Has your book group bogged down in the complexities of A Thousand Splendid Suns? Are you missing the references in The Jane Austen Book Club? Is the plot of Orhan Pamuk's Snow eluding you? If you live in Los Angeles, help is at hand.
Call Julie Goler, professional book-club facilitator. That's right; she gets paid to lead groups of women in productive discussion of the books they read for pleasure.
"I was a voracious reader as a kid and during the time I was at Duke," says Goler, who was an English major. After Duke, Goler earned her master's at Columbia University and then taught English at Stuyvesant High School in New York. "I think I missed Frank McCourt, one of my favorite teaching authors, by a year or two," she says.
From there, she moved to California and ended up teaching English at Beverly Hills High School. Soon, she was asked to lead a book group for the adult school on campus.
"It was a really popular course," says Goler. "I began getting a lot of calls from book groups around the city because my name was in the adult-school course catalogue. I realized there was a need, so I printed up business cards saying simply 'Julie Goler, Reader,' took them to the independent book stores around town—and started getting calls."
Goler has worked with more then twenty groups so far, "but I can't really do more than ten at any one time. I limit my book groups to Monday and Tuesday nights."
She says she has a simple criterion for choosing titles. "My philosophy is that I read what I read, and if they like what I read, then I am a good moderator for them. If they don't, then I'm not."
A recent book that provoked lively discussion was Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the story of a father and son exploring a post-apocalypse world. "People found it very grim, but they were blown away by his prose," Goler says. Among other contemporary titles she recommends are Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, and Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.
"I also try to do classics once or twice a year and make them readable," Goler says. "The best discussion, yet the most challenging one, I've led was of George Eliot's Middlemarch. It was daunting because of the size."
Goler, who has lived in L.A. since moving to the city at twenty-three, travels to her clients' homes for her groups, and charges $250 a session.
"I run a meeting like a salon," she says. "The first thing that I do is introduce the author and his or her biography. I'll give the historical background on the book if there's any that's relevant, and then we start the discussion."
She e-mails discussion questions and "focus points" to readers a week in advance, along with "Goler's Picks," a list of additional recommended books, as well as movies and even good restaurants and fun shopping spots she has discovered.
Goler acknowledges that she runs a tight ship. "I do allow women to bring in their personal experiences, but I run it like a classroom. I don't want any one person to dominate the discussion. I also want to hear from the quieter people. I remind everyone, 'This is why you guys brought me in. This is why I make the big bucks.' "
—Grace, a freelance writer based in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, is a member of two book groups, both of which could benefit from a facilitator.