I've just joined another book club. Not that I'm unhappy with the one I already enjoy. Just the opposite, in fact, and I hope to continue looking forward to that first Tuesday morning every month when a dozen women and yours truly meet to discuss a selected book, then enjoy more lively discussion over coffee and a light lunch.
You could say I'm the token bloke, and wonder how I managed it. Simple really. My wife Merry had been a member for years, and when I retired she took me along and introduced me to the others.
I feel honoured by my inclusion, and it's led to my reading a far wider range of authors and topics than I would have found for myself. Margaret Atwood and Janette Turner Hospital, for example, and we've listed their new books for discussion later this year.
Peter Goldsworthy, whose Three Dog Night brought on a lively discussion when I confessed admiration for the character whose actions would draw condemnation from all right thinking moralists. Susan Mitchell's revealing biography, Margaret Whitlam, for another.
One's image of a book club is of a rather prim group of ladies. Perhaps that can be true, but for me at least, this group enhances my respect for the strength, sincerity and range of opinions to be found in a group of mature and articulate women.
But even I was startled at our last meeting when one of our number (I won't name her, but will say she's a leading light in the theatre) arrived a little late, and with superb diction and a voice trained to project across a 500-seat auditorium, declaimed her lines from a local production of The Vagina Monologues.
Never say women's book clubs are dull.
I joined my new book club as a favour to a friend. It's early days, but I'm already finding it fun, and I think it will remain so.
Long ago, I wrote of Suzanne Fleming's becoming the business development manager of an international online e-book publisher, Globusz. Now she's taken what could best be called a Globusz franchise in Australia and is operating it as Globusz Oz.
This allows her to further develop her ideas. Unlike most e-book publishers, Globusz and Globus Oz allow anyone to read online or download their books without charge. The e-publisher plans to earn its revenue by charging authors a modest fee to prepare their books for online publication.
In return, Globusz Oz will encourage readers to submit evaluations of the e-books they read or download, and as part of that plan it's inviting people to join an online book club to discuss titles they select as a group.
For new authors dreaming of book tours and a handsome income, it's time for a reality check. Most mainsteam publishers have a "slush pile" -- the corner where they toss unsolicited manuscripts, unread.
Suzanne's business model will allow unknown authors to be published in cheaply produced e-books without being ripped off by vanity publishers.
For those who need hard-copy print versions to give or sell to family or friends, it will be possible to arrange limited, low-cost runs by print-on-demand services such as http://www.lulu.com./
The authors will receive feedback from readers, including some contributing via book discussion groups, with considered advice and perhaps offers of mentoring.
For some authors, the best of the crop perhaps, Suzanne's model may lead to introductions to mainstream publishers -- and fame and fortune. For others, it may give no more than the pleasure which comes from developing creative writing skills.
In our new book club, we chat by posting entries to a blog, and we're already off to a start which points to many more enjoyable conversions. You're welcome to come in and read our chat, and add your comments, but you'll need to join the club and receive a password to post new items.
To see how Suzanne's ideas develop, click on to GlobuszOz.
In my long-ago item about e-publishing , I was sceptical about its acceptance by general readers, many of whom probably still call the grandkids over to adjust their VCRs. I did see great promise with readers having special interests, or tech-savvy groups like university students who'd appreciate carrying one handheld device instead of a knapsack full of books.
Now I think the time has arrived for e-books (or is almost here for those of my generation who are not early adopters of new technology).
Faster broadband connections, more powerful computers and better monitors make it much easier to download and read e-books.
Also, geek magazines and websites are now describing a new generation of handheld e-book readers which feel like printed books and have screens which display text and images with the clarity of a printed page. On top of that they offer computer functionality for search, highlighting, bookmarking, copying and printing out.
Just as the iPod allowed people to enjoy music anywhere, these e-readers will allow people to pack a whole shelf of books into a device they can take to bed, read in the train, consult during a lecture, where and when they desire.
The main risk for our new group of readers is that some of the books will be dogs. Against that will the prospect of discovering and encouraging exciting new writers. Let's see how we go.