Miami Book Fair

South Florida’s book clubs span genres, generations

Sunday Book Brunch Bunch: From left, book club members Joy Oglesby, Khamisi Grace, Linda Blash, Marcia Cooke and Sandra Seals discuss their latest read at Brio Tuscan Grille in Hallandale Beach.
Sunday Book Brunch Bunch: From left, book club members Joy Oglesby, Khamisi Grace, Linda Blash, Marcia Cooke and Sandra Seals discuss their latest read at Brio Tuscan Grille in Hallandale Beach. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

One hosts authors at lunch, another does books over brunch. Multicourse meals based on a book’s theme is de rigueur for one group, while black authors and characters spark the discussion in another. And for those who can’t get enough of The Hunger Games, young-adult fiction lovers gather — even if they passed their teen years some time ago.

With the Miami Book Fair International showcasing an array of authors this weekend, it’s a good time to highlight local book clubs, who bond over books, friendships and, yes, some fabulous food.

A love of food and books

In Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey, the Monroe County sheriff finds a severed arm floating in the ocean and tells one of his detectives to take the arm to Miami and make sure Miami-Dade police investigate.

When Ann McMaster’s foodie book club read the book, she made what looked like a severed arm out of clear gelatin, vanilla and condensed milk. She said it tasted like flan.

“No, you can’t get too gross for our book club,” she joked.

McMaster, a freelance writer, co-founded the book club in 2004. The group, which has nine members, builds meals to match the book they’re reading. Not all the books lend themselves to a theme, like murder mysteries, but the group made it work with Bad Monkey and its South Florida setting. The meal? Stone crabs and Key lime pie.

“When we read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we tried Scandinavian food,” she said. “By the third book, no one wanted any more Scandinavian food.”

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author, wrote the trilogy of crime novels, which were published posthumously. He died in 2004.

The nine members take turns hosting the book club in their homes or sometimes at a restaurant. When a member hosts, she takes care of the main course with other members contributing to the feast.

“We try to keep it fun,” McMaster said. “It’s like a girl’s night out. Moms don’t make enough time for themselves. This time is mine.”

The group reads mostly fiction and books that are shortlisted for Britain’s Man Booker Prize. This month, they’re reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a novel about a Japanese teenager who wants to commit suicide and a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific who finds the girl’s diary washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.

For more information, contact Ann McMaster at ann.mcmaster@me.com.

A literary group

Ray Marchman, founder of the Brickell Avenue Literary Society and former director of marketing of Northern Trust, recalled listening to Tom Wolfe talk about his book, Bonfire of the Vanities, at the Park Avenue Literary Society in New York in the late ’70s.

The room was full of high-powered people, and he wanted to bring that kind of literary gathering to Miami. More than 25 years later, the Brickell Avenue Literary Society is going strong, with more than 200 members and a waiting list.

The Society, a not-for-profit membership organization, hosts notable authors at eight to nine luncheons throughout the year. The authors talk about their writing process and inspiration behind their work. After that, the floor is open for questions.

Some book clubs are strict about members reading books and participating in discussions. The literary society is a little different. Members choose whether to read the book or not and there is no discussion, which means no spoilers.

Lila Menowitz, a Bal Harbor resident, said she joined the Brickell Avenue Literary Society because of this.

“Some of the people in my building wanted to start a book club,” she said. “I told them I wouldn’t join because I didn’t want the pressure of having to read a book I don’t like or don’t have time to read.”

Last month’s read was Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, a novel about two sisters experiencing war, betrayal and scandal while trying to make their dreams come true in 1940s America.

“Sometimes, the relationship between sisters is of rivalry and unkindness,” Bloom told the group during her recent visit. “I wanted to write about a strong relationship between women who have DNA in common but who have tremendous differences.”

The literary society meets from October through April at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, 137 NE 19th St. Membership dues are $250 a person or $400 for couples living in the same household. There is an additional fee of $50 for each meeting attended, to cover lunch and a copy of the author’s book.

For more information, contact Priscilla Taylor at 786-691-4521 or contact@BrickellLiterary.org.

Never too old

For those who aren’t teenagers but have a soft spot for vampire stories or The Hunger Games, you’re not alone.

When Forever Young Adult, an online community for fans of young adult fiction, started looking for readers in South Florida to start a book club over the summer, Aurora Rodriguez decided to start one.

Forever Young Adult book clubs have popped up all over the country. Rodriguez, a former Miami Herald editor, is the founder and organizer of the Pembroke Pines/ Hollywood branch, which currently has six members in their ’20s and ’30s.

The group gets together at a coffee shop or at one of the members’ homes with wine and food. This month they’re reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, a young adult science fiction novel in which a young girl struggles to survive in a world taken over by aliens. In addition to reading and discussing books, the group watches movies based on young adult novels. After this month’s meeting, the group plans to watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

Rodriguez said being an adult and enjoying the books, movies and music teenagers enjoy sometimes feels like a dirty little secret.

“I’m 33 years old, married, and I’m an editor and a professor,” Rodriguez said. “This book club gives us a chance to be free and not feel judged for a little while.”

Added fellow member Karina Espinosa, author of the Sins of the Fallen series: “It’s hard to find adults who enjoy young adult books. It’s great for adults to delve into the fantasy world of young adult fiction. It’s a great escape.”

For information, contact Aurora Rodriguez at aurily50@hotmail.com.

Mocha readers

When Mahogany Howard moved to Miami from San Francisco six years ago, she didn’t know anyone and wanted something to do. Howard, 33, joined a book club, but the meeting dates and locations were inconvenient for her, so she decided to start her own.

In January 2012, she started Mocha Readers. The book club has almost 200 members on MeetUp, an online network of local groups, and the monthly meetings consist of five to 10 people. The group reads books by black authors or that feature black characters.

“I think black authors are an underrepresented group in the publishing community,” she said. “And I wanted the books to be focused on one main theme.”

Every three months the group will read a nonfiction piece. This month it was Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor by Rain Pryor, the comedian’s daughter.

“We don’t do romance,” Howard said. “Some members decided they’re done with the slave narratives. I put them up to vote anyway.”

Howard lists four to five books on the group’s MeetUp site for members to vote on the book they want to read. She makes sure the books she picks are available in the public library system.

Cora Plante, a bookkeeper, hasn’t read a book in years and wanted to start again.

“I thought to join a book club to get back to reading again,” she said. “This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I actually finished.”

Karen Brundidge, a real estate agent, joined Mocha Readers in 2012. When she comes to Miami from Washington, she attends the group discussions.

“I think African American authors are sidelined and marginalized,” Brundidge said. “It’s good to be in a club that supports African American authors.”

Mocha Readers meets the second Saturday of every month at the Alaska Coffee Roasting Co., 13130 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami. Contact Mahogany Howard at mhowar@yahoo.com.

Sunday book brunch

Marcia Cooke, a U.S. district court judge, recalls a Sunday Book Brunch Bunch meeting in which the members met for brunch and stayed past dinnertime.

“We ended up ordering brunch and dinner that time,” she said.

The group ofwomen, which includes an editor, an Urban League of Broward director and an acquisitions manager, meets once a month at different brunch spots to have a book discussion and girl talk.

“These are nice, intelligent, accomplished women who know a lot about literature, education and the community,” said Khamisi Grace, director of programs at the Urban League. “It’s a powerful thing.”

Grace doesn’t always finish the books and doesn’t feel pressured to. She likes having the freedom to admit when she didn’t like a book and debate with other members.

“The best conversations are on books people are in disagreement about,” she said.

When Grace would choose a book for herself, she never used to go with books that had heavy themes. No longer.

“To me, reading is supposed to be a relaxing thing, like watching TV,’’ she said. “I think the books you pick for a book club are different from the books you would pick for yourself because they launch a discussion in a different kind of way.’’

Sandra Seals, an acquisitions manager, said she would have never picked up Fever by Mary Beth Keane, a novel about the first healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever in America.

The group reads anything and everything, but tries to avoid books that depict harm to animals and children. Last month was the exception. They read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, about a fictional school massacre and a mother’s attempt to come to terms with the murders her teenage son committed.

“The book was intense,” Cooke said.

The group takes time off over the summer and holidays and meets again in January.

“We go through life experiences together. We go through loss,” Seals said. “Being in this group and going through all those changes is grounding.”

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