Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thoughts on book clubs/discussion groups

I recently read a blog post about 'book clubs'.  My first thought when I saw the title of the post was that the author was going to talk about things like the "Book of the Month Club" and such.  However, she meant those groups of people who read the same book and then get together periodically to discuss the book they all read.   The post somewhat maligned the selections of the book clubs she was familiar with.  She didn't directly attack all such groups, but she did seem to feel that she wouldn't be comfortable with joining such a group since it was doubtful that they would be reading selections she would like.  I was compelled to comment, based on my own experiences moderating such a group that meets monthly at my church (though you don't have to attend the church to attend our meetings).

I noted that I moderate a book group and offered my observation that each group is different.  For one, we don't call ourselves a 'club' because we don't want people to feel excluded or that they have to 'join the club' to stop into one of our meetings. 

Secondly, we read all over the map.  We try to make sure that we read some non-fiction, something 'classic', and one speculative fiction (re: science fiction-ish) work every year.  We're very picky with our choices in general.  The selection has to be about a topic worth discussing. Our choices are usually more 'literature' than 'fiction'. Many have usually been on the bestseller listings at some point, so they're not to stuffy or difficult to get through.  Plus, we have a page limitation; we try to keep our choices to under 400 pages so that most people can get through the book within the month between meetings.

We also limit our meetings to a single hour.  The group is primarily for people who want to talk about books, not to socialize.  If attendees want to socialize with each other, they are free to make arrangements to do so outside of our (ahem) 'sacred' hour devoted to books.  We typically discuss the current selection for 30-45 minutes and then spend the last 15 minutes discussing potential future reading choices.  Sometimes the selection wasn't worth discussing for more than 10 or 15 minutes.  Sometimes we find ourselves still discussing it when the hour is up.

I have been with this group for over a decade.  When I moved 25 minutes away from our church, my love of that group was one of the things that helped me decide to stay with that church instead of switching to the church (of the same denomination) that is less than two miles from my house.

Meeting with others to talk about a book is not for everyone.  The author of the blog article that inspired this post equated such discussions with traveling back in time to her high school English class, analytically dissecting boring books that one was forced to read.

I admit to a certain amount of rebellious reticence when reading something that someone else has deemed that I 'have to' or 'really must' read the book.  However, everyone in our book group has a say in what we read.  If you don't want to read something that someone suggests you have the right to say 'no', but you have to offer an alternative that the group might read instead.  We did this after realizing that some people would say 'no' to virtually anything others offered but rarely chimed in with alternatives.  It's tough finding something that most of us might want to read, so we put the rule in place.  (Several of us equate it with a management philosophy that we've encountered in our professional lives:  "Don't come to me with problems.  Come to me with solutions.")

If you've ever thought about joining a book group/club, but you had reservations about how the group might operate or what the group would read.  There is a solution.  Start your own group!  Come up with a few sentences about what the group would be like and the kinds of things that they would read.  Print up a few notices and tack up copies in local bookstores (especially used book stores) and local libraries.  If your town has a local adult education program, you might be able to promote your group through them.  If you belong to a church, they may be willing to let you use a room in their building to meet and would probably love to promote your group in their own newsletters.  If you live in an area with few readers, there are tons of places online to 'discuss' books with others.

Happy reading!

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