Saturday, September 28, 2013


The list of discussion questions for book club success:
  1. Which character do you like the most and why? The least and why?
  2. What passage from the book stood out to you?
  3. Are there situations and/or characters you can identify with, if so how?
  4. Did you learn something you didn’t know before?
  5. Do you feel as if your views on a subject have changed by reading this text?
  6. Have you had a life changing revelation from reading this text?
  7. What major emotion did the story evoke in you as a reader?
  8. At what point in the book did you decide if you liked it or not? What helped make this decision?
  9. Name your favorite thing overall about the book. Your least favorite?
  10. If you could change something about the book what would it be and why?

  11. Describe what you liked or disliked about the writer’s style?


Burdened with a craft that's essentially uncinematic, writers in the movies are perennially blocked, broke, and insane, simultaneously romanticized and ridiculed for their excesses-- from the wise-cracking drunks of "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" to the sticky sweetness of "Shakespeare in Love," the self-regarding self-reflexivity of "Adaptation," and the homicidal madness of "The Shining." Here are ten films that have something real to say about what it means to write.

1. The Singing Detective

Stories that make us sick, stories that cure us: in the groundbreaking 1986 BBC mini-series, Michael Gambon plays a hospitalized pulp author with a nasty skin disease who wrestles with his demons, past, present, real, and imagined. Rarely have the processes of memory and creation been made visible with such playfulness: goons, dames, Nazi spies, and "Dem Bones" are all part of the brilliantly layered script by Dennis Potter. Caution: avoid the 2003 Robert Downey Jr. remake like the plague.

2. Barton Fink

More wrestling, this time literally: in the Coen Brothers' 1991 Cannes winner, John Turturro sells out to Hollywood, drinks with William Faulkner's alter ego, befriends John Goodman, and watches the wallpaper peel off in the shabby hotel where he is desperately trying to toss off his screenplay. Does it give you "that Barton Fink feeling?" You bet it does. Just for once, the world around Fink is crazier and more absurd than the writer.

3. Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas is endearingly ridiculous in his pink bathrobe, working on a second novel that's over a thousand pages long with no end in sight. Based on Michael Chabon's book and featuring appealing young actors Katie Holmes (pre-Tom) and Tobey Maguire (pre-Spidey), "Wonder Boys" tells tales from the inside a graduate writing program that are too wacky not to be true.

4. Deconstructing Harry

Not every writer has to justify their work to an angry Judy Davis armed with a revolver; deep down, however, they're all afraid their friends and family will confront them about their thinly veiled characters. One of Woody Allen's last great films, "Deconstructing Harry" is a poignant and hilarious cover version of Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries."

5. Factotum

Matt Dillon gives a wonderful performance as Charles Bukowski's alter-ego in Brent Hamer's adaptation/biopic about the hard-drinking, hard-living writer and poet. Outlandish scenes tumble into each other, buoyed by Bukowski's drunken wit and saved from precocious romanticism by his direct, unglamorous honesty.

6. Naked Lunch

It's a Kafka high: typewriters turn into bugs and extraterrestrial agents dispense strange drugs in David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs' most famous novel.

7. Capote

Most of the talk about Bennett Millers' film has centered on Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance -- it is easier to praise his outstanding mimicry than to dissect the complexities of the script. Capote tackles tough issues about manipulation, ambition, and the real-life cost of creating art.

8. My Brilliant Career

In Gillian Armstrong's 1979 classic, Judy Davis has yet to display her talent for caustic sarcasm and biting humor. She plays impetuous, young Sybylla Melvyn, a budding author who chooses her fiction over love.

9. I Capture The Castle

Like father, like daughter: marvelous Bill Nighy and heartbreakingly earnest Romola Garai struggle with their craft, doubt their talent, and persevere. Set in a crumbling castle, Tim Fywell's tender, funny adaptation of Dodie Smith's 1949 novel captures the essence of the writing life.
10. Morvern Callar
Lynne Ramsey's 2002 film might seems like an odd choice for this list--the film's actual writer is dead at the outset. His partying girlfriend picks up his manuscript and sells it under her own name. "Movern Callar" isn't about the pain of creating, it's all about the pay-off: in the title role, Samantha Morton gets the supreme pleasure of having written without ever having touched pen or keyboard.

Thursday, September 26, 2013



1. Watch your language! Try to avoid words like "awful" or "idiotic"-- even "like" and "dislike." Those type of words won't help move discussions forward and can put others on the defensive. Instead, talk about your experience -- how you felt as you read the book.  Compare and contrast the book with other books, your reaction of this book as opposed to other books.
2. Don't be dismissive. If you disagree with someone else, don't refer to him or her as an ignoramus (even though they probably are one). Just say, "I'm not sure I see it that way. Here's what I think...." Much, much nicer. Perhaps use the tool of repeating back what you believe the other person said and ask, "Did I understand you correctly?"  Most of the time you'll learn they have misquoted themselves and will then set the record straight with a line of logic and reasoning you do agree with.
3. Support your views. Use specific passages from the book as evidence for your ideas. This is a literary analysis technique called "close reading." Saying "I didn't care for it..." or "It wasn't my favorite..." are enough to get the message across.  Don't say, "It was good because I liked it..." because that doesn't mean anything.  Have a reason to back up your point of view.
4. Read with a pencil. Takes notes or mark passages that strike you—as significant or funny or insightful. Talk about why you marked the passages you did.
5. Speak up.  Have the confidence to let others know what you think. And, please, don't ramble on, repeating yourself because you've run out of things to say.  Just say what you know because, if you left something out, you can always go back and give clarification.
6. Summarize.  What is the point of a book club?  To learn, to be entertained, to socialize.  If you get hung up with not being listened to or blustering due to getting attention, you will not have fun.



The host's job is to make everyone feel comfortable and act accepting of ideas.  The host must make sure members who attend meetings have drinks, food, adequate restroom facilities, pens, paper, light, and comfortable places to sit -- in a quiet environment.  The host should keep the conversation moving and act as intermediary when conflict arises.  The host should set the tone and make sure people are not often interrupted, talked-over or ignored.  The focus of the meeting should be on the books and having everyone participate in the discussion.

1. Toss only one question at a time out to the group. who, what, when, where, how and why -- are the basic questions.

2. Select a number of questions and write each question down on a piece of paper.

3. Perhaps use a prompt (an object) related to the story to get people talking. Seeing props can help stimulate members' thinking about some aspect of the story. It's adult show-and-tell. Think in terms of maps, photographs, paintings, food, apparel, a music recording, or a film.

4. Pick out a specific passage from the book -- a description, an idea, a line of dialogue --and ask members to comment on that passage. Consider how a passage reflects a character...or the work's central meaning...or members' lives or personal beliefs.
5. Choose a primary character and ask members to comment on him or her. Think about character traits, motivations, how he/she affects the story's events and characters, or revealing quotations.
6. Play a literary game. Say words chosen from the book as a kind of "free association" for the group.
7. Distribute hand-outs to everyone in order to refresh memories or to use as talking points. Identify the primary characters and summarize the plot.  Then ask for reactions.

8. Recite a review from the newspaper, magazine or on-line before the discussion begins and ask members to accept or reject the review's point of view.



"Dolce Vita di Libro: One Dead Actress" and "Dolce Vita di Libro Announcement" are short videos made by Brother Andy to draw attention to the unique book club.  The uber-artist/film-maker wrote, produced, directed, edited and starred in the announcements. The characters portrayed in the videos will be part of other up-coming projects.



"Bruno, Chief of Police" is a book (and book series from publisher Boomerang Books) by Martin Walker but the fictional "Bruno" also has his own very-real website ( and blog and musical play list, including Edith Piaf and Eric Clampton.  The Bruno universe is also filled jammed-packed with real-world places to visit such as restaurants, hotels and other sight-seeing venues.  There are detailed make-able menus of different culinary delights to wear the hardened food addict to weakness.  On top of all of this, Bruno solves crimes.

Bruno -- superhuman beyond reason, yet entertaining to even the most jaded -- makes iconic Sherlock Holmes look like a second-rate hack and as made-up as the Easter Bunny.  Who needs James Bond?  Bond never built his own house and grew the grapes for his own drinks.  Did any other sleuth in novels ever find a lost dog? Ha!

The author, Martin Walker, does international interviews and book tours.  What he has done with his hyper-specific Bruno is blurred the lines of fantasy and reality to the point where you start to believe you could get in a plane and go to this far-off place and see Bruno handing out parking citations while on duty creating a fireworks display.

"Bruno, Chief of Police" is the first book chosen by Dolce Vita di Libro book club.



Writing a book review requires the basics of who, what, when, where, how and why.  The first question to be answered is why should a reader of the review read the book you are reviewing -- or not?  To go about answering this question, follow these suggestions...

1. Read the book. A lot of review writers think they can get around this, but it’s not worth it. Readers can generally tell if the writer has read the book. If necessary, also read ABOUT the book. If the book needs a context to make sense to the reader of the review, read a little bit of history about the environment or the writer.

2. Assemble your ideas. Instead of just sitting down and telling yourself to start writing, take the time to think about the book overall. See what sticks in your mind as good and bad about the book -- the pacing, the plot, the allegories and metaphors... Make lists of what you responded to and didn’t. Keep your audience in mind. It may be that things you liked will not appeal to them, and if you know your audience well, you can recommend something that you personally did not enjoy because reading the book will have some value to them.

3. Start writing. Don’t write the review immediately, but write a few sentences. Try to boil the book down to a very simple three-sentence paragraph. A synopsis of the book is essential to a review, but you don’t want the plot to take up half of the review text! Write an outline or write an opening and a closing. Try to say what you liked most or least about the book in one sentence.

4. Write the body of the review. Now that you have thought about the larger theme of the review, write the meat of the review. Write an opening sentence or two, then move to the summary of the book’s events. If necessary, after that write briefly about the context of the book or the writer and why they may matter. Finally, get into what matters: What you thought. Identify what was good and bad, but more important, tell the audience why. Tell the audience whether you recommend the book or not and for what reason.  Basically, you have to justify why you have reacted to the book in the manner you did.

 5. Summarize with blurbs. A modern audience (particularly online) require information stripped down to very simple sentences. Your review can be much more effective if you write up blurbs in advance instead of making an editor do it. Give a few bullet points with pros and cons and end with a recommendation -- or not.



A good book is one of life's great pleasures. Whether you are reading fiction or nonfiction, the following suggestions will help you learn how to get the most out of your experience.

Step One: Choose a book. There are many resources to help you pick a book you'll like.
Go to the library. Your local library is a good place to browse books and you won't have to pay anything to read the book -- sort of "try it before you buy it" idea. Many library systems allow you to electronically reserve a copy of a book you want in advance, and then notify you when the book is available so you can come check it out.

Ask those around you. Good friends and close relatives may be able to recommend books to you based on what they enjoyed and thought you would also enjoy.

Check online. The Internet is filled with book lovers who are more than happy to share their opinions about various titles. Find a community that discusses books and search for the subjects you like, or just visit online retail sites and browse user reviews of books that look good.

Go to public readings and bookfairs.  Fiction readings happen regularly at many independent bookstores and book fairs. Nonfiction writers can sometimes be found giving readings or free guest lectures at nearby colleges.

Step Two: Acquire the book you want to read. There are a few different ways to accomplish this:
Buy the book. Visit a bookstore or newsstand and purchase your own copy to keep for as long as you like. The advantage of this is that with a little work, you can usually find even the hottest books and read them right away. The downside is that you have to pay money to buy the book. Be aware that if you're trying to read a very popular book, you may end up weeks or months down the waiting list for a copy.

Borrow the book. Friends and relatives who recommend a book to you will often have their own copy and be glad to led it to you for as long as it takes you to finish.  Be sure to take good care of books you have been loaned, and read them in a timely fashion so you don't forget about them and leave them gathering dust on a shelf for the next year.

Electronically purchase the book. With the advent of portable e-readers and smartphones over the last several years, electronically published editions of print books are becoming more and more common.  The cost of purchasing a virtual book is often slightly less than the cost of purchasing a physical copy, so if you have a reader already, you might save a little cash.  Like a paper-and-ink book, an electronic book is yours to keep once you've paid for it.

Step Three: Read your book. Find a comfortable place to sit.  Make sure there's plenty of light. Start at the beginning and read each page in order until the book is finished. If there is any end material, wait until you have finished the rest of the book before reading it.

Decide whether or not to read the front material. Front material is the writing at the front of the book that isn't the first chapter of the book. It comes in four basic flavors, and each type serves a different purpose. You can decide on your own whether or not you want to read any given section of front material.
The four types of front material are:

Acknowledgments: A brief section that lists people who helped the author in some way during the writing process. You can read acknowledgments if you like, but most people don't bother. Acknowledgments also commonly appear at the very end of the book.

Foreword: The foreword is written by a different author than the person who wrote the book, so it is usually only seen in later editions of a book that has made some sort of impact in the past, such as an award-winning novel or an important scientific work. The foreword talks a bit about what to expect from the book, and why it is worth reading.

Preface: The preface is written by the author of the book. It is usually (but not always) shorter than the foreword, and is basically an essay that explains how and why the book was written. If you're interested in the author's personal life or creative process, the preface can give you some valuable insight.

Introduction: The introduction is the place where the author speaks directly to the reader and introduces the book, reviewing what its intent is and building excitement in the reader about getting to read it. Introductions are more often found in nonfiction books than fiction books.

Decide whether or not you want to read the end material. End material is other writing, typically by different authors, that appear after the main book has ended.  End material is typically comprised of essays or editorials on the book itself, and is not commonly seen outside of academic “study editions” of certain very famous books, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. As with most front material, all end material is totally optional.

Step 4: Pace yourself. Reading a really good book is an absorbing experience that makes time fly by. Have a bookmark ready and be sure that you don't spend too long reading in one sitting. This will allow you to enjoy the book longer and prevent you from missing deadlines or shirking other responsibilities because you were lost in your book.
Other Ideas:

Although it's more a case of being read to than reading a book yourself, audiobooks can be a good choice for certain situations. Audiobooks are professional book readings recorded for use with music players. They can be a wonderful alternative to reading a book if you want to enjoy a story while doing other things.

If it is a book you very enjoyed like mystery/suspense, or magic and mystery or fantasy or trilogy or realistic fiction relax, close your eyes and imagine you are within the story, see the scene in your mind.


Please feel free to download and print this flier as a reminder of the club's meeting!


Here's how you can use the Dolce Vita di Libro Blog as an on-line book club:
1. Think of a fiction book which has food references and a murder mystery in the plot.  The book has to be widely available so each person can purchase it to read.  The book can come from anywhere in the world (as long as it is in English).  The book could also be a downloadable from on-line.
Or the book you read can be a part of the lists of book currently chosen (which will be posted here, along with the schedule of meetings and who will be hosting them). After the book club meets, we will post our reactions, reviews, comments, suggestions, etc. -- and so can you.
2.  Post your interest in a particular book on the blog.  If no one else is interested in reading the book, you could still post a review or pass it along to someone else when you are finished.  If you have links to pertinant information, post it.  Perhaps you have a photo from a place you have visited that relates to one of the books covered by the group or the book you chose.  Why not share it? Other media such as videos or movies or websites or events which relate to the topics and themes covered here are also encouraged. Know an author?  Hook us up.
Have a crazy idea for a project that relates to Dolce Vita di Libro such as an on-line PDF book or a costume dinner party or charity raiser, let's hear about it.
3.  If you attend a meeting, please RSVP the host.  Being on time is important as no one wants to disrupt a meeting that is already in progress. Bringing a dish to share in the potluck is fun because you never know exactly who will bring what -- and with group of die-hard "foodies", the food is always interesting.  Either put the food in a disposable dish or make sure you take the dish (and utensils) when you leave.  If you drink alcohol, just like the food, you should bring what you like.  It is not the place of the host to supply drinks.
If you are hosting and need to change the date or location, please contact Jennifer Johnson as soon as you can.  That information will then be posted here.
4.  Check the blog on a regular basis. If you have any comments, suggestions or critics, please send them along.
The the success of the club will only be a great as the involvement of the individuals.  Your contributions mean so much.  Learning is an important part of life and our intention is to enjoy ourselves with good reading, good food, good wine, and good friends.


Ciao Amicis!
Welcome to the new blog site for Dolce Vita di Libro (Sweet Life Of Books), which is an unique book club inspired by food/murder mysteries fiction novels.  The exciting new club recently began in Palm Springs, California, with nearly twenty people attending the first meeting (while many others where there by "proxy" from across the country). The idea for the book club originated with artist Jennifer Johnson and her friend, Arlene Dulaney. Attendees included many local luminaries.
Besides reading various novels and speaking about the books at the meetings, Dolce Vita di Libro is about an open exchange of ideas, almost a re-creation of the artist's salons of the past.
Uber-artist, Brother Andy (, has been annointed Creative Director of the group.  He has already produced two strange videos as announcements and has several projects on the rouster such as a "Killer Recipes" Cook Book/Murder Mystery -- a PDF book whichs combines elements of an off-beat Who-Done-It, complete with crazy characters, with recipes inspired by food references in the novels the group reads. Brother Andy can be contacted through
Let this on-line book club forum be your place to make comments, write reviews, give suggestions, post interesting images (such as photos of places you've visted that are referenced in the novels), recipes, or tell a true-life story about meeting fascinating authors.  Dolce Vita di Libro is here for education, entertainment and FUN!