I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my Sunday Salon post that most of the books I’d read for my book club weren’t worth keeping, and Steph picked up on that statement and said that it was the same for her. She wondered why she continues participating in a book club when the books fail to wow her. I had been wondering the same thing for a while. Regular readers of this blog with particularly good memories will recall that some of my least favorite books from the past year were for book club. (But so were a couple of my favorites. And most of the other books were fine, not great, but still quite good.)
The question became even more significant last week when a series of conflicts, misunderstandings, and personality differences led my group to fold. When the conflict was over and the group was no more, I found that I was relieved that the group was no longer going to meet. I will continue to be good friends with some of the women from the group, but we have no definite plans to start a new group.
So now I’m no longer in a book club, and I’m wondering why I would ever want to join or start another one. When asked in the past about the value of a book club, I had certain answers that I always gave, but not all of those answers are as pertinent now as they used to be. Here’s the gist of what I’ve thought in the past and what I’m thinking now.
- Book clubs motivate me to read instead of spending all my time on other things. Well, I have gone through phases of not reading so much, but blogging has done more to motivate me to read than any club ever could. And even in a slump, I could manage a book a month, usually two or three.
- Book clubs get me to read books I wouldn’t consider otherwise. That’s true, but it isn’t always a good thing; I’ll never get back the time I spent reading Pillars of the Earth or (shudder) Vanilla Beans and Brodo. There’s a reason I avoid certain books. And other book bloggers are pretty good at convincing me to give books a second look when I’m hesitant.
- Book clubs give me a chance to talk about what I’m reading. I see two issues here: Neither book club that I’ve been part of has ever spent all that much time discussing the actual book. The first group I was in fizzled out after five years partly because we stopped talking about the book, and most people stopped even attempting to read it. The second group, which lasted two years, was a bit better on that front, but the book talk still made up less than half of our time. Book blogs give me opportunities to talk about books with like-minded folks—often with more depth and passion than I ever experienced in book club. If the discussions had gone deeper, I might have found them even more stimulating than a blog comment thread, but they rarely did that.
- Book clubs give me a dedicated time to get together with friends. This is the single most important reason I’ve been a dedicated book club member. I’ve genuinely liked the people in my groups. If we had stopped calling them book clubs and just had monthly get togethers, I would have been happy with that. It might have been even more fun to just chat about the books we happened to be reading, movies we happened to be watching, and so on. It’s so easy to focus on our own lives and forget to make time for friends; for me, book club was a regular appointment with friends.
When my club was preparing to fold, I remembered Simon’s recent post at Savidge Reads about book clubs and looked back at it and the many comments. It’s clear that book clubs can be fraught with drama, but that they can also be a great pleasure. What have your experiences been like? What do you think makes for a good book club? Do you even find book clubs to be worthwhile?
In other news, Jenny and I have been doing a bit of bloggy housekeeping. We’ve just added lists of all the books we’ve reviewed, alphabetized by title and author. You can find links to both lists on our Books Read page, which you can access using the link at the top of the page or the link in the sidebar on the right. (Special thanks to Eva for helping us figure out how to compile these lists quickly and efficiently.) We’ve also added an option to receive posts by e-mail, which you can see in the sidebar on the right. And we’ve started experimenting with threaded comments, just to see how we like it. Do let us know what you think!
Notes from a Reading Life (November 30—December 12)
- Winter’s End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat. Dystopian YA that was not the best dystopia ever, but not a bad thriller.
- Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum (audio). Fascinating, even-handed account of investigations of turn-of-the-century spiritualists.
- North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I’m reading this for the Classics Circuit. It’s been slow going, not because it isn’t terrific, but because I’ve been devoting huge chunks of my reading time to preparing a final paper for my Reformation Theology class.
- The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Lessons in writing poetry. I’ve reached the chapter on odes, but I’m taking a break for a few weeks until the semester is over.
- The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (reread). I read this in college and loved it. I’m now reading it over my lunch break at work each day, so it’s taking a while. I’m now just over half done, and it’s as good as I remembered.
- Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (audio). Two U.S. Marshalls are investigating a woman’s escape from an institute for the criminally insane. I’m on the second disc, and it’s gripping!
- The Campaigners by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. The 14th book in the Morland Dynasty series.
- Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton. After the rigors of finals, I have a feeling I’ll be wanting something light, and I’ve heard great things about this.
- The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. For the January Classics Circuit.
- The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee. A British woman in 1950s Hong Kong. Before my book club folded, I went out and bought this and two other books we were planning to read. I’m at least moderately interested in reading it, so I’ll hang onto it.
- Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. A modern sensation novel from the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Another former book club pick. I liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the premise of this one has more obvious appeal to me.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Another former book club pick. I’ll confess that I’m uncertain about this one. It’s Southern fiction about race relations, and everyone adores it. Southern fiction about race is so often simplistic and irritating, and I’m not sure there’s a book that’s been written that could live up to the praise this book has received. But I’ll give it a try eventually.
- Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston. I got this history of Postwar Britain through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
- Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett. Because I’m trying not to add many books to my TBR pile (big fail this week), I decided to start using Bookmooch and Paperbackswap points to get books I love but don’t own. Among these are the works of Dorothy Dunnett. This is the first in her House of Niccolo series.
- Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett. The third in Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.
Books on My Radar
- The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. This has actually been on my radar for a while, but there was so much hype about it last year that I ended up tuning it out. Rebecca’s review at The Book Lady’s Blog convinced me that I might want to take a closer look.
- Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby. Any new Hornby fiction goes on my list. Like the Unruly Reader, I find him to be reliable and enjoyable.
- The Imposter by Damon Galgut. The South African novel got a rave review at Vulpes Libris.
- The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Smith. A fairy tale with a gorgeous cover. Reviewed at Gaskella.
- The Big Clock by Thomas Fearing. A classic mystery I’d never even heard of until I saw Thomas’s review at My Porch.
- East Lynne by Ellen Wood. Yet more sensation fiction. Reviewed by Kristen at We Be Reading, who compared it to Armadale.
- Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande. Raych at Books I Done Read says this one is part educational text, part memoir, and part medical thriller.
- The Hidden by Tobias Hill. Apparently, a lot of people haven’t liked this book, but SFP’s review at Pages Turned makes it sound great. It’s just perhaps not the thriller that the marketing makes it out to be.