Friday Fun — Book Clubs: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Have you ever participated in a book club? As a reader or an author? What did you hope to get out of it? How’d that work out for you? Any advice for someone who wants to start a book club? Additional, random thoughts? 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: As I recently shared in a Weekend Edition, I just joined my first ever book club. Until now, I’d mostly thought about book clubs in the context of Oprah’s Book Club and the way that woman seemed to be able to single-handedly influence the lives of so many authors.

I really enjoyed the first meeting of our local, non-celebrity endorsed book club. It was fun for me, as a writer, to hear how other readers perceived a particular story – what they liked and didn’t like, what surprised them, and also how they interpreted certain things about themes, characters, etc. Though it felt a little disrespectful to the author whose book we had read, our dissection of her novel was quite enlightening.

I already have the next “club book” in my hot little hands and am looking forward to sharing the read (and some wine … and cheese) with my fellow “book clubbers.” Once again, our pick is not the kind of book I would normally pick up, but I love the fact that being in the club is forcing me to try different genres. It also makes me wonder, however, whether a genre-specific book club would provide even more valuable insights. Hmmm … something to think about.

Meanwhile, my ten year-old daughter recently announced that she’d like to start her own book club. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I think she’s more interested in the hosting and eating part of the gig, but – hey – you have to start somewhere, right?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I started a book club back when I was working full-time and wanted an excuse to read a good book and do something besides work. Whoever hosted the book club prepared dinner for everyone (we did it on a Friday night and all the members worked full-time so it seemed easier to plan to do a whole meal once every six months rather than bring something every time) and picked the book we would read. The only other rule was you didn’t have to read (or finish reading) the book. I wanted it to be low-stress. We had great discussions. Usually we had dinner together and then talked about the book. Sometimes talking about the book didn’t last long, other times we spent the whole time talking about the book. It was a mixed group, men and women, so we read many different types of books. One of the books that sparked the most discussion was Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer. I really enjoyed those book club meetings, especially because they were so laid-back. If people were visiting I brought them along–after all, they didn’t need to read the book! I’d love to be in a book club now, but haven’t made the effort to find one or start one. One of these days I will.

Lisa J. Jackson

Lisa J. Jackson: I joined a book group that associates books with movies (read the book, then meet to discuss over dinner, then watch the movie), but my good intentions haven’t been realized into actually making one of the meetings. I think getting together to chat about a particular book is a great idea. Just like with writing workshops, I can imagine all the different points of view — the different details of a story that people pick up on — can make for lively conversations and give me new ways to think about reading, and writing. I’ll get active with a book group someday, I’m sure.

.

Susan Nye: I started a book club about five years ago with two objectives. The first was to get out more. Writing is a solitary occupation and New Hampshire winters are long so any excuse was a good excuse to go out. Since I love to read, a book club was better than most. The second was to read books that I might not normally pick up.

Both objectives have been met but … yes, there is a but … I sometimes find that several in the group want to spend less time talking about the book and more time talking about anything/everything else. I don’t mind discussing other things but I’d like to give at least equal time to the book.

Since I started the book club, I put together most of the criteria. If you have specific needs, it’s probably a good idea to start your own rather than try to find an established book club. It might even be easier. Lots of book clubs run for decades and, once established, don’t easily take in new members.

When you invite people to join you, let them know your plans. With my group, I specified fiction and creative nonfiction and when we would meet. We expect, but it’s not a hard and fast rule, that everyone read the book. We don’t modify the discussion if someone hasn’t finished the book. There are no spoiler alerts.

Our group has grown quite a bit. There are now eleven of us, we meet eleven times a year and everyone hosts one meeting a year, usually the same month. The host picks the book and works with the library to get copies for everyone. In addition, the host serves food and wine. It’s nothing fancy – usually a few snacks and wine and, after the discussion, dessert. Once or twice a year, we do a potluck.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: This question makes me laugh, and think about the path of good intentions. I belong to a book club that started out fairly strongly. But then we met less and less, and people felt badly about not reading or finishing the book. But we still wanted to try and meet at least once every couple of months. So now we still call it the book club, be we don’t read books. We usually just eat, drink wine, catch up on our lives, and make each other laugh. We will likely get back to reading books at some point soon.

I have author friends who go to book clubs to talk about their books, and they love the experience.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: I don’t belong to a book club, but I’m one of the authors Julie mentions who loves going to book clubs to talk about my book. I’ve done it in person and via Skype – and it’s always lots of fun.

I’m also a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council, where I’ve facilitated books discussions in public libraries, hospitals and prisons. The Vermont Humanities Council has a catalog of themed reading lists and multiple copies of each book; the library (or other sponsor) picks one and hosts the event, which includes a presentation by a scholar and a discussion. In twenty-nine years, I’ve facilitated book discussions all over the state, and I love meeting people from all over, all walks of life, all with a passion for learning. But Vermont is a hard state to get around, and I now limit how far I’ll drive to do these, especially at night. But it’s a great model that has been replicated by Humanity Councils in every state and several countries – so there may be a great reading program happening       near you!

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I’ve tried book clubs but they never really seem to work for me. Either I’m not interested in the book that is being discussed or I’m not interested in the discussion (which is rarely about the book.)

Although I do enjoy discussions on writing, books, and literature, to be quite frank, I’d rather do them in an online discussion than in a group around a bottle of wine.

 

13 thoughts on “Friday Fun — Book Clubs: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

  1. This is encouraging me to look into a book club. I’ve been invited to one but the choices in book are always something I have no interest in, and given my To Be Read list increases practically every day, I just don’t want to spend a lot of time on books I have zero interest in.

    I’ve done some one-time book discussion sessions through my work which has been very interesting. I work with a lot of professionals in the medical industry and their insight is fascinating.

    • I was hesitant for the same reason, Stephanie, but I actually enjoyed reading something “outside my comfort zone.” I don’t think I’ll continue to read more of that kind of book, but it was interesting to me (as a writer) to get an inside look at how readers perceive a different genre.

      I hope you find something that works for you & get to enjoy more book discussions! 🙂

  2. The book club that I belong to is a mixture of the above. It’s okay if you haven’t finished the book, but if you’re in the club you need to commit to each meeting. It’s a little more strict than I prefer, considering we only spend a few minutes actually discussing the book, but I enjoy the reading and hearing others perspectives when we do get into it .

  3. We started something beyond a book club a year ago – the Fredericksburg (Texas) Writers Conference. We have held 5 meetings (quarterly) and had between 10 and 30 people attend. Each meeting has a presentation or two and time to visit and talk about our writing projects. Last night we had a presentation by a local writer and newspaper columnist Phil Houseal (Full House Productions) about how he sells his books to stores on main street. We also had an interactive session by Jami Carroll (MA-English) on creativity. The meetings are great fun and not hard to organize. No blog yet, but we are on Facebook.

    • That sounds awesome, Robert. Love the format and the mix of people. Hmmm … may have to think about something like that for around here!

  4. There’s a book group in my local library (Garstang Lancashire UK) and I enjoy it. The library can get multiple copies of the chosen books and we meet once a month to discuss them. The group has introduced me to books and writers I would never have found just by browsing the library shelves. It’s interesting to hear other people’s comments on a book. We meet in the library so don’t have meals like some book groups do. (I think that would put me off – I’m not a very good cook.) There’s no pressure to finish – or even to start – a book you don’t like it and the members of the group are friendly. As we meet in the afternoon it is mainly retired people predominantly women.

  5. I offer/offered to provide my ebooks FREE to book club leaders/members about 6 months ago and repeatedly, specifically to clubs via Meet Up or Facebook and generally via Twitter, Facebook, etc., and NO ONE has taken me up on it. My books get good reviews and I even targeted sci-fi, women, others I thought would be interested. I offered to visit/SKYPE with them, also. I thought/ think it’s odd that I only got two inquiries and no takers, but, OKAY. I don’t belong to any, myself, because most of them meet at night and i go to bed very early and get up very early. Best to you all.

    • I’ve heard it can be challenging to get a toe hold in a book club. My guess is that most book clubs can be kind of particular about their book choices.

      I also have a tough time with the evening meetings because, as a single mom, it means I have to arrange for childcare; but since it’s only about once every 6 or 8 weeks I make it happen. 🙂

    • Your offer of ebooks sounds good. But not everyone reads ebooks – at least where I am. Some of our group have Kindles, I have a Kobo, but there are still a lot for whom a book means printed pages and nothing else. If we were expected to read ebooks I think our membership would plummet.

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