How did the owner of a hair salon and book store in Jefferson, Texas launch the largest book club in the world, with an estimated 3,000 members and hundreds of chapters nationwide? Kathy Louise Patrick, founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs explains how books saved her life and her mission to pay it forward:
Jennifer Haupt: So, how this phenomenal book club begin?
Kathy Patrick: Well it wasn't planned, easy, and it didn't happen overnight. I started my book club shortly after I opened Beauty and the Book, in March 2000. It all started because I couldn't find a local book club I wanted to join so I started my own.
JH: What is your number one love, hair or books? (Yes, you have to choose one).
KP: I've found there's great beauty in doing hair and talking books with folks. But, books is my first love: reading, writing, and help to promote authors, books, literacy and reading. I just have to have a job to support this passion and that's doing hair.
JH: How many members are in your book clubs?
KP: Since there are 403 chapters, a lot! I've never really kept count, but there are thousands of people who keep in touch with me. I think the average book club is under a dozen members but I have some that run well into their twenties, thirties, and beyond.
JH: You say that books saved your life. Tell me about that journey.
KP: I love all my family very much, but my parents were at constant war with each other. Us kids tried to keep out of the fights but as we got older and began finding our voice, we too got caught up in this daily battle. For me, books became the escape from all that.
I've read that children that do not receive the love they need to become well- rounded, purposeful adults try to fill that hole. Some choose drugs and alcohol, others have different coping mechanisms; for me, reading filled that void. So reading was my lifesaver and have kept my head above the water ever since.
JH: How are you paying it forward?
KP: I have been on a mission ever since I can remember to be a mentor, to help those who cannot help themselves or who have not found their voice. I've been a Sunday School teacher, a Girl Scout leader, and now I'm a high school youth director. I also look for books to promote in my book club that can help people.
Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, inspired me to spend a year going to a homeless shelter once a month to spend the day helping people tell their stories. Now I am helping champion another great book that pays it forward big time, My Orange Duffel Bag by Sam Bracken and Echo Garrett. It's like The Blind Side meets Same Kind of Different as Me. Sam was a homeless teen who has started a not-for-profit that helps other homeless teens and those aging out of foster care. Because it's like I always say, if you want to change the world, we have got to start treating our world's children better. And it all begins with one person, one child at a time.
JH: How do you pick books for your book club?
KP: I just look for the book that has a voice I've never heard before, and my standard is To Kill a Mockingbird. I just stick to my guns and I don't listen to what anyone tells me. I've picked Oprah's books before Oprah: The Help, Before Women Had Wings, Pain River. Oprah and I both came from dysfunctional families - I think that's true with writers and readers. We fill a void with writing and reading.
JH: Why do you think book clubs are a growing phenomena-yours in particular?
KP: The book club is growing in leaps and bounds because-even though we may have different political beliefs and religious beliefs-we can all connect through books. We all yearn for connections and building relationships, and that's so important-especially in times of crisis. I remember when Katrina hit, so many people came to Jefferson and my bookstore became a meeting place for all of these people who had lost everything.
Book clubs are like group therapy. You bring your own experiences to a read and when you hear other people's voices and opinions, you learn the process of how the story relates to people's personal stories. People start asking questions, not just about the book but about their lives, and learning from each other.
JH: Tell me about your Girlfriend Weekends-they sound amazing!
KP: They really are amazing, and we usually sell out. Reps from about 100 of my 40-plus book club chapters came to Girlfriend Weekend last January, and there were over 1,000 people total meeting authors and talking books. We get big-name key note speakers, and then we also promote indie writers. By the end of the weekend, you'll know all of them and be reading their books. I pick 12 books per year, plus 2 bonus books each month, and we also choose the Pulpwood Queen book of the year.
JH: What one true thing have you learned through your book club?
KP: I didn't think one person could make a difference, and now I learn every day that they can. I have a book club in Alaska running in a prison with 40 members, which is really a cool thing to me. Some of my book clubs read to seniors or collect books for kids in Nicaragua. We have such power and I encourage people to use that power.
JH: When it comes to today's crazy book publishing industry, what does it really take to make a success out of a good read that doesn't involve vampires and suicidal Swedes?
KP: To me, it takes somebody to stand up and speak out on what is important, to get out of your comfort zone and do something that nobody has done before. It takes hard work, determination, passion about something you really, really believe in and then you never give up, never.
Success in life is not in how much money you have, how young you look, what kind of car you drive, a perfect body, all the things you purchase. Success is finding your purpose in life. I found mine in reading and that's why now I am on a mission to help undiscovered authors get discovered in a big way too-and get people reading at the same time! I hope to build a nation, a world of real readers.
Kathy L. Patrick is the author of The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life and the owner of Beauty and the Book, the only hair salon/book store in the country. Kathy and her book clubs have been featured many times in national media, and she's recently partnered with Random House Publishing for a new online Book Club Talk Show, the Beauty and the Book Show. Kathy runs three book festivals in Jefferson, Texas: Girlfriend Weekend, The Fred McKenzie Storytelling Book Festival, and Books Alive, her Christian and Inspirational Book Festival, as well as the Pulpwood Queen Author Cruise. For more information visit www.pulpwoodqueen.com.