How to Start A Book Club; or Assembling Your Own Regiment

About a year ago, I had a “so crazy it just might work!” idea: I would start a book club.

I know, that sounds insane.  Bear with me.  Because being part of a book club is one of the most fun and most rewarding things I’ve done in the past year. Or ever.

Today, July 2, the Monstrous Regiment celebrates its first birthday! What started as a whim to read books by women authors has expanded to embrace all genres, all writing styles, all foods, and most recently, all of a book by a man (we admit that was controversial.) A year ago,  a group of people came together to read books and eat food and we haven’t looked back. If you want to start reading with awesome people, here are a couple suggestions.

1. Find Your Peeps

So–you want to start a book club. In the 21st century, how do you find awesome, like-minded people who also want to read books and talk about them? Facebook, of course. I started by creating a private Facebook group called “Hypothetical New Louisville Book Club” and invited everyone I knew in a two-hour radius who I thought might like to read. Those people then invited more people, and we started a discussion about what this “Hypothetical New Louisville Book Blub” might be. We discussed how often we should meet (monthly), where we should meet (local restaurants), what our name should be (we took a poll–The Feminine Mystiques and Women of Letters were also in the running) and how discussion captains would be chosen (at random unless there was a volunteer). It was immediately important that everyone who wanted to have a voice in what the book club would become–since then, any changes (can we meet on weekdays rather than only weekends?) have also been decided with energetic and empathetic discussion. One year later, The Monstrous Regiment continues to be made up of remarkable and good-humored people who just want to come together to talk about books.

2. Find Your Books

You’ve got your people–now what will you read?!?!? This is indubitably the hardest part of starting a book club. It was suggested at the outset that our group focus on books by female authors, and this was adopted instantaneously. We could just have easily decided to only read books by Kentucky authors or books by authors whose last names started with P or books without “The” in the title or books about mermaids. We could also have decided that each discussion leader picks whatever book they want to read, without a unifying theme. I suggested the “books by women” hook because I wanted to read more books by women, and I thought it would help narrow the focus of the zillions of books out there. Choosing a book for a group discussion is daunting, y’all. For our first read, I dithered for days, making lists and consulting oracles and booksellers alike, until a fellow Regimental gave me this advice: just pick a book you want to read. So, I picked The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George because 1. Nina George was a woman and 2. I’d owned the book for six months. It was time to read it. Since then, The Regiment’s discussion captains have picked books they’ve read before, brand-new bestsellers,  or books they judged by title or author alone. The book itself is not the most important part–it’s the people you bring together to talk, and if you’re picking a book, you’ve probably already found your people. Sure, a really good book will likely have a really great discussion, but I’ve found that book people can talk about anything with vigor for long enough to finish a meal. Just pick a book that fits the mood of your group and tell everyone! It’ll be great.

3. Find Your Place

Setting out, I didn’t want The Monstrous Regiment to have a ton of requirements that might deter people from joining the fun. I wanted people to feel free to come to a discussion if they hadn’t finished the book (or even started the book) and I didn’t want people to be stressed out about leading a discussion. Choosing a book was stressful enough!  So, we started by holding our discussions in local restaurants, so people wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning their houses and making food. This turned out to be a boon because it expanded the scope of our group–we started picking restaurants that fit the style or theme of the book and that made it so much more fun. Our first meeting took place outside at a French cafe so we could eat yummy pastries while talking about a grumpy Frenchman who sells books from a barge. Since then, we’ve really gotten into matching our food to our books–so much so that we started a whole blog. This works for us, but maybe meeting in a library or a bookstore works for your group. Maybe meeting at the same house every time, or a local park is more your style. The atmosphere we wanted for our club was discussed in our Facebook group, as well as time of day. Having a chill book club that is welcoming above all things has continued to appeal to us as a group.We started out on the first Saturday of every month at lunch, but this has quickly devolved into “When can everyone meet this month? The third Wednesday at 7:30pm? Super, see you there!” It’s more important to us to have our fellow Regimentals with us than to stick to a very specific schedule. Facebook continues to be helpful with this, as we can set up polls and events to keep everyone on the same page.

4. Find Your Voice

Our discussion style is fast and loose–sometimes the discussion captain has questions or discussion topics they introduce at the beginning and sometimes the group just starts talking and we can’t shut up. For us, we’ve found that starting with one or two questions is usually a good icebreaker, and that having a few more ideas we want to talk about is helpful when we fall into a conversational lull. Each discussion captain decides how they want to format discussion and we look to them as our wise and trusted guides to bring us back to the book when we inevitably fall down an irrelevant rabbit hole. What works for some books also doesn’t work with others, so flexibility in discussion format is key to having a really engaging discussion. Absent members also sometimes send in their thoughts and feelings on our selection to be read aloud during our meetings. The discussion really does depend on the book–sometimes we discuss our book for two hours and sometimes twenty minutes. The important thing is that we all read a book and came together to talk about it. The friendship is the best part.

Remember Step #1? You did it. You started a book club. Congratulations! Now go have some fun.

To all of you who have been a part of The Monstrous Regiment (all 99 members of that Facebook group!), thank you. Let’s keep reading!

Reads and Restaurants

Reading is a predominately solitary activity, which works out very well for us introverted people. We have our usual spot where we feel comfortable and do the majority of our reading. Mine is laying down on my couch with my cat either curled up by my feet or laying on my chest if she really wants attention. Usually, music is playing, and a snack is close at hand (we are all about the Feeds here). On days that the weather is just too nice to be inside, nearby parks take over the ideal spot, either on a bench, on a blanket picnic-style, or straight up lying on the grass. However, what about those rainy days or when you just need to grab some food and don’t want to stop reading? This article will give a little insight into going to bars and restaurants with your best friend: a book.


Firstly, bringing a book to a bar may be a good way to strike up conversations with other people and find some new friends. You may see an article about using books to make friends in the near future here, but today we’re focused on the opposite: how to not be bothered while you concentrate on your Reads and Feeds, and beers. I have had many years of experience doing this, both around where I live and on some solo vacations. When you are in a random locals pub in Dublin at 9 PM on a Tuesday with a bunch of old Irishmen, and look distinctly touristy, it takes a bit of setup to read without interruption. Fair warning: it also doesn’t always work.


There are some items that you can bring with you along with the book to help set up that “leave me alone” look. The most important one is a pair of headphones, regardless if you are going to end up listening to something or not. A notebook, backup battery charger for

Supplies for a day of books, bars, and biking

your phone, and/or a laptop all give off that vibe that you are working on something rather than just pleasure reading and can help minimize interruptions. A second book gives the impression that you have to get through one and start on the other, so it can be helpful as well. Usually, I opt for the notebook option as it is easy and useful for short trips, and on a long day out the battery charger is a life saver.


Depending on what type of place you go to, it may feel a little odd to go there alone especially if you aren’t used to it. Bars are no problem–many people go to those by themselves. There, you just look for the most secluded part of the bar, usually at the far end from the door. Keep your headphones in the entire time, just take one of them out for the brief moment to order your food and drink. I take the dust cover off if it is a hardback book so that it isn’t obvious what the book is, and that makes people less likely to comment on it. Sit down restaurants that you have a table and server are more awkward at first, but you quickly become used to it. If you go before or after the dinner and lunch rushes then you can set up all over the table without bothering anyone else, and they won’t particularly care how long you stay. Fancier places will sometimes be a little confused if you ask for a table for one, and in those situations holding your book so it is sort of prominently displayed can help ease the confusion.


Why go through all this effort to be out in public, when you are just going to turtle up in your own mind anyways? Well, in the immortal words of Donna Meagle, sometimes you just have to Treat Yo’ Self. One of my favorite ways to do that is to try out new restaurants, and everything is better with a book.

Sunday Selections: What We’re Reading

Our group has an amazing theme: female authors and/or strong central female characters. While we do read many novels that fit this subject matter, for both the club and on the side, we all have eclectic tastes and expand into many other genres for our pleasure reading. Here we explore what books some of the Regimentals are currently consuming in their free time.

Tim: I am currently listening to Soul Music by Sir Terry Pratchett on audiobook, and am reading John Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story in standard hardcover. Soul Music is the 16th stop on my quest to complete the 41 book Discworld series for the first time. Generally I only focus on one story at a time; however, due to how long the Discworld series is and that I am listening to them all rather than reading, I have had to take breaks and read other books. That’s where American Philosophy comes in, it’s a nice break to get some light reading in about solipsism and the meaning of life when the current Discworld book I’m listening to gets too heavy.

Hannah S: In preparation for the North American Discworld Convention in September, I’m trying to read through all the books again in order. (I’ve read them all many times, but I generally read them sporadically–just whichever book I feel like at the time.) I’m currently on Mort, which is a definite favorite of mine. It’s so fun to go back, read things from the beginning and watch the characters that you know so well develop again. If you haven’t read Sir Terry Pratchett’s incredible feat of imagination and satire, there’s nothing in the world I would recommend more highly. I’m also listening to Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, which I am thoroughly enjoying. I was in the mood for some Victorian drama. I had never read any Trollope before this year, and he’s quickly jumped to number 3 on my list of favorite 19th century writers after Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hannah Z.:  I just checked my purse and there are three books in there–Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, Longbourn by Jo Baker, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman. A fellow Regimental gifted Longbourn to me last year, and I’m enjoying this look at the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of their servants (N.B. Lydia is still super annoying). If you’ve never read Sarah Vowell, please stop denying yourself her witty and engaging thoughts on American History. I’m learning so much about the annexation of Hawaii and its rich history simply by traveling with Sarah into libraries and temples and caves and museums. I’m reconsidering much of what I already thought about the 50th state. As for The Princess Bride, it is a kissing book, and one I’ve read many times. I’m looking forward to diving into S. Morgenstern’s classic tale again.

Erin: Sometimes stories for work require some extra research. So, I’m currently reading How to Talk About Wine by Bernard Klem. It’s a basic guide to the world of wine, including which countries make it, how to taste it without looking like a rube, and what fancy-sounding words like terroir mean.

Exciting, interesting, and fun reads all around! We are all working through the next book club book as well; Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robinson. Some of us have at least three novels on themselves at all times (Hannah), and others just concentrate on one at a time. Regardless, we all have the love of reading in our souls.

Where’d You Go Bernadette : Wild Ginger

Plot summary

Bernadette Fox has disappeared. Her daughter Bee believes she’s still alive and looks for evidence about why she would leave at all.  Bee’s research uncovers the nuisances and foibles of Bernadette’s daily life as she interacts with her family, the other parents aka “gnats” at her daughter’s school, and resurrected figures from her past.

Lady Factor 

Most of the main characters are female, with the exception of Elgin Branch, who we hated. The female characters, especially Bernadette and her neighbor Audrey Griffin,  are complicated, loving, and fierce. These two have consciously chosen motherhood over career, but wrestle with this choice in different ways. Bernadette’s past life is revealed in a heartbreaking fashion, making her self-isolation after a public disaster almost understandable. Meanwhile, over the course of the book, Audrey’s life unravels in an often hilarious fashion, leading to her surprising empathy for Bernadette.

Language/tone/writing style

This book is an epistolary novel, told through emails, letters, transcripts, medical records, magazine articles and faxes as Bee pieces together the events leading up to her mother’s disappearance and searches for clues to her whereabouts. The final section is told exclusively from Bee’s perspective as she and her father travel to Antarctica. The structure of the book is engaging and the wittiness of the overall writing allows each character to feel fully developed. There is a slight disconnect between Bee’s voice in the book and her stated age of 15–most of us felt she was much younger.


The titular Bernadette Fox is an agoraphobic former architect and devoted mother who nevertheless leaves her daughter behind without any explanation (As a group, we loved Bernadette, but could not forgive this). Bee Branch, Bernadette’s daughter, has a precocious aura reminiscent of Harriet the Spy with just enough sass to keep her fresh. Bernadette’s husband Elgin is supposedly a genius, but he kind of sucks. We found his relationship with his assistant Soo-Lin puzzling. Audrey Griffin offered as much discussion as Bernadette, especially when we considered her role in Bernadette’s escape.


While Bernadette’s disappearance is the catalyst for the entire book, her actual escape isn’t described until almost three-quarters of the way through the book, during an intervention for her perceived mental illness. The deliberate reveal through the documents collected by Bee, along with Bee’s interjections, allow the audience to come to their own conclusions about Bernadette’s mental state and the events and people that may have led her to leave her family. We poured out some wasabi in collective mourning for the Twenty Mile House. Bernadette’s mothering skills came under fire at our table even as we sympathized with her feelings of being an outsider, but Bee’s protectiveness of her mother’s memory endeared both of them to us.

Is this a good discussion book?

Absolutely. Our discussion ranged from miracles to marriage to madness to maturity as we talked about the shittiness of Bernadette leaving her fifteen-year-old daughter and how our perspectives on each character changed with new information. We determined we hated Elgie, even as we questioned what the new Branch-Fox-Lee-Segal family would look like on an ordinary Wednesday. In fact, this is the most book-clubby (or booky-club, if you enjoy malapropisms or speaking like Tom Haverford) book we’ve read so far. We even went so far as to offer our casting suggestions for the upcoming movie.

Book rating: 3.9 out of 5 Bookmarks 


Do you enjoy elaborately delicious sushi? Head to Wild Ginger and start with the Pineapple Cheese Wontons. Chosen because a restaurant of the same name is briefly mentioned in the book, we were content to camp out for two hours as we noshed on edamame and lotus chips and swapped pieces until we all had created delicious Franken-rolls of our various individual orders. 


Our waitress was cordial and attentive, giving us a lot of time for discussion between ordering and suggesting multiple orders of our chosen starters for ease of sharing.


The restaurant is pleasant and no frills,  with lots of sunlight. There was enough space that we didn’t feel squashed together but we weren’t so far apart that we couldn’t trade sushi.

Ease of discussion

Wild Ginger is deceptively large, so we were seated at a comfortable distance from other diners. In fact, as we became emphatic on certain points about the Branch-Fox method of parenting, we might have been distracting to those who weren’t as interested in the 2012 novel Elle magazine called “As intelligent and enlightening as it is charming…” Now, who’s up for a trip to Seattle?

Food rating: 4.8 out of 5 Servings

The Penelopiad : Monnik Beer Co.

Plot Summary

Did you ever wonder what Penelope was up to while Odysseus was out gallivanting across the Mediterranean? In this tell-all,  she gives her side of the story, which differs in surprising ways from Homer’s version of events. Set in modern-day Hades, she recounts her unusual tale, beginning with her birth, and continuing all the way to the end: present day, thousands of years after her death. Her unique perspective and that of her Maids makes The Penelopiad a fresh new take on the classic epic.

Lady Factor

In the time in which Penelope was alive, a woman’s role was mostly as a child bearer, and her station as a daughter of a king made her a prize to be won rather than a person. She describes her marriage to Odysseus as being handed over like a package of meat and is aware of her objectification. However, she doesn’t break out of that role until it is necessary after Odysseus leaves. When his parents die, the running of the estate falls to her, and eventually the Suitors come to take over. Through her strength and wit, she is able to keep the kingdom running without letting any of the Suitors usurp the throne. In that way, she embodies a strong matriarchal character, though the constraints of the original story keep her from breaking out into the hero archetype like we would hope.

Language/tone/writing style

Atwood uses an informal story-telling style for Penelope’s point of view, which is the majority of the book. However, the Maids do get their own chapters, which are usually songs or poems. These really showcase the playful and versatile styles that Atwood can achieve. As a side note: they are really fun and at the same time dark, perfect for dark humor enthusiasts.


Penelope as the storyteller is the central character, with most of the novel from her viewpoint. While the plot ostensibly revolves around Odysseus being away, he is actually one of the more prominent characters. The Maids get a significant amount of page time to themselves as well, and are largely grouped together as one entity. Other characters that get some speaking roles include Eurycleia (an older maid), Telemachus (the son), and Helen (of Troy).


The tale is ubiquitous in pop culture, and this retelling doesn’t change the plot so much as it challenges your perspective of the events. However,  there still are surprises due to Atwood’s clever changes in writing style throughout the novel, and the fact that the story is told in modern times. My personal favorite moment of the book is an absurdist style 21st-century trial scene of Odysseus for the killing of the Suitors. The Maids then break in and speak up about their murders (since no one else seems to care about women slaves dying, go figure) with Penelope being a witness on their behalf.

Is this a good discussion book?

Between its brevity, how easy it is to read, and the familiar story, it makes a good choice for book clubs as opposed to something harder like War and Peace. There are a few main topics to discuss, such as the difference between this and the original story, the feminist aspect, and the oddness of the random modern day references. Due to it being fairly short it was one of the harder books to keep the discussion going for a long amount of time. Luckily, we were in an amazing restaurant, so we were able to fill our time (and bellies) up with good food and beer.

Book rating: 4.7 of 5 Bookmarks


Monnik is a brewpub that lies in the heart of Schnitzelburg, which believe it or not, is the German part of town. That influence comes through strongly in both the food and beer selection. You will be tempted by savory-sounding snacks as appetizers for your meal. Follow that feeling. Be warned though, they use the term “snack” loosely. The amount can be considered a meal in itself. If you want to get a Monnik special, try the mayo and sour beef covered Donder Fries, which will make you question ever using ketchup with fries again. Not all the food is German, they have the standard burgers of any American brewpub. BBQ, chicken salad, and Cuban sandwiches are also all available with little differences to make them unique. The vegetarian options are mostly salads, other than a green lentil-based Shepard’s Pie. Regardless, if you choose one of those or stick with a nice hefty German Sauerbraten, the curry baked beans should be on your shortlist for sides.

The most important decision of your visit will be which beer to drink, of which there are a huge variety. If you’ve been to a bar in Louisville before with craft beers on draft, you have most likely seen a Monnik beer featured. A selection of six house-made beers are on their permanent menu, and always available. Along with those six, batches of others made in-house and from other breweries are available on tap. Like stouts and literary references? Try the His Dark Materials milk stout. Looking for something a little lighter? Try the King George brown ale. Like IPAs? Try the cleverly named IPA called IPA. Are you a 17th century Paulaner monk who drinks beer for sustenance during Lent? Try the Etcetorator doppelbock. If you can’t decide, then there is always the option of getting samples to try them out. If it turns out you really like one, you can get a growler to take home.


The entire establishment was renovated in 2015, and with that came a modern style. Monnik largely features wood tables, with metal painted black for that urban loft look. The main room has the bar, with beautifully ran silver taps for all the different beers you will be trying. In the center of the room is a raised Social Table, which has more free seating if the bar is full. The outdoor patio fits with the aesthetic of the inside but is not quite as nice. The black metal tables seem flimsy, and appear to have been worn down by the weather. The flooring is just a concrete slab, which hasn’t been finished. It is still very nice and cozy out there, but just doesn’t have the polished look of inside. They allow dogs out there, so that makes up for any slights it may have.

Ease of discussion

A bus full of people on a beer tour showed up during our discussion and proceeded to take over a large part of the bar and seating around us. This increased volume of noise did cause some communication issues, though we were still able to finish the discussion. Prior to that unfortunately timed arrival, it was quiet enough to discuss with no issues. As nice as it is inside, if the weather cooperates then the back patio would provide an even more opportune location for a Books and Beers, I mean Reads and Feeds discussion.

Food rating: 3.3 of 5 servings

The Member of the Wedding : The Eagle


Plot summary

Frankie Adams’ late summer listlessness reaches a frenzy when her older brother comes home one day with a fiancée. The 12-year-old girl is right at the awkward moment where she doesn’t totally belong to the world of children or adults– that sense of disconnection launches her into a three-day exploration of her own identity as she looks for a place to belong in the world, and intoxicates herself in delusions of running away with her brother and his bride. Set against summer in the South, thousands of miles away from World War II’s battlefronts, The Member of the Wedding gives a brief glimpse into the mind of a lonely little girl who wants so much that’s mostly out of reach.

Lady factor

Girlhood! Only a few months back while reading Mara Wilson’s memoir Where Am I Now?, we went on a brief tangent over hummus about the dearth of tales of girlhood. And yet, here’s one. Frankie’s in flux– a girl with a crew cut in a frilly pink dress. She has thin ideas of what it means to be grown up, manifested through poorly applied lipstick, a dress she’s too young for, and an unsettling encounter with a drunk soldier. Despite those run-ins with gender norms, Frankie’s figuring out what it means to be Frankie, and that’s a good thing.

Language/tone/writing style

The Member of the Wedding was written in the mid 40s, so it lives at a point in time where the writing is completely familiar, but still slightly formal. McCullers’ writing style is descriptive and poetic, and she applies it to the illumination of not just the world surrounding the characters, but the worlds in their heads. And in this case, that means Frankie and every feeling that swells and deflates her heart while walking down the street.


Frankie is the main character, but most of her interactions are with a young cousin named John Henry West, and a nanny named Bernice. We meet other characters, like Frankie’s father and Bernice’s immediate social circle and, of course, the bride and groom, but they’re largely background characters.


There’s a scene involving a drunk soldier in a bar that made just about everyone shift around in their seats– but this is a Southern Gothic novel, after all, and it certainly sparked some conversation along the lines of “What the what was that??”

Is this a good discussion book?

I’d say yes. Discussion lasted all through dinner and sprawled over themes of identity, childhood, symbolism, and the merits of reading something that might make you uncomfortable. Plus, it spurred conversation about our own experiences growing up, which added a nice personal element to the meeting. I interpret that as a sign that we almost all connected with it on some level as women who grew up in the South (sorry Tim).

Book rating: 3.5 of 5 Bookmarks


At some point in recent memory, Southern food got unrelentingly hip– think mac and cheese that actually costs a fair bit of, well, cheese.

The Eagle is one of those hip restaurants applying a lacquer of cool to tIMG_1974he kind of food a lot of folks down here grew up eating. But you know what? We’re solidly into it.

For the most part, we each got The Eagle’s fried chicken– which was crispy, juicy and flavorful– and with military precision, divided and conquered the sides menu. Our spread of mac and cheese, horseradish mash potatoes, grits, biscuits, and collards was enough to prompt people from a neighboring table to come over and ask us for advice. The Eagle also has a respectable craft beer menu, including some nearby offerings, and cocktails like bourbon punch garnished with berries and served in a glass that resembles a small birdbath.


Our waiter was incredibly good humored as our party of seven settled in and plotted how to try as much on the menu as possible. He was attentive, funny, and patient.


The interior of The Eagle plays into the mixed materials trend of wood and metal. It’s cozy and dark without causing vision problems, and split primarily on two floors, with a few smaller elevations in between. We were lucky enough to just about take over the second floor.

Ease of discussion

Being on the second floor afforded us not only adequate space, but insulation from the pre-dinner-rush din. We could hear each other talk without issue– and more importantly, hear that request to pass the mac and cheese.  

Food rating: 4.1 of 5 servings


Hello! This is Reads and Feeds

Hello and welcome to Reads and Feeds, a book and food blog presented by the Monstrous Regiment. We’re delighted you stopped by our table on our small corner of the internet.

First things first–who is the Monstrous Regiment? Well, we’re a book club stationed in Louisville, KY. We love reading. And eating. And talking. And doing all those things together with each other–and now with you! Mostly, we love the collegiality of participating in a group of passionate people. We love asking questions and hearing other perspectives, whether the question is “How does Atwood’s prose turn the original structure of The Iliad on its head?” or “Could you please pass the macaroni and cheese?”

We read across genres, but we stick to one concept: everything we read is written by a woman. This isn’t a hard and fast rule–we’re open to reading works by men, but for the past ten months, we’ve stuck to the ladies. So far we’ve caught up with Mara Wilson, pondered the meaning of feminism with Roxane Gay, traveled with seven sisters with Michelle Lovric, and more. Yes, we are mostly women, with one gentleman joining in our shenanigans with gusto (Hi, Tim). We eat eagerly at restaurants that fit the theme of the book, like a French bakery for our first pick, The Little Paris Bookshop, or a fried chicken joint for The Member of the Wedding.

Reads and Feeds is our way of bringing you into the fun–it’s the next best thing to reading and eating with us. If you’re around, you’re always welcome to join in the fun! Just pull up a fork and a comfy chair–we’re going to be here awhile.
We have a lot to talk about.

reads and feeds