authors were very generous in sharing their lives, beginning with the event that started each of them writing — the death of a brother, mother and father. They covered many topics and the one that resonated the most with me was about the importance of using their memoirs as a way of claiming their own authenticity. I think I was most taken with D. Watkins. He’s led an amazing life — and a difficult one — from his days into drugs on the streets of Baltimore to his life as a writer and literacy advocate. For him to go through what he had to and come out on the other side with a clear vision and hope is inspiring. Great, great panel!
Melanie: I do not read nonfiction as frequently as fiction, but I have to say I enjoyed the Narrative Nonfiction panel the most. Initially, the panelists appeared to be quite a diverse group, but upon hearing all of their stories, all had the common thread of losing a loved one as the catalyst to begin writing their books. While they did indeed come from very different backgrounds, as they spoke about their work it became clear that they had many similarities in their human experiences. Their reasons for sharing their stories made the audience feel that we are all interconnected as we travel through the experience of being human. Bill Goldstein did a wonderful job moderating and highlighting similarities among the panelists.
Anne: The first panel of the day (nonfiction). Since the authors wrote memoirs, they discussed their own personal experiences, which were incredibly varied and interesting.
Kathleen: Jane Hamilton.
TBRN: Were there any authors who surprised you or shared something unexpected?
Valerie: D. Watkins shared his feelings about his writing: “Writing is my therapy I get paid for.” For readers, it is our free therapy, so thank you D.
Denise: Again, hard to narrow down…but for me, D. Watkins is the author who most connected. Watkins’ brother’s death prompted his book, THE COOK UP. Watkins spoke about growing up around poverty; he wasn’t poor because his brother was a drug dealer. Watkins has always been a reader, and he wants books in children’s hands (he is currently working on a YA book). He spoke about how reading develops critical and necessary thinking and communication skills. This is where he had me.He said, “In my community, if you can’t think critically, the penalty can be death.” Of everything said, in a day full of ideas, that haunts me.
On a much lighter note, authors respectfully discussed including real people in their books, and the potential cost of that type of writing. What if your writing hurts others? Author Amy Dickinson keeps in mind Anne Lamont’s guidance:If they didn’t want to be written about, maybe they shouldn’t have been such assholes.
Linda: Beth Macy is from the town where I live, and when I asked her about that, I had a new best friend (and she’ll be in Urbana at the end of next month).
Marcia: Jane Hamilton demonstrating a library cart dance was totally surprising!
Melanie: D. Watkins, who was not familiar to me before the brunch, shared how he felt compelled to write his story of the experience growing up in the “hood” so that other people could grow up reading about themselves and circumstances they might actually experience in their own lives, something he was not able to read about when he was growing up. This struck a chord with me because, surprisingly, growing up I did not like reading. I realize now this was because of the books that were chosen for us to read in school: THE SCARLET LETTER, THE CRUCIBLE and THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA are a few that come to mind that I didn’t like! I would have much rather read something more relevant to my life, and perhaps I would have found a love of reading earlier. Literacy as a way out of poverty was discussed, and by writing literature that young people in impoverished backgrounds can relate to he is trying to instill a love of reading in a population that literature is typically not written for. Very important work!
Anne: Yes! Jane Hamilton jumped up and did a “Library Cart Drill” straight out of the pages of the book.
Kathleen: I didn’t know anything about Robert Hicks, but his sincerity and emotion surprised me and made me want to check out his books.
TBRN: This year’s book club discussion book was PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee. Were you able to get an advance copy and read it before the event? Did you participate in the discussion at the end of the event? What did you think of the book?
Valerie: Min Jin Lee, our afternoon keynote speaker with her beautiful welcoming smile, took us all on her 19-year journey from the time PACHINKO was first born, when in college she was inspired by a young Korean boy who sadly took his life after being bullied. She also shared how her parents and the history of their home was important enough for her to research deeply and passionately to get it right and make it real. I’m disappointed in myself for not having had the time to read it before the event — you can be sure that tonight I will be reading PACHINKO past my bedtime, almost feeling like I already have a friend.
Denise: Hachette sent copies to attendees before the event — a lovely way to prepare for the day. I thought PACHINKO was wonderful, a sweeping saga. Such deep themes of love, loss, coping, identity, strength and belonging. Min Jin Lee was wonderfully engaging and open to audience questions. The audience discussion made the novel even more nuanced for me.
Linda: I am loving the book and cannot get enough time with it. Min Jin Lee is such a precious human. I really appreciate the history and culture lessons that I am getting from the book.
Marcia: I did have a copy of the book but didn’t get a chance to finish it. I am loving it. The discussion echoed my feelings. Everyone who spoke raved about the book. It was described as a “page turner,” “a book I wanted to go on and on and never end” and “a book that totally spoke to me.” I’ll definitely be finishing this book!
Melanie: Yes, I read PACHINKO before attending the event, but I did not ask a question during the discussion. Min Jin Lee was a really personable and humble interviewee. I thought the book was fascinating in that I did not know any Korean history, and therefore knew nothing about Koreans immigrating to Japan and how much they are discriminated against. Min shared that, even today, Koreans whose families have been in Japan for five generations are not allowed to become nurses or policemen! This is why many enter the pachinko industry, which is one of the biggest industries in Japan, where they are accepted. I thought the characters in the book were well created, and I really cared about them. I did feel that there was no true climax to the story, but many little ones that were moved on from quickly once revealed. I felt it was a bit too long and perhaps tried to cover a bit too much scope, but I am very glad I read the book and would recommend to those who enjoy multi-generational family sagas.
Interestingly, I had a pachinko machine at my house growing up. We had a traditional pin-ball machine and then my dad bought a pachinko machine, “Japanese pinball.” It was very pretty, but we never figured out quite how to play it; basically the ball just dropped down through the pins to the bottom of the machine. Definitely not as interactive as pinball! I guess if money is at stake it might make it more engaging!
Anne: Yes, I received an advance copy in the mail prior to the event. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it yet.
Kathleen: I did receive the book and read it before the event. It is not really possible to have a “discussion” with over 200 people in the room, but I did enjoy the questions posed by other participants and the author’s response. The characters and events in the book really rang true to me, and I cared about each and every one of them.
TBRN: Which books did you most look forward to reading after the brunch?
Valerie: In order of my reading I will begin with PACHINKO, THE ORPHAN MOTHER and THE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS.
Denise: THE COOK UP by D. Watkins is first on my list. I have been lucky enough to have already read most of the books featured. Every book featured was purchased by someone in our little group. And book sales all around were booming!
Linda: MY (UNDERGROUND) AMERICAN DREAM by Julissa Arce, who started as an illegal immigrant and is about to vote in her first U.S. election.
Marcia: PACHINKO, THE COOK UP, TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, MY (UNDERGROUND) AMERICAN DREAM, FACTORY MAN, STRANGERS TEND TO TELL ME THINGS and THE ORPHAN MOTHER.
Melanie: Every year after the brunch I want to read books by all the presenters! Somehow I never get to each and every book, but this year the book I want to read first is MY (UNDERGROUND) AMERICAN DREAM. As an undocumented Mexican immigrant who went to college and became a successful Wall St. executive, always being afraid of being “found out,” Julissa Arce definitely piqued my interested about her story! She shared that this would be the first presidential election she will be voting in, now that she is a citizen of the U.S., an interesting tidbit.
Anne: I am currently reading TRUEVINE by Beth Macy.
Kathleen: TRUEVINE, which I purchased on the spot.
TBRN: Did you discover books that you would like to share with your book group for possible discussion? If so, which ones?
Valerie: I will be talking about and excitedly bringing back to my book club THE ORPHAN MOTHER, THE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS and PACHINKO in February 2017. I also was able to obtain some extra brochures to share with my book club for future book club picks.
Denise: PACHINKO is a natural book club choice. One haunting sentence about belonging and identity:”If he had an embarrassing wish, it would be this: he would be a European from a long time ago” could by itself serve as a prompt for a full book club discussion. Hearing the discussion of THE ORPHAN MOTHER made me want to read THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH. Maybe our club will read the two as a pair? I thought each of the books discussed could serve as a great book club discussion — if ONLY the authors could participate in all of those discussions!
Linda: MY AMERICAN (UNDERGROUND) AMERICAN DREAM by Julissa Arce, THE COOK UPby D. Watkins, TRUEVINE by Beth Macy and PACHINKO.
Marcia: I think my group would enjoy PACHINKO and STRANGERS TEND TO TELL ME THINGS.
Melanie: TRUEVINE by Beth Macy sounded as if it has some true-life mystery in it, possibly unsolved, and this might lend itself to a good group discussion.
Anne: So far, all of the books I’ve read from the event are ones that I would share.
Kathleen: Any of them would be good.
TBRN: Would you attend this event again in the future?
Valerie: I will always be interested in attending Hachette’s Book Club Brunch and next year will not hesitate to buy my ticket. I had to have a little faith in Hachette and sweat on the waitlist.
Denise: Yes! Can’t wait to return to this spectacular event.
Linda: In a heartbeat.
Anne: Yes, definitely.
Kathleen: Yes. I enjoyed this year even more than last year.
TBRN: Any additional thoughts?
Valerie: I would also like to thank the HBG Book Club Task Force for running such a friendly, smooth event, and Melissa Nicholas for running up and down the aisles with raffle gifts. Also Karen Torres, for her effortlessly moderating and orchestrating this book lovers’ event. It was a fun time for us all; our day went by quickly.
Denise: Hachette’s Book Club Brunch is wonderful! Karen Torres and her colleagues make the day so much fun. Karen is a human bundle of energy, leading the day in part as confidential guide, in part as cheerleader of all things reading. She can make a serious recommendation one moment and announce raffle winners the next. Nearly 300 in the audience — up from 70 for the first brunch. It was happiest group of people on a rainy day. So many people were return visitors. The day was carefully structured, and each panel fascinating. The $45 admission ticket included: great raffles, a tote bag full of great books, snacks and food the priceless opportunity to have an intimate day with authors and people who love books. It is a dream day for book clubs.
Marcia: This was the fifth anniversary of the Hachette brunch. Hard to believe that it started with only 70 participants. There were 290 happy readers participating on Saturday in spite of the rain. Congratulations to Karen Torres and her staff who have once again created a very satisfying experience for the many book lovers that attended.
Melanie: I look forward to the next Hachette Book Club Brunch!!
Anne: Some further consideration could be given to logistics, i.e., make sure there are enough chairs for everyone, move the bookselling tables to the basement cafeteria where there is more room. But these are minor quibbles; it was a great day and I would definitely go back.
Kathleen: The authors were all very prepared, entertaining and informative. I enjoyed it very much. To nitpick — the theater was lovely and comfortable, but the crowd crush for book sales and lunch (we ended up eating our lunch sitting on stairs) was annoying. I suspect that the facility imposed a lot of challenges for the elderly and disabled.