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Author Jill Santopolo on Being a Book Club Guest

By Jill Santopolo

I’ve always loved book clubs—the chance to get together and talk about how stories make you feel, what you think writers did well, the parts that make you want to throw the book across the room—they turn the solitary experience of reading into something communal. The longest-running book club I’ve been a part of began in 2002, and still meets (albeit with less frequency) sixteen years later.

But experiencing a book club as an author is something entirely different. When The Light We Lost came out this past May, I started getting invitations to be the guest of honor at various women’s book clubs—some of the women I knew, some knew people who knew me, and some reached out over email or social media to invite me. When I’ve been available, and the book club has taken place nearby, I’ve gone. And when I haven’t been able to make it in person, I’ve called or video’d in. And the experience has been kind of mind-blowing.

I’ve had a chance to meet readers one-on-one and hear about how The Light We Lost touched them. How Lucy’s heartbreak reminded them of their own. How it helped them get through a break up or the death of a parent or a friend. How it helped them connect with other women—sharing stories from their past that they’d never told one another before. And I’ve had a chance to hear firsthand how invested people had become in the characters I created and how curious they were about why I had a character make a particular decision or what I thought they’d do after the book ended.

I’ve had a fantastic time getting to know all of these women (and the one husband who stopped by because he’d read the book, too) and have had wide-ranging conversations with them about everything from first love to ambition to work-life balance to safe sex to regret to fear to disappointment, and so much more. One book club discussion lasted nearly five hours because everyone had so much they wanted to share.

And the book clubs also often came up with wonderfully-themed food, drinks, and décor to get everyone in the spirit of The Light We Lost. So I’m going to include some tips here for anyone who wants to have a The Light We Lost book club—with or without me:

    Food: No book club is complete without some snacks to munch on while you talk. When you chat about The Light We Lost, you might want to serve nachos (which the characters Lucy & Gabe make the first day they meet), chocolate chip cookies (which are baked in the book), or Gummy Bears (which Lucy’s brother talks about in a metaphorical way).

    Drink: There are a lot of options here, but you can offer your guests whiskey and apple martinis (which is what Lucy & Gabe are drinking when they run into each other at a bar), or chardonnay (which Lucy drinks later in the book).

    Décor: Depending how much time you have, you could cut out pictures of your friends—or of couples from magazines—into the shape of stars and tape them to the walls (like Gabe does for Lucy one Valentine’s Day). And you could get some New York City-themed plates, cups, and napkins, since that’s where most of the book takes place.

    Music: If you have Spotify, I created a The Light We Lost playlist, which makes great background music. You can find that at:

    Discussion Jump Starters: And if you want ideas to get the conversation started, you can pull questions from the Reading Group Guide that Putnam put together for The Light We Lost. If you want to encourage your friends to add questions, too, you can print the Reading Group Guide out and cut up the questions, so each one has its own slip of paper, and then put them all in a jar, and ask them to add their own questions when they walk in. Once you’re ready to begin the conversation, you can ask different people to pull the questions out, and either answer the question themselves, or pose them to the group.

No matter what you do, and no matter what book you read, I hope your next book club meeting gives you the chance to connect deeply with your friends on the topics that matter most to you. I truly believe that sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to build community and open minds to new and different possibilities and viewpoints.

Jill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's the New York Times bestselling author of The Light We Lost, which has been translated into 35 languages and is a bestseller the world over, as well as three successful children’s and young-adult series. She works as the associate publisher of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group and as an adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program. Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.

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