Book discussion groups: heaven or hell?

They should he heaven, but somehow, many of them just don’t quite work. Publishers pretend that they work because they (the publishers) often include discussion questions in the back of he books.  Nothing starts an argument faster that choosing what the club will read during the year. Some want all Nora Roberts. Some want all Tom Clancy. Some want a mix of mainstream bestsellers. Others want prize winners.

How do you choose?

Logistics are a problem. Some people want the latest books off the press while others can’t afford to buy them until they’re finally issued in mass market paperback a year later. The public library may or may not have enough copies for everyone in the club.

The best clubs seem to be focused on a specific genre, one that’s decided upon at the begining of the year. That way, the members know what they’re getting into and nobody has to feel put-upon when it comes time to read and discuss books they don’t like or care about.

Staying on the plan is difficult when–as often happens–most of the people in the club are behind on their reading. Sometimes they skip meetings because they’re embarrassed and sometimes they skip because if they’re on chapter 3 and most of the club is on chapter 7, the discussion will be filled with spoilers. And then, too, those who keep up with their reading often get ticked off at those who can’t keep up due to numerous real and imagined excuses.

Discusssing the books one likes sounds like fun, like a good way so spend the evening, but then when it’s time to start talking, it turns out that reading really isny a priority in people’s lives. After all, the statistics are pretty grim when portraying reading habits. Trying to make it a priority seems like having to go back to school and being saddled with homework.

What’s your experierience? Have you been a member of a club that really worked? If so, what did the moderator do to make it work?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy and magical realism stories and novels.

Introverts and book clubs don’t mix

The other day on Facebook, there was a book club thread. Some people loved them. Others said they were often unhappy with the book being discussed (decided by vote), people who monopolized the conversation, and the fact that some people never seemed to be prepared for the meetings (i.e., they hadn’t read the book up for discussion).

As an introvert, I seldom say anything during meetings. So, I’d be the one at the club meeting who seemed unprepared due to my silence even though I may well have read the book several times.

While I do review books that I like and that I want to draw to others’ attention, I really don’t like discussing books. Other than the introvert thing, I think this comes from being turned off with book discussions in lit classes where the prof had a view of the book and its symbolism that the rest of us were expected to kowtow to (or else).

Also, even though thousands of people are reading the books I’m reading, the process always seems personal. It’s not so much a figurative relationship between me and the characters as it is an emersion into the plot, theme, characters, and symbols. Somehow, sitting around with a bunch of people and talking about that emersion seems about as negative as talking with others about one’s sexual experiences.

I’ve never been invited to participate in a panel. Thank goodness. That sounds worse than a book club because many of the people on the panel will probably the gurus, MFA professors, and others who know everything. After some panellist says s/he was impressed with the deep archetypal symbolism of the last chapter, I’d be likely to say that I liked the protagonist’s shirt.

I was in an encounter group once in which each member was expected to say why they loved their spouse or significant other. My thought was, “that’s none of your business.” People talked about feelings of being soul mates, of rowing in the same direction through the problems of life, completing each other’s sentences, etc. I said, “I like the way my wife cooks grits.” The moderator said, “Is that it?” I said, “What else is there?”

You can count on me to deflect questions with intentionally lame comments because it’s better than blurting out info about feelings which I feel more comfortable keeping to myself. This is what I’d do in a book club. So, please don’t invite me to join up.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative Reporter,” a mystery/satire that pokes fun at just about everyone.