12 June 2008

Booking Through Thursday


A combo of two suggestions by: Heidi and by litlove
Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?
Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

As soon as I read this question, I knew I wanted to write a post to answer it!

When I worked at the University of Pennsylvania, I found out that there was a Library Book Group that met once a month. I had never belonged to a book group before, and was hesitant to join this one. Mainly because I feared that the discussions would have a lot of terms like "deconstructionist" and "postmodern" and similar terms used by the literati. (We are talking Ivy League here, after all ...)

But in the end, my love of reading, and my desire to be around people who also liked to read made me give it a try. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The bulk of the members worked in the various campus libraries, but there were also members from other academic departments, both professional and support staff. The group had been started years before I had joined, so there was no squabbling about who did what, how things were decided, etc.

Were there "literati" there? Some, but most of the people just wanted to talk about books, and even said things like "I just thought the character of ____ was a jerk." True, there were some members that after a few meetings, I knew could be expected to insert comments to let us all know how smart they were - one woman always managed to start one of her comments with, "I remember when I was at Wellesley ...", and another person would always say things like, "I remember when I first read the original French version ..." And though I still think it is obnoxious to be like that, I got to the point where I would make little internal bets with myself to try and guess when/why/how they would work it in.

The rules were simple: The book had to be available in paperback. Each person had a chance to choose, and it was in alphabetical order by first name. Other than that, it could be fiction, poetry, biography, anything. We would meet once a month at lunch hour and discuss the book. It was a lot of fun, a great way to meet people, and a learning experience, since everyone brought a different background to their opinions and observations.

I have to say that one of the biggest benefits for me was reading things that I may not have ever even thought about choosing for myself. There were plenty that I didn't like, or didn't finish, or just didn't get, but there were some real gems too, and it broadened my reading considerably. And for me at least, knowing it would be discussed never made the reading experience any more or less enjoyable.

I miss that kind of thing, as there has never been such a group anyplace else I have worked since. A couple of times, I thought about getting a group together myself, but usually it would turn out that the interested people only wanted to read mysteries, or classics, or something else very specific. Which is fine, but part of the reason I enjoyed the Library Book Group is that we read a little bit of everything.

So now I just usually spend my time reading on my own, in the original language versions, just like when I was at Wellesley ...

Oh - except I never attended Wellesley, and have read very few entire works in a language other than English - but other than that ...


Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

That sounds like a wonderful experience. Out of curiousity what book did you choose for the group? I think I would have been intimidated to chose a book for such a group.

Anonymous said...

That does indeed sound like a very positive book group experience. It's a challenge, I think, to get a group of people together who have no other connection than with books. Sounds like you all made this work very well.

Great post!

John (@bookdreamer) said...

It seems from reading all the other posts that they work best when the rules for deciding the books are clear and accepted, books are drawn from across the genres, paperback and under 400 pages, it keeps an healthy balance between being a school and night out,no one personality dominates, the time scales are realistic, etc...Tall order?
My his he being serious post!

Maureen said...

Ahhh yes, this reminds me of the days when I would sit on the sun drenched steps of the Sorbonne, absorbing the words on the page as I absorbed the rays of the sun. The distant chime of the clock reminding me that it was time to make my way back to my studies.....

Oh, wait, no, what were my thoughts on the protagonist you ask? Who's the protagonist? Oh, him. I thought he was a jerk!

Guess which one's the real me? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey, just a couple of little hiccups. . . Not a big deal.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a fabulous book club, pretension and all.

What were some of the books? Inquiring minds want to know.

heidi @ ggip said...

That sounds like a fabulous book club. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

It does sound like a great group, and I love the way you end this, with the Wellseley line. Nicely tied together.

It's a shame that good groups are hard to find. I've talked to a woman at my gym about starting a group, but we read so differently -- she does more of the best-sellers -- that I don't know how it would work.

Literary Feline said...

To find a book club like that! Your experience definitely sounds like a positive and worthwhile one. I would like to be a face to face book club someday. For now, I must be contented with online groups. Fortunately, those are pretty inviting as well. :-)