All about the inaugural MMD Book Club Retreat

All about the inaugural MMD Book Club Retreat

For years, I’ve been dreaming of hosting a longform reader event for our community—a gathering where you can get together with your fellow book lovers in person, for longer than an evening’s worth of book talk. This fall we finally made it happen, and I’m so grateful for the women who took a chance on us and came to Louisville—some from thousands of miles away.

Today I’m going to tell you a little about what the experience was like. This isn’t a minute-by-minute account, but I wanted to give you a feel for what the weekend was like—especially because, to both my delight and sorrow, we sold out our retreat in under three minutes, so we know not everyone who wanted to come could attend. 

I hope you enjoy this peek into the weekend! 

The basics

Here at MMD HQ, we considered this first event to be a beta test of sorts— a way for us to work out the kinks should we keep hosting reading getaways for the long haul. We decided a weekend event—from Friday dinner to Sunday brunch—felt about right for our first go.

We wanted to keep our first event small, so we decided to limit it to members of the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club community, where many of our members have developed relationships with their fellow readers, and told our readers that we were looking for attendees who were prepared to give us honest feedback about the retreat, and lots of it. We would have loved to host everyone who wanted to come, but also wanted an intimate feel for the weekend. In all, we hosted eighteen readers for the weekend, including myself and Ginger, our Book Club community manager extraordinaire, and our guest author. 

We hosted the event here in Louisville, where I live, for ease of planning and also because I wanted to take our readers on a little field trip. (More on that in a sec.) To welcome readers, my team and I filled up an entire three-story historic home with good food and drink, bookish decor, and abundant reading material.

The above cart usually lives in my home office, but we moved it to our retreat home for the weekend. I loaded it up with journals, a few of my own books, and advance review copies galore. Because so many readers are leery of writing in their own books or “messing up” their own journals, I wanted to provide practice books and journals for all.

We also stocked bookish tote bags nearby so readers could easily take ARCs or copies of my books to nearby Little Free Libraries.

What we did

We knew we wanted lots of time to talk books, have great conversation, and enjoy bookish camaraderie, so we followed a loose structure that included plenty of bookish sessions as well as time to soak up the bookish community we’d gathered for the weekend.

You can see the loose schedule we followed in the photo above. The wrapped gift is the book we read for the weekend. We mailed these packages to readers several weeks before we gathered in Louisville.

We started the weekend with introductions, where we also shared our “genius moves” for the reading life—those tips and tricks we’ve adopted that make our book life that much better.

After dinner, we gathered for a paperback swap: everyone brought a book to exchange. We got to learn about our fellow readers through the lens of these books. Everyone shared how they chose the book they brought with them, and also explained why they chose the book they took home with them.

(Yes, that is totally a Justin Bieber book at the bottom of the stack.)

The lido deck

We spent a lot of time connecting over dinner and snacks. (We kept hearing jokes about the cruise ship-frequency of the food. So much food.)

We ate tacos and barbecue and salads and cheese boards and fruit croissants and chocolate and licorice pipes (a la Louise Penny) and drank three cases of Spindrift, a bunch of diet Coke, and multiple bottles of wine (and a few craft beers).

The book discussion, part 1

We spent all weekend talking books, and we also spent lots of time discussing one particular book: Ariel Lawhon’s forthcoming release Code Name Hélène, which doesn’t come out until April 7, 2020. I wanted to choose an absorbing, discussable book that nobody had read yet—and this is how we solved that particular “problem.”

One of the things we love doing in the MMD Book Club is hosting author chats: after we’ve read a particular book together, the author joins us to discuss her process and answer our questions. Those discussions change hearts and minds, and we always comes away with a richer reading experience. It’s one of my very favorite things we do in Book Club, and I thought a live author discussion would be an incredible retreat experience.

I was over the moon when Ariel agreed to join us: she’s a lovely human and an incredible writer, and I could listen to her talk books—and talk about her own books—all day. She’s a dear friend, and I’ve been hearing snippets of this story for years now. I knew the book would be perfect.

We didn’t announce the book in advance to our readers (mostly because we were waiting until we had the books in hand before we spilled the beans); instead, we surprised them by mailing everyone their own hot-off-the-press advanced review copy.

On Saturday morning, we discussed the book without Ariel—and then the author herself joined us for the rest of our Saturday together.

This book was absolutely perfect for in-depth discussion: there was just so much to talk about! It’s set during WWII, but it’s all about the characters and relationships. We discussed love and lipstick, friendship and courage, extraordinary women, intimidation and deceit, and what’s different on the page when women write historical fiction.

Our bookish field trip

After lunch we hit the road, and the first stop was my house. It was a joy and a privilege to host readers for tea and book talk in my own home, a key reason we wanted to host this first retreat in Louisville.

I switched up the letterboard to hold our weekend mantra, courtesy of Anne of Green Gables: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Readers met Daisy (who almost/mostly behaved herself) …

took tons of photos and selfies in the library …

and I gave everyone a preview of my next book Don’t Overthink It in my living room.

I also gave everyone a look at my home office, but that situation is not photo ready! At least not for the blog. But our retreaters got the full, messy experience.

Before we left we captured a photo of the whole crew. What a group of readers!

Next we visited Carmichael’s Bookstore, my local indie. I’ll tell you what: if you ever want to get a bunch of readers talking, pop them into a room full of books. Those walls of shelves also serve as glorious photo backdrops for documenting your weekend with new friends.

I love this photo of Ginger and I together. We make twinning a regular habit—we often accidentally show up to our Book Club events wearing the same shirt—and wouldn’t you know, we did it this weekend, too?

We perused the new releases, shared opinions of the titles on the shelves, and helped each other pick out bookish souvenirs to take home with us. I think half of us left Carmichael’s with new Wendell Berry titles in hand. He’s a Kentucky author, so the Berry section is huge!

The book discussion, part 2

After dinner back at the house, we settled in to discuss Code Name Hélène—this time with author Ariel Lawhon!

This historical novel is about an amazing New-Zealand born French spy named Nancy Wake, a larger-than-life character straight from the history books with an affinity for the French 75 cocktail. I found out a few days before our retreat that Ariel had never had one. Readers, you know what we had to do.

The above photo shows Ariel’s advance review copy and a whole bunch of cocktails (plus a few virgin ones for good measure).

We had to take Ariel’s picture in front of the book page wreath, and then we settled in to talk books.

Readers, we had an amazing conversation. If you’ve never heard an author unpack the whys and hows of their work—what compelled them to write a particular story, how they chose to tell it the way they did, what were the tricky bits, and what do they hope readers will take from the experience—well, if ever the opportunity presents itself, I recommend you snatch it.

When we asked our readers later what made the weekend for them, this conversation with Ariel was a highlight. And they said over and over how we couldn’t have found anyone better suited to join us for our weekend. Of course I agree.

The wrap-up

By Sunday morning, everyone knew each other and had plenty to talk about, so we spent the last hours enjoying each other’s company, reflecting on our experience, and exchanging addresses, emails, and handles to keep in touch.

There were reflections on why book people really are the best people: most of our readers had never met in person before, and we came from all over the country, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, and we ranged in age from our 30s to our 60s. We experienced how books bring people together: when you’re able to connect over books, you’re able to get straight to the heart of what matters in life. That’s a recipe for good times and good conversation.

There were talks of a reunion, and there were hugs and tears (the good kind!). And then we cleared out of our weekend home, and those of us who didn’t have early flights headed to a local restaurant for a farewell brunch.

The takeaways

Readers, this was an incredible weekend and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I am so thankful for the readers who came. (You know who you are, and you surely know how gushy I feel about you all! Are you free next weekend?) It was so good to be among people who are reading, and to spend this focused time with readers who almost instantly felt like kindred spirits and friends.

Now that we’ve all gone back home (sniff), my team and I are dreaming about what comes next. We’ll keep you posted, I promise.

Readers, have you ever participated in a readerly retreat like this one? If you’ve dreamed of attending one, what do you most hope to experience there? We’d love to hear all about it in comments.

70 comments | Comment

70 comments

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  1. Cheryl Cyrus says:

    Sniff, Sniff. I want to come as does many of the members of my book club. We are so looking forward to coming in the future, so I hope we get the chance! I am only 5 hours from KY by car and my husband is originally from Ashland…will that get me a ticket! LOL. Thanks Anne and Ginger!

  2. Patti says:

    Absolutely heartbroken I did not attend this event. What you have outlined in your post sounds sounds like absolute perfection. I dream of retreats like this. I would not change a thing. If you will excuse me, I am going to go join the MMD book club now. I will not miss getting information on the next retreat.

  3. wendy richardson says:

    hi! the retreat sounds lovely. congratulations!
    i’ve always loved to read, devouring books as soon as i could read them. however, when i had an incredible english teacher in junior high, we dissected Moby Dick, practically sentence by sentence. lightening struck as i Really learned about the how and why you could ascertain from the words and worlds in a book. it seems like meeting the author is a perfect way to experience this with your favorite books.
    sorry i have no new suggestions, only saying i love your blog and book news. thank you!

  4. Stephanie says:

    This looks like such an amazing time! I cannot wait to get in on the next one. Everyone looks great and so happy-their inner book nerds are shining through! 🙂

  5. What fun! I attended a readers’ retreat weekend with the Bookshelf Thomasville GA (Ginger was there) and it was a delight: book discussions, chance to meet Claire Gibson, Beyond the Point, a fab dinner on a big porch, book previews…so much bookish happiness. I hope there will be more of these.

  6. Dana Hunt says:

    First of all, I love the library in your home- what a great picture. I’m showing it to my husband who is also a great reader!
    I have never been onna retreat like yours but it sounds divine! What fun.

  7. Oh my goodness. What fun! I would say that having the author there in person is the thing I’d like the most. Here’s an idea: how about one retreat for non-fiction lovers, and another for fiction lovers? Obviously there would be a lot of overlap, but a focus on a particular topic of non-fiction might be another way to draw kindred spirits together.

    Also, you are brilliant. That is all.

  8. Leslie Hutsell Hitchcock says:

    O.M.G. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend! This just looks incredible! I hope you do more and all over. Hoping someday I might just be able to come!

  9. Kitty Balay says:

    Thank you for all of the pictures and details! I can imagine being there with you all. This whole weekend sounds like such a treat!!

  10. Maureen says:

    I was fortunate to attend two bookish retreats hosted by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of Books on the Nightstand. It was wonderful being surrounded by bookish people, and we met so many amazing authors, like Chris Bohjalian, Anthony Marra and Ariel Lawhon. 😊

  11. Becky says:

    The timing was not right for me for this event as I’d just had a business trip for work and a vacation to Universal. I’ve never been on a bookish retreat but have taken several bookish day trips car and longer road trips🚘 and always have a great time with loads of new discoveries. I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled 👀 For the next retreat!

  12. Lou Ann Darras says:

    This looks like a lot of fun. I’m not anywhere near Kentucky but I am glad some very kind and wonderful people were able to do it!

  13. Meg Longley says:

    I have never been on a bookish retreat. Your weekend sounds absolutely glorious! I would love to attend one! I live in Louisville, so if I could be of any help, I’d be delighted! Thanks for sharing your time!

  14. Leslie Leader says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful book retreat. This sounds Amazing and I too would love to be a part of such a fabulous experience. Thank you for giving the rest of us the chance to vicariously share the weekend retreat.

  15. Dee says:

    Anne, you may be sorry you shared this, because now we ALL want to do this. It sounds divine!!! This might get me to join the book club (that and the fact that my real-life book club is struggling).

  16. Tammy says:

    I would love to come. Some of my dear friends get tired of hearing me talk books and my latest red. What a wonderful experience that would be. Thank you for sharing with us. I am not a book club member but I follow you and love your sharing of life and books.

  17. Nanci says:

    Many years ago, I headed to Tubac, Arizona for a week end book retreat led by a team from Minnesota. One of the books was Into the Woods.
    We were hosted in an historic old inn. We talked day and night. It was a super experience!

  18. Terri B says:

    What a fun and delightful weekend. And something I would love to attend. Hope there are more retreats planned in future. And judging from comments you would have a good sized turnout. I must say you are an elegant and lovely woman and I know the retreat was as well.

  19. Mary Jo Durivage says:

    Sounds like so much fun. I’ve been to a similar event several years ago when I participated in a Booktopia weekend run by Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand. I had told myself that if a Booktopia event took place near me, I would try to attend. It was held in Petoskey MI in conjunction with the wonderful McLean and Eakin bookstore. There were at least four authors, including Melanie Benjamin (Aviator’s Wife) and Maria Doria Russell (The Sparrow). It was held at Stafford’s Perry Hotel, a historic hotel near the water. I met Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet)and actually
    talked to him on the porch. My favorite time of the whole weekend was a book exchange. We all brought a book to exchange. We could either take a new wrapped book or take one from the books already picked. What was so fun were the spontaneous explanations of joy when a particular book would be unwrapped that was especially popular or the groans when someone had to give up their book. My sister lives in Goshen so I have visited Louisville and would love to go back. Thanks for all you do to share the love of reading to so many people.

  20. Bethany says:

    I think a bookish retreat tour would be fun: on location, visiting landmarks mentioned in the book if they’re real, especially if the author could join and shed light on why locations were chosen or meaningful.
    I mean, if L.M. Montgomery were still alive, PEI,

  21. Jessica says:

    OMG – this entire weekend sounds amazing! Definitely want to come. I like the idea of this being so intimate, but even a larger group would be fun as well. I have never been to Louisville, so I love the idea of keeping the event there where Anne lives and works, and there is a great independent bookstore!

  22. Sue K. says:

    I love living vicariously on the weekend Book Club Retreat, as you shared on this blog, Anne! I am looking forward to your next event. I live in the St. Louis area, so I can make the drive if you schedule in Louisville again. I haven’t ever attended a Book Retreat, but I recently heard author Kate Quinn discussing “The Huntress,” and she was very entertaining as she explained her method and how she chose to frame the stories in this novel.

  23. Melanie S says:

    This sounds so fun, and I’d love to do one of these one day!
    I live about 1.5 hours south of Louisville and visit my best friend whom lives there several times a year. She’s taken me to The Silver Dollar before and it was amazing! Great choice!

  24. Denise Talen says:

    I will just throw this out there one last time. A future book club retreat should be a destination retreat to PEI! I happily volunteer to be the local contact/expert!

  25. Vanessa says:

    Oh my goodness, this all sounds amazing!!! Thanks for sharing about your retreat weekend and I’d love to be part of one someday!

    • Stacie says:

      Oh goodness. The timing wasn’t right as it conflicted with a planned vacation (#firstworldproblem) but I would love to participate in something like this.

      And if you wanted to do it in Atlanta, I *am* friends with two indie book store co-owners (two different shops!) Just sayin…

  26. I was fortunate to attend the retreat and it was, in my humble opinion, even more fantastic than Anne describes. Seeing my favorite book people in the FLESH was so much fun. Getting to sit down and laugh, talk, and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow book lovers was astounding. Thanks to everyone for making my journey to Kentucky a dream-come-true…I hope to do it again. Peace, love & books,

    Linda Parvin Hutchinson
    IG: @bookbimbo

  27. Sarah Ronk says:

    My book club takes a retreat trip every Fall… our 7th is coming up in November. Nothing as formal and fancy as your’s, but it’s a getaway weekend I look forward to every year. We rent a house (usually
    2hrs or less away) and stay TH night-SUN afternoon. We have no agenda, officially, except relax, read, and chat. (Bonus: We have excellent cooks in our group and eat THE BEST food!) Sometimes we take advantage of the long weekend and discuss a book flight. Sometimes we do a giant puzzle or play Battle for Hogwarts for a full day. 😆 Book retreats should start trending. Every reader needs them in their life!

  28. Melissa says:

    This sounds wonderful! If you ever want to do a retreat on the west coast, there is a B&B in Newport, OR called The Sylvia Beach Hotel. Each room is decorated for a different author. (My favorite is the Jane Austen room!) There’s a library, a beautiful beach view, and hot spiced wine in the evening. It’s just lovely.

  29. Nicole Matisse says:

    I think you should come to Orcas Island and do a bookish retreat here in the San Juans! Destination MMD Bookish Weekend anyone? Gorgeous scenery, lovely indie bookstore Darvill’s Books, and some serious book-loving islanders who would enjoy hosting other book-loving friends. 🙂

  30. Kay says:

    Oh my, this sounds absolutely amazing and something I would love to attend. I must look out for something similar in England.

  31. Leigh says:

    This is absolutely adorable! Way to keep challenging yourself, Anne. This took some real chutzpa on your part. Only the brave can turn an online group into a real, social, life-changing experience for all.

  32. Lisa Torres says:

    The retreat sounds amazzzing!! This type of event is a dream!! I look forward to hearing about what’s next. Thanks for all the great photos….fun times!!

  33. Sheila DelCharco says:

    Sounds like so much fun! I hosted a reading retreat in my home with 2 other friends. We kept it small on purpose. Maybe next year we’ll add a few more.

  34. Sarah says:

    I would love to participate in something like this! Sounds amazing. I like the idea of going to a local indie bookstore wherever you are meeting up.

  35. Suzanne says:

    It sounds like a fun time was had by all! I am SO jealous. I will trade a batch of my cinnamon scones for some Genius Moves insight.

  36. Cyndi Moskal says:

    I hope so much to be lucky enough to attend one of your retreats in the future – the weekend sounds like a dream come true! Does offering up free labor on top of retreat cost help move me up the waiting list? If so, count me in!

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