Book Club Newbie

Confession: Until last Tuesday, I had never attended a book club as an adult.

Maybe that doesn’t sound as bad when you read it as it sounds in my head when I write it, but somehow I am embarrassed about that fact, given that I love to read and write and talk about those things with others. I’ve actually had a desire to join a book club for some time now, but in my previous city it was difficult finding one that met my schedule and my tastes. I moved to my current city nearly a year ago, and although I found a monthly geek book club in my current city (that I’m soon leaving), it originally didn’t work out with my schedule.

This month, however, it did! If you checked out last week’s Fangirl Friday post, you’ll know we read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

Overall, the book club was a good experience, but it was quite different than I expected. I’m not sure exactly why, but I expected it to be a round table of what we felt worked and didn’t work in the book. Part literary criticism, part personal opinion. Essentially, a real time dialogue among book reviews.

I was surprised, therefore, when it turned out to feel more like questions from a school book report. What also really surprised me was that the leader and everyone in the group seemed to just take for granted that we all adored the book.

“Who was the protagonist? Who was the antagonist? What made the author’s use of color schemes so successful?”

If I could have redirected even just those first few questions, they would have been “What role does characterization play in this book? Was the author’s heavy use of color schemes successful in developing the book, and if so, how?”

Having the guided questions themselves make so many implicit assumptions seemed unwise to me. Are you so sure there even was a protagonist and an antagonist? I wanted to ask. Why ask questions framed in such a way that the author’s success at something is taken as a given? Why are we raving about how we can’t believe this was her first book (I can — no offense)? Why aren’t we talking about plot arcs and character development and point of view and tense and sentence structure and vocabulary? Since this is for pleasure and not school, why aren’t we also asking the most basic question: did you enjoy reading it?

Of course, given that this was my one and so far only experience at a book club as an adult, I have no clue if the way it was moderated is typical either for this particular group, or for book clubs in general. Listening to virtually everyone else in the circle (a good 25 people) say nothing but factual or laudatory things about the book also made me wonder, where are the differing opinions? Surely I am not the only one here who did not think it perfect.

Tell me, for those of you who participate in book clubs, what is your typical experience like as far as how it is moderated and the sorts of topics discussed? Does the experience I described here surprise you as much as it did me?

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6 comments

  1. I’ve never been in a book club, and from your experience, I don’t think I ever will be.
    In some books I’ve read, in the back, I’ve noticed sections devoted to discussions about the book, I think aimed for use in book clubs. Like your experience, the questions listed there to use in discussion seem to take for granted everyone loved the book.
    Literally fiction as a whole does not appeal to me. I like a story with a damn plot, not just overblown, flowery writing that screams, “Look how beautifully I write!”

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  2. Every bookclub is different unfortunately. How it goes can depend a lot on the person leading the group or the lack of participation from the group. But “Why ask questions framed in such a way that the author’s success at something is taken as a given?” is a great question. Strange that was the direction of your discussion.

    I love literary interpretation. Whether it’s a movie or story, plot development, character arcs, and underlying themes are my biggest draws. It doesn’t matter to me if a movie/story has the best action, comedy, or drama…if an author/writer doesn’t fully flesh out a good arc or logical story, I notice it quickly and my interest wanes pretty quickly. But to not even touch on those important aspects in a discussion group is unfortunate, and I share your disappointment. Hopefully this was just an aberration and your next one goes into more depth. If not, maybe you should stage a coup. lol

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  3. Doesn’t sound like my scene either. In general I have difficulty with groups….a bit like the famous quote, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” 😉 I’ve never understood why book clubs insist you all read the same book and discuss it – how boring! Why not each bring a book you love, share what you loved about it and then exchange?

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  4. I’ve never been to a book group/club. I like to read at my own pace, generally quite slowly and read what I want when I want. I don’t think it would work for me either.
    It’s good that you gao it a try. Maybe try a different one in your new area.

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  5. I’m afraid I’ve never belonged to a book club as such. I did study English literature at university, though, so I have had the opportunity to talk about books with others. (Of course, the titles were all selected for us beforehand.)

    It was an extremely interesting experience. I quite often found that I’d read something one way and somebody else had taken it completely differently. I must admit that a number of times, their interpretation made rather more sense than mine. 🙂

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