June 14, 2007
The salonistas of L.A.—talking about writing
(Page 3 - Previous Page)When she began, people said to her: "Just having coffee klatches - that's not a business."
Today Robinson personally runs 23 book groups a month. She has two people who work for her, and she is training facilitators to lead other groups, such as a kids' group for children, beginning in fourth grade, and a mother/daughter reading group.
Her groups usually have eight to 16 members, however, since Robinson charges by the group, not the person, there are clients who pay for her to have lunch with them and a friend and talk about a novel (that goes for around $250).
In the decade since Robinson launched Literary Affairs, book groups have not only proliferated, but are recognized now as an important way for publishers and authors to market their work. Robinson is now regularly courted by publishers.
The reason is simple: book groups are overwhelmingly female. "Women are the highest percentage of book buyers," Robinson told me. "Even many of the books that men and children read are purchased for them by women."
This is all the more true for literary fiction.
Robinson continues to believe that "the market is out there for fiction." Her attitude is that "Every book is of value for a different reason." Some for the quality of their prose; others for being a window into a different world, and others still for the lessons they impart; Robinson cited, Elif Shafak's "The Bastard of Istanbul" as a book where her readers "learning about the Armenian Genocide" is more than "enough to get from a book."
My friend Teri Hertz, who first told me about Robinson, has been part of a book group for several years that recently turned to Robinson as facilitator. Hertz has been impressed by how creative Robinson is at creating an informed discussion and bringing a book and its subject to life.
Robinson has expanded into doing series at country clubs, where she invites professors to provide context to their readings - she recently hosted a luncheon series on the books of Jane Austen, and this summer several of her groups are going to tackle Tolstoy's epic "War and Peace" over the course of three months.
She leads book groups at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Sinai Temple. She recently hosted an event where she interviewed Swedish-born author Linda Olsson, author of "Astrid and Veronika" at Lief, a Swedish antique store where Swedish cocktails and appetizers were served. Similarly, she hosted an event at the Italian Cultural Institute for Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love." Robinson is constantly evolving the way she can extend the literary experience for her clients and has begun offering literary travel tours as well.
Nevertheless, what Robinson is proudest of is that she created her business as a single mom and has never had to sacrifice her role as a mother. For example, she never set her book group gatherings before 7:30 p.m., so she could be at home for dinner. As her family needs have evolved, she has grown her business.
Robinson believes that, if after attending a book club session she has facilitated "you walk away thinking more ... and if you are more conscious, then I did my job."
To learn more about Robinson, her book clubs and events, or to see her recommended summer reading list, visit http://www.literaryaffairs.net.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward.