By Kathy L. Patrick
JEFFERSON, TEXAS: They say everything is bigger in Texas…and it’s true. When I opened Beauty and the Book in January 2000 — the ONLY hair salon/book store in the world — in January 2000, one of the first things I did was start my book club, The Pulpwood Queens of East Texas. We started with six complete strangers — and became in ten years, what is now the single largest “meeting and discussing” book club in the world!
As of this writing I have 266 chapters running nationwide here in the United States — with a total of some 3,000 members — and additional chapters in Mexico, France, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Scotland, England, Canada and New Zealand. We even have three chapters in Alaska, which is as good as a foreign country. Evidently, our signature look of big blond hair, hot pink and leopard print is internationally loved!
How did this happen you may ask? First of all, don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth. My chapter alone grew from six to 35 in just one month and now has over 150 members from all over the ARK.LA.TEX, (that’s Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas).
The next thing that happened was Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen television heard about us and came and did a feature for a television show called Dallas Style! On that very first television airing my big claim to fame was it also featured the then unknown singing group Destiny’s Child. You see, I got my start at the same time as the international singing sensation Beyonce. The word was out in a big way that here was a new and unique book club!
Next, we received a call from producers with the American television show, Good Morning America. After being featured on the show, we were asked to kick off their brand new book club with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gipson called Read This!
We were then nationally known. Soon, women from all over the country were calling and emailing me, asking “How do I start a chapter of the Pulpwood Queens?”
As it turns out, most of our international branches were started by Pulpwood Queens who moved overseas. Others came about from Pulpwood Queens having friends and family in foreign countries.
Not Your Mama’s Book Club
For those of you first hearing of my international book club, we are not your mama’s book club. We don tiaras and crown ourselves “beauty within” queens, for being readers. Our motto is “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the RULE!” Our sole mission is to promote literacy, help undiscovered authors get discovered in a big way, and all while having some BIG TIME FUN!
Our book club is inclusive, rather than exclusive. We welcome anybody to join our book club regardless of race, color, religion, economic background, or as I say “tongue in cheek,” whether you have had cosmetic enhancements or colored treated hair.
We want to have fun with our book club, no pretensions, no snobbery — you see we don’t take ourselves all that seriously, but at the same time we take our reading very seriously. Each chapter reads the books I select, I provide book club discussion questions, and even arrange teleconferences with the authors. Sometimes the authors visit Pulpwood Queen Chapters and why wouldn’t they!
We all have read their book and can have a thoughtful question and answer discussion because we actually all read the book.
Shortly after our Good Morning America appearances, a Los Angeles Times reporter heard we were reading The Canal House by Mark Lee, a foreign correspondent that had his book set in war torn Uganda to East Timor. That reporter wrote a feature which ran on the front page of the Sunday Calendar section with a full two page centerfold inside. That newspaper helped us reach out to an international audience interested in starting Pulpwood Queen Chapters.
Reading the World
At first I selected books that were set here in the south but as our chapters grew, I selected books that are set around the world. That way, everyone would be on the same page knowing that we were a book club that truly was international. Books such as The Kabul Beauty School by Debbie Rodriguez, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kampkamba were among the selections that reflected our growing group of international readers.
But we also read American stories: Among our selections have been The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall with Denver Moore, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.
We read books now from all over the world because, my dear reading friends, you can never know what it is truly like to live in another country until you walk in another man’s shoes. We may not be able to afford or have the time for world travel, but we can travel the world through books. Reading takes us places that we never may have dreamed we would be able to go.
Reading also connects us; it’s what makes us human and humane. If I had not started my book club, I may have never met those initial six strangers. They are now my dearest, most treasured of friends. Books also connect people that may not have any other similar interests. Reading helps us make that connection. There is no right or wrong answer to discussing a book as we bring our own experiences and education into the reading of a book. By discussing a book, we get everybody together so that we can all learn from each other, sharing our observations of what our take is on the read.
One true thing I do know for sure, reading is the key to a better understanding of our world. Several years ago, I actually took my book club members on a literary tour of France and Italy. My eyes were truly opened to the wonders of the world! We had our first international author event in Tuscany. We walked the walks of literary greats such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde.
My hope and dream is that I too will be able to have many, many more literary travels, as I feel that the more I read and travel, the better person I am becoming — and the same goes for our book club members.
Yes, indeed, I do believe reading and book clubs remain important indeed. Won’t you join us on our quest for promoting authors, books, reading, and literacy! And if you feel like the men are being left out, let me assure you, men are now firmly on board our mission too!
My husband, Jay, named the men in our chapters, Timber Guys, so we are now The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys International Book Club! As the picture comes more into focus, I now can see that reading through book clubs is my way to become the QUEEN for WORLD PEACE! The more we know, the more we share, the more we understand. We may not always agree but we are all in agreement that reading is the key to the future of a better world!
Kathy L. Patrick is the author of The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life (Grand Central Publishing), founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs, and a practicing hairdresser.
VISIT: The web site for Beauty and the Book
JOIN: The Pulpwood Queens on how to join TODAY!
READ: Kathy Patrick’s blog