Virtual book club brings author into homes

NEW YORK Tue Aug 30, 2011 6:56am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The traditional book club has gone virtual, thanks to technology that spans geographic boundaries and can bring authors into readers' living rooms.

Nine book clubs across the United States took part in an hour-long discussion earlier this month with Meg Wolitzer, the best-selling author of the "The Ten-Year Nap," in what is thought to be the first coast-to-coast virtual book club with multiple participants.

"I got a kick out of seeing these women sitting there, in their homes around the country," said Wolitzer who talked about her latest novel, "The Uncoupling."

She admitted that she wasn't sure what to expect during the chat with members of clubs ranging from Austin, Texas to Indian Harbour Beach in Florida and Lorton, Virginia, and felt a bit like the late chess master Bobby Fischer playing nine games of chess at once.

"It was clear that all of these women were passionate and attentive readers," Wolitzer said in an interview. "It was a pretty thoughtful exchange."

Using group video-calling from Skype, the club members and moderator Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine, chatted with Wolitzer about the book.

The magazine teamed up with Skype to sponsor event. The book clubs were selected after entering a competition.

Wolitzer and Seymour sat before a huge monitor that transmitted a live feed from all the book clubs. Instead of just discussing the book, the club members were able to put questions directly to the author, who then responded.

Wolitzer said she found the virtual book club was not all that different from a traditional one, and much less formal than a reading, which she said tend to be "fairly formal events."

"I was pleased, and to some extent surprised, by (the women's) openness and honesty," Wolitzer said. "They let me know what they liked, what occasionally made them uncomfortable ... I really appreciated that they didn't feel shy, and I didn't feel put on the spot."

And addressing book clubs' reputation for being as much about wine as words, Wolitzer added, "It was clear that some good food and excellent drinks were being served."

The book chat led to an overarching conversation about culture today, the Internet and its effects on children, sexual permissiveness and the future of reading.

If there was any downside, Wolitzer referred to a social aspect of traditional book clubs, and the current limits of technology.

"It is not advanced enough for someone to reach through the screen from their home in, say Virginia, and hand me a Mojito," she said, referring to the popular cocktail. (Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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