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(Book) clubbing

image of people reading togetherSomehow, despite being an avid reader for most of my life, I’ve never belonged to a book club.

I used to read “book club fiction” and literary fiction, mainly because I thought I was supposed to, not necessarily because I enjoyed it (though there were a few gems). Looking back, I think some of those books would have been a lot more interesting if I’d had people to talk them over with when I was done.

When we moved to the Boston area this summer, I figured joining my local military spouses’ book club would be a good way to meet other readers and force myself to sample outside of my usual literary fare. Turns out, it offers that and more.

Aside from the shared experience of having read the same book, I love getting other people’s perspectives. When they talk about what they did or didn’t like—or how they felt about a particular aspect of the book—I pick up things I didn’t notice during my own reading.

As a writer, I’m better able to articulate what bothers me—or works for me—than I was before I started writing. It also means I notice things that I didn’t before. Hopefully, this perspective lets me add something valuable to the conversation (though I haven’t yet “outed” myself as a writer).

Reading for a group discussion changes how I read. I generally devour a book, often in only a day or two. But when I’m reading for book club, I slow down a bit, take notes on things that might be interesting to talk about with the group, and think a little more deeply about the book’s effect on me.

Normally if I start a title and can’t get into it, I’ll quit reading. But for the club, I try to finish every book. Sometimes I’m glad I did. Other times, not so much.

I like that the group discussion solidifies the story or topic in my mind and takes me deeper. This is especially nice when the book contained a world, subject matter, or set of characters that I enjoyed, but it can also give me a new take on a book I didn’t connect with.

It’s kind of like looking at reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and then following up with questions or discussion points for the reviewer. But in a friendly way, with appetizers on hand. 😉

Someday I’d love to be part of a romance book club so I can discuss the books I love most with others who feel the same way. But I’m having fun meeting new people and stretching my reading boundaries beyond romance and research.

Have you ever been part of a book club? What did you like/dislike about it?

15 Comments

  1. Reply

    Gwen, I know this is a lot like peeking into your grocery cart in the check-out line, but what book is the group reading?

    • Reply

      Hi, Curtis! Right now we’re reading THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY. It’s a quick, light read, with lots of fun publishing industry and literary references.

      But I have a few issues with it as well. Specifically, the lack of a goal for any of the characters, so the only reason I’m turning the pages is to see what happens next, but my level of investment is low. Also a shallow omniscient, 3rd person POV that creates emotional distance (hence the “light read”). Will be interesting to see what others think.

      It’s definitely been more fun to read than the memoirs–BRAIN ON FIRE, and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK– though I watch OITNB, so reading the book it was based on was interesting.

      Next month is Jodi Piccoult’s new book LEAVING TIME. I’ve avoided her for a long time for no good reason other than her popularity–I’m often contrary like that–and the lack of a guaranteed happy ending. As long as I go into it knowing I may not get an uplifting ending, I’ll probably enjoy it. 🙂

      • Reply

        Can you take one apart or what! Way to go. Interesting analysis and insight. Goalless characters but still the context of something happening. Also, something for a writer to note. … a shallow 3rd person POV can create emotional distance for the reader which can = light read. Great insight. It also means a writer can choose that approach if what they are wanting to write is a “light read.”

        You, a contrarian? I would have never guessed it. 🙂

  2. Cynthia

    Reply

    Hi Gwen, Sounds like an opportunity to begin an online book club with a start and end date and a comments section for your those interested that have taken your classes. Any interest? (in your free time…..)

    • Reply

      That could be fun, Cynthia. Do you want to run it? 😉 But seriously, I was having a similar thought. I guess that’s kind of what Goodreads is for, but I don’t spend a lot of time there. I’ll keep pondering…

  3. Reply

    A very interesting post because you get together with people and actually discuss a book. This is something I need to discover. I’m going to write to one of my friends and ask about, or start nagging about, forming our own book club which runs along similar lines as yours. It would be interesting to meet at the Community Center or someone’s home and talk over whatever book takes the group’s fancy. It would also be interesting to bring in group members who do not have much skill in reading the book in the language it is printed in. For example, introduce a Spanish-language book to a group that is primarily skilled in reading English — that might stir up some debate. Or give an English language book to someone who reads mostly Spanish.

    • Reply

      Bob: It’s a great way to take what is normally a solitary activity and turn it into a social one. A great way for introverts to unite too. 😉 It’s like taking a literature class, but more fun.

      There are so many ways you could do it. You could have a theme, or certain criteria, or not. Ours just takes book suggestions once a quarter and then we all vote on what we’re most interested in. The four books with the most votes are what we read. So our stuff is all over the map, though often from the best seller lists. We rotate between different members’ homes and everyone brings a snack or drink to share.

      You could definitely stir up some debate over having to read a book in a foreign language. If you don’t have readers with second-language skills, you could try choosing translations of foreign books. Just like foreign movies, they often have a different sensibility, style, and lens than what we’re used to. My HS junior is taking a French cinema course right now and finding the subtle differences between French and US films/storytelling interesting.

      Let me know if you get a group set up. I’d love to hear how it goes.

  4. Reply

    Hi Gwen,
    I participate at a book club, in french, in Montréal. We discuss about book we have read during the month and we share our books. If one book was read by more than one partecipant then, the next month, we discuss about this book, giving chance to the others to read it.
    I, personnaly, studied my books more than just read them. I read at least two times each book, sometimes three or four times like this marvelous ‘Errata’ of George Steiner). I look for more information, in the dictionnary (much easier since the avenue of internet) for each name written in the book. Sometimes, if I really love the book, I glue the images of men, women, city or paint that was mentionned in the book. I call it ‘my collage’. It is a real ‘bonheur’.
    It’s long said one of my friend once ! Yes, but I have the eternity…
    I wish you a very good day.
    Lison,

    • Reply

      Wow, Lison, you’re much more dedicated to your reading than I am. 😉 I think it’s great that you share the books you’ve been reading so you can recommend good ones to each other.

      How cool that you make a collage for your favorite books. So many authors I know make collages when they’re working on a story, to help them visualize the characters, settings, cars, houses, and so on. If you run out of physical space, you might consider Pinterest. 🙂

      Enjoy your weekend!

  5. Angela Silverthorne

    Reply

    Your post reminded me how much I miss a book club for all the reasons you said. On top of Christmas shopping, I’ve gotta shop for a book club. Thanks for reminding me.

  6. Pingback: Making connections (or Six degrees of Rudyard Kipling) | Gwen Hernandez

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