Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 13

The 13th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs comes from the lovely Florinda, of the always interesting The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. Here she writes about how she didn’t think she was the book club “type” until she started hanging out with her sister’s book club.

Thank you to Lisa at Books on the Brain for allowing me to contribute this guest post to her “In Praise of Book Clubs” series.

I’ve always been a reader, but I shied away from book clubs for years. The whole idea of reading assigned books on a specific schedule? Not freewheeling enough for my reading-whatever-strikes-my-fancy style. I could see the point for people who didn’t read much on their own, or needed that sort of structure to get more into reading, but neither of those characteristics applied to me.

However, nearly four years ago, my sister and several of her moms’-club friends decided to get together on the side and start reading together, and I was invited to join them. I didn’t accept right away; since everyone else in the group was a stay-at-home mom with young kids, they held their first couple of meetings during the weekday, and I just wasn’t available to join them. My sister kept me informed about their book selections, though, so I could read along if I wanted to. After a few months, the group decided to switch their meetings to Friday evenings, thereby doubling as a “moms’ night out,” and I was able to become a regular participant at that point. We held our first few Friday-night meetings in public settings, but found that the distraction level was just a little too high to keep focused on the book, so we’ve been meeting in members’ homes ever since – most frequently in the home of one particular member, who is always happy to make it available if the designated meeting host needs a change of venue (that is, can’t get her family out of the house while the meeting would be taking place).

Members have come and gone over the years, and we’ve never been a very large group – and I’m still the only one who was never part of the moms’ club. We usually have about five to seven women at each meeting. My sister is our unofficial administrator, and every January she e-mails us all with a schedule of proposed meeting dates and the rotation for book picker/meeting host. After some craziness during our first couple of years involving last-minute rescheduling attempts when too many people came up with conflicts, we no longer change meeting dates unless it’s the host herself who can’t make it. This has been a really beneficial change, and now we actually do meet as planned, every six or seven weeks, although we usually skip December unless we decide to have a social. For the last year or so, we’ve invited members to bring other books they’ve read to the meetings, so they can be exchanged or passed along to another interested reader.

The host for each meeting selects the book we’ll read, and announces it at the meeting prior to hers; for example, I’m scheduled to host our July meeting, and will let everyone know my book pick at our meeting on May 30, when we’ll be discussing The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. The host may select any book she likes, even one that she has read before; after one member got burned by choosing a book she absolutely hated and refused to finish, she never picks anything for the rest of us that she hasn’t read first. We don’t have a master list or any formal guidelines, but after this length of time we have learned to keep certain group preferences in mind:

* General fiction – nothing with too many pretensions, nothing obviously genre, and nothing too frothy
* Memoirs, occasionally, but no other nonfiction
* If the book has been adapted into a movie, we may plan on seeing it during our meeting.
* Nothing too lengthy unless it moves fast – everyone’s busy, after all!

Our conversations about the books we read tend to be focused more on characters and plot points, as opposed to thematic elements or writing-style choices; after all, it’s not a literature class, it’s a conversation in someone’s living room. We have occasionally worked with suggested discussion questions, but for the most part it’s not very structured and it’s pretty subjective; we share opinions and impressions, and there’s usually a respectful give-and-take, accompanied by a fair amount of laughter. We seem to have our best discussions about the books that either everyone liked (The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini) or everyone hated (His Lovely Wife, by Elizabeth Dewberry) – assuming the haters actually finished the book, that is; if not, there’s obviously not too much to talk about. In either case, the book has generally struck a chord with us as readers, and we have more thoughts on it to share with the group.

My book club has exposed me to some books I might not have read otherwise, and it’s given me the opportunity to share some books I’ve really enjoyed with good friends. Because it’s a social thing at least as much as a reading thing, we do end up engaging in a fair amount of off-book-topic talk when we meet, but I’ve come to enjoy that aspect of it very much as well. And since we keep to a fairly relaxed schedule and format, I still have plenty of time for my own reading choices, which I now get to talk about on my blog.

Blogger Bio: Florinda has been blogging about books, pop culture, family, and whatever else comes to mind at The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness since March 2007. She lives northwest of Los Angeles with her second husband and their 11-year-old shepherd mix, Gypsy; they’re joined part-time by his two children, ages 13 and 8, and occasionally by her son, who is in his 20’s and lives on the East Coast. When not reading, writing, or attending to family life, she’s an accountant working in the nonprofit sector.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

For a chance to win The Fires by Alan Cheuse, click HERE and leave a comment by June 6.

4 Responses

  1. We meet at the library’s community room so we do not have too many distractions but sometimes we have to give up the room for other events, and we also find the public venues are just too busy for us.

    One comment on one of your members hated the book.. Don’t you find that sometimes hating the book provides just as much discussion, if not more?

  2. Hi! This is in response to Ti’s question:

    Yes, we’ve found that sometimes we have great discussions over books people hated – assuming that they finished them, that is! We have a couple of members that make up their minds pretty quickly and will bail on a book they really dislike, so that doesn’t leave much to talk about.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to guest post here, Lisa – it was a lot of fun to write this!

  3. I recently discovered The 3 R’s and I love her site! I was so happy to see that Florinda was one of your guest bloggers Lisa!
    XOXO-K

  4. Thanks to Lisa for hosting Florinda’s visit and hello to Florinda!

    You make me wish I was in a face to face book group. Your experience sounds like a perfect blend of friendship and book discussion. For many years my work schedule was so unpredictable that joining a regular book group was impossible. I settled for trying the online book group route and it’s worked out well for me over the years.

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