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?
Jamie 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: 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: 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.
Julie 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.
Deborah 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 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.