In a thousand or so years as archaeologists and anthropologists are digging through the detritus of the 21st century, the phenomenon of the book club will feature heavily in their discoveries. Much like in 17th and 18th century, where women sat in the parlour and did fine needlework while discussing events of the day, the book club has become the social phenomenon of the 20th and 21st century, a way for women to congregate and turn a largely solo activity into a social one.
The idea of the book club is just so delicious too, and a little bit Jane Austen-ish, I think. Women sit around, sipping alcohol delicately, nibbling on tasty morsels and sharing insightful, educated views about the plot structure and character development. What fun!
Today, it seems as though every serious reader is part of a book club. Most meet monthly, although I have heard of quarterly clubs. They chat about the book (although it’s not uncommon for someone to confess they didn’t actually read this month’s book!) and consume wine and hors d’oevres. The level of discussion seems to vary from book club to book club.
Certainly, the book clubs I’ve been part of the conversation has almost exclusively revolved around the book, what we liked and didn’t like, the plot development, the characters and how we would have preferred them to be this way or that way. It’s not unusual for someone to look for the symbolism in the story and we’re all wowed by a pattern we didn’t see in the story. And this is the beauty of the book club. By getting others’ views, you’re adding to your own enjoyment of the book. It’s a way of getting even more out of it than just one reading.
But here’s my deep dark secret. I’m a book club failure.
I can’t seem to stick at it. I *love* being part of a book club. I’ve actually started two book cubs. But it doesn’t seem to stick…
Book Club #1
The first book club that I started was a group of school mums who were good friends of mine. I hosted the first couple and then we took turns. We brought food to nibble on and came prepared with theories and opinions. It wasn’t enough to say, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”. You had to explain why. I did some prep work for these meetings by sending around book club questions. I used to come up with them myself before I discovered that there were tons of book club discussion questions online for every book ever written. When I discovered that I would trawl through them looking for the questions that best suited this particular group. (Not too theoretical, not too basic).
It was such a great book club. I was introduced to books I would never have normally picked up, including one of my favourite book series to this day, the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. (Thanks Rachel for introducing me to this writer. You’ve started a lifelong love affair!).
We read lots of interesting books. It wasn’t a same-same roster of popular fiction. I loved this book club.
I’m not really sure what brought that book club to a standstill. We stopped meeting when the weather turned cold because most of us have enormous outdoor entertaining areas but not much indoor entertaining space. So it was hard to fit the whole group around small family kitchen tables inside. So we stopped over winter. And then we didn’t resume.
And that was that.
Book Club #2
Then, many years later, I started a book club at work. It was a lot of fun. I work in a business that is 98 per cent populated by women and we often talked about the books we were reading. So I suggested we form a book club. And we did!
This book club lasted a couple of years. Different people came in and out of the group but there was always a healthy number at each meeting. We would have a meeting in our lunch hour at local cafes or sometimes we would meet after work to enjoy nibbles and wine. This book club introduced me to another of my all-time favourite books, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.(I see there is now a sequel to this, but I haven’t read it. I so enjoyed the first book I don’t want that experience marred by a second book – what if I don’t like it?). We read Dark Places, Girl on a Train, It was an enthusiastic group and a diverse group with women ranging in age from 23 to mid-50s. The diverse range of books we covered was a plus.
This one faltered when the chosen book was the biography, One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden about his celebrated Australian war photographer colleague Neil Davis. In the book Bowden details very early on, in the first chapter, I think, how Davis is killed while covering conflict. I found this so sad I couldn’t continue reading. Apparently others felt the same and we didn’t meet for months. Eventually we decided to skip that book and we informally chose another one, getting the club back on track.
It was a lot of fun and we all enjoyed ourselves. But somehow this book club also stuttered to an end. We just never finished reading the chosen book and never set a meeting date and never met. That was perhaps six months ago now.
Next Book Club?
I’ve thought about joining a book club set up by my local public library. At least you know there’s going to be a meeting and most people at the meeting will have read the book. But that seems a bit, well, weird. I won’t know anyone and it’ll be hard to share my thoughts with someone whose surname I don’t even know.
So that’s my experience with book clubs. I think it’s clear that I’m a book club failure. I’ve never been invited to join a book club. Not sure why, but that’s OK. No dramas, as they say.
Ersatz Book Club?
Should I exchange book clubs for going to book launches instead? Two local independent bookshops, Avid Reader and Riverbend Books host myriad book events every month. It’s a great way to get a literary fix while having a few drinks and nibbles. It’s similar in many regards to a book club. There’s food, usually wine, and everyone stands around talking about a book they haven’t read. (Haha!) At least at a book launch we all know that we haven’t read the book!
Tell me about your book club experiences. Are you in a book club? How long has it been going? What are the secrets to its success, do you think? I haven’t ruled out starting another book club, but would need some tips on how to maintain momentum. How do I keep them going without them stuttering to a stop?