Sue McCann’s Essex Books in Ivoryton, Ct., may be small—since a flood last summer she relocated to a nook in the Gather general store—but she has big aspirations when it comes to reading and is producing one of the area’s largest book club gatherings. Over the past year she and Colleen LaFrancois and her husband, Roger LaFrancois (former Red Sox player turned St. Louis Cardinals coach), have worked to create the Big Book Club Getaway at Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Ct. The two-day event, which starts Friday evening and runs through Saturday, brings together more than 45 authors and panels on topics ranging from sports writing to, yes, sexuality and Fifty Shades of Grey.
The idea for the event grew organically. “We all live and work in the same area,” says McCann. “It’s just the synergy of the three of us together. We complement each other nicely.” They approached Mohegan Sun, because it already hosts author readings and Roger LaFrancois has produced a baseball convention there for the past decade. But when the call came that Mohegan Sun had approved the event, the trio had only six months to put it together a book club confab that would also raise money for the Alzheimer’s Foundation.
Fortunately local booksellers, including cosponsors RJ Julia in Madison, Bank Square Books in Mystic, and Mohegan Sun’s Spin Street, offered their support. In addition to helping McCann find authors, Bank Square organized a panel on “Enliven Your Book Club,” featuring bookseller Jane Herbig and Random House rep and PW Sales Rep of the Year Ann Kingman. “Anything to encourage people to read. Our customers are excited,” says Bank Square co-owner and New England Independent Booksellers Association president Annie Philbrick. Other area stores, including Harbor Books in Old Saybrook and Monte Cristo Bookshop in New London, are assisting by selling tickets.
For Kingman the panel and the event as a whole “go a long way towards building and maintaining communities of readers. Whenever members of different book groups come together to talk books and share ideas, amazing things happen—they make new connections, discover new authors, and reignite their passion for reading. I can’t wait to see what kind of magic transpires at of the Big Book Club Getaway.”
Publishers are also supporting the Getaway. Sales rep Dani McGrath at the History Press organized a history panel with local authors, including Wilson Faude, former curator of the Mark Twain Museum and author of Hidden History of Connecticut and Matthew Warshauer, co-chair of the Connecticut Civil War Commission and author of Connecticut in the American Civil War. Chicken Soup for the Soul, which is celebrating its first twenty years, is a cosponsor, as are Grand Central Publishing and Tantor Media.
Based on advance sales to date, McCann estimates that attendance will be at least 500 for the weekend. In addition to author presentations and panels, the Getaway is trying to mix things up by bringing in book people like Jeff Kamin of Books and Bars, “a book club show” sponsored by Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis. He will host an after-hours party at Bobby Flay’s Americain with newscaster and mystery writer Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose latest book is The Other Woman.
If the weekend is a success, McCann and the LaFrancoises would like to make the Getaway an annual event and take it on the road to other venues across the country. “We’re really happy with what we’ve accomplished,” says McCann. Not bad for a project from a store that’s built its reputation as “a small, big-hearted independent bookstore.”