For the first time, I have become a regular attendant of a book club. There’s actually two book clubs, each meeting once a month at a nearby library, but the members are essentially identical between the two. One reads classics and the other reads relatively recent popular books. I’ve always wanted to join a book club, and am glad that I finally have. While finishing The House of the Seven Gables tonight for tomorrow’s meeting, I was reflecting on how being in a book club has affected my reading.
First and foremost, it affects what books I read. Although the members decide among themselves which books to read, and I did contribute specific titles to the list for the next several months, I am now reading books that I would probably not otherwise read. Right now I am not reading much more than the two proscribed books a month, though I do plan to change that after the semester is over. Although not all of the books would be my first (or fifth or fiftieth) pick, I do appreciate what I’m reading. I do want to read a wide variety of the classics, and I like that I am being exposed to more genres of popular fiction than I would otherwise read. Recent picks for the popular literature discussion group include The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared and Daddy’s Girl, neither of which would have ever been on my radar otherwise.
For my first couple of meetings, I came prepared with a list of specific thoughts and discussion questions about the book, but I have since decided that it’s not worth doing so. The librarian leading the discussion brings a list of questions, and it often would require disrupting the normal conversation flow to bring up my own questions. The group generally has a very smooth flow of discussion around the book, and I’ve found that it’s more fun to think and contribute on the fly than to sit down independently to think about the book beforehand. That being said, I do often have a few nagging thoughts about each book that I tend to bring up, but it’s not a full list of reflections and questions.
The constraint of reading a specific book by a specific date does sometimes impact how I read that book. Occasionally I find that I do not have time to finish a book I would like to, and catch up on Sparknotes to be prepared for the discussion. Having done so, I’m not often interested in investing the time to actually finish the book. Alternatively, I sometimes find myself finishing a book that I would not finish on my own for the sake of being prepared for discussion. This would probably be a good situation in which to turn to Sparknotes as well, but I would always rather read the original if I can. Neither of these habits would ever show up in my personal reading for pleasure, but don’t appear to me to really be problematic.
One final thought is on the nature of the group itself. We always have very lively discussions and come to many insights about the book. The discussion questions often lead me to discover aspects of or think about the book in different ways. Even when not a single member likes the book, we have interesting and productive discussions. That being said, the group can seem oddly impersonal at times. We tend to jump right into discussion of the book without much beginning small talk, continue for 90 solid minutes, and drift off unceremoniously once the meeting is done. Although I am happy with this being a largely intellectual endeavor, it would be nice to make a few friends in the process. So starting with tomorrow’s meeting, I will specifically seek out small talk before or after the meeting.
Do any readers attend a book club? How does your experience compare?