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?
I used to go to one book group that met about four times a year. We met in one person’s house and no one actually took the lead in discussing the book. We each said what we thought about it and then mulled over various aspects of the book. At each meeting we had a pile of books brought by the members of the group or booksellers’ reviews of books to look at and decide which book to read next. It worked quite well, although sometimes we all were so polite and said we didn’t mind which book we read next. Other times one person would be so enthusiastic about a book that that was the book we chose.
I now go to another group which meets only during term time. This is led by one person which then opens out into discussion by the other members of the group. We meet in different places, sometimes in one of the local library rooms and sometimes in a members’ house. The books are chosen by the leader of the group usually fiction, sometimes poetry, on a particular theme.
I don’t think my experience of reading the book is affected by knowing that I’m reading it as part of a group. By that I mean that because I read it first on my own I can have my own experience of the book, without input from anyone else. But usually because I’ve had to think about the book for the meeting and discussed it with the others I find I can remember it better than a book I read just for myself. I also think that because other people always have some different opinions about the book or a different interpretation that this can make me appreciate the book more. I’ve never come away from a meeting feeling that I appreciate a book less than I did before the meeting.
I’ve read and enjoyed books I would never have chosen for myself, which is good and has introduced me to new authors. The poetry sessions were particularly good in that respect as I don’t often read poetry and it was particularly good as we read the poems out loud. As one person in the group said poetry is in the mouth as well as in the ears and eyes.
The problem with both groups for me is not the choice of book, but the timing of the meetings. For the group that meets four times a year I found it difficult to read the book at the right time. With such a long gap between the meetings I was often wanting to read the book too soon and then I forgot about it. If I left it until nearer the meeting I had to rush to finish it, which was a chore. For the second group the problem is the opposite because as the meetings during term time are once a fortnight this means that I can’t read as many other books as I want to because of reading the book group book.
I’ve found much the same problem with on-line discussions of books and also the reading challenges. I like to read at my own pace and sometimes this fits in and sometimes it doesn’t. I have thought of joining a book club organised by my local library. This meets once a month – that might be the answer.