Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Clubs

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

Great question. While I didn’t have the chance to read all the posted responses to this (77 when I checked) a random sampling really surprised me with how few belong to face to face book clubs and how many said that they don’t like the constraints of having to read a particular book for a club.

I started a book group in 2001 and it is still going strong with about 15 members at the moment. We take turns meeting at each other’s houses. The host provides a main course and four other members are given food assignments (appetizer, dessert etc.). We always stress that this is book club not food club so the food is low key and may be something ready made from the super market but as we meet on a week night and all come directly from work it assures that we have something to eat that night without cutting the meeting short. People also usually bring wine or beer. We take turns selecting the books. The person selecting the book presents three titles to choose from, explains why they were selected and explains their preference and then we vote on the three. The person that selected the book leads the discussion of that work.

I also briefly joined a book group that was to read the “great works”. I was excited to read Dante and Shakespeare with other people but all the books were selected by the leader and he had other things in mind. The leader believed that only very short works would be actually read by the members and he really loved the Greeks so he ended up selecting short political discourses that I was not interested in. In this group the leader led the discussion.

I particularly like my book club because it exposes me to books that I would never have read but for the group. We have read some truly amazing books that were not on my radar such as Troll, the Book of Salt, Perfume, and Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight. Moreover, often after hearing the book discussion and other people’s opinions I have a much greater appreciation of the book then before the discussion. Reading them for book club does effect the reading experience somewhat. While reading a book club book I make a point of marking particular passages that might be interesting for discussion. If it is the book that I have selected and I am leading the discussion I make a point of reading reviews, online discussions and author interviews before hand.

I was really surprised that so many people responded to this question that they didn’t like the constraints of reading a particular book for a meeting but that they were people that participated in challenges, often more than one. I am trying out my first challenge and that is exactly what I am feeling about it. I feel under pressure to read these five books under the deadline and am reading books that I would not have normally read, at least at this point in time. I am feeling a little resentful that I need to move onto the next book that needs to be read in stead of going with my whimsey and selecting what I am in the mood for. Others have said that they were not interested in joining our book club because they didn’t like the constraint and I never really understood that but I now have a better appreciation of their concern. I personally have never felt that about book club simply because it is just one book (usually less then 500 pages) every 4-6 weeks which still gives me time to read other books that I select. The five book commitment of the challenge however has left no room for outside reading.

I really enjoy my face to face book club and I hope that others give it a try.


John's comments said...

Its that pressure to read rather then enjoy is the nub of the problem#
My his he being serious post!

Moo said...

One book every five or six weeks isn't much pressure for me but five books in two months for a challenge certainly was. Everybody is different. I really enjoy my book club, the books that we read and the meetings. Everybody is different.