June 23rd, 2010

Book clubbery

I know book clubs have a bad rap. The reason usual touted–that the clubsters like a certain sort of book and read in a certain way–doesn’t make tonnes of sense to me. Surely every reader has his or her quirks, and every banding together of readers is quirky in its own way. I have heard of men-only, women-only, and parents-only bookclub, bookclubs where only books about food or travel or by authors in translation or Canadians are read, bookclubs organized around preparation for a trip or understanding a polical movement, and bookclubs arranged so that old friends can keep in touch.

Of course, a cynical parry would be that such themes could lead to cutsyness, which would of course lead to making it more about the club than the book. Which is a danger with anything, I suppose, from a lit class to a bookstore section. But I like to think that most clubsters want–and maybe I’m biased because it’s what I want–good literary conversation.

I get lots of opportunities to talk books; I know tonnes of well-read people and almost everyone I ask, “So what are you reading?” has an interesting answer. The problem with those interesting answers is that often, they can’t go farther, because I haven’t read that book or sometimes even heard about it. My friend will talk eagerly (and usually, knowing my friends, articulately) about what s/he is reading, and all I’ll be able to respond with is, “I think I read a review of that” or “Another friend of mine liked that one, too.” I get lots of good recommendations this way, but it’s hardly a discussion.

What I want in a bookclub is a group of smart, articulate friends who have all read the *same* book, so we can engage both with the text and with each other, and hopefully come out of it knowing something more than just our own opinions. I also like the push to read outside of my usual choices–I do get lots of good recommendations, but unless there’s a pressing group engagement, I’ll often let the weirder (to me) stuff fall by the wayside.

I think that push to read widely, read quickly, or read at all, can be one big downside of a bookclub if that’s the major reason people join. I had a sad experience in a bookclub of what appeared to be non-readers. They were smart, funny, well-spoken, well-employed people who saw reading books as a sign of intellectual heavyweight status and wanted to achieve it. However, many of them didn’t actually enjoy reading, and were acutely embarrassed by this, so meetings turned into shame-filled stories about crazy work projects and moves across town. The last two books I read for the club, I was the only one to do so (I still like those people, but I am still a *teensy* bit annoyed that they shot down my choise as “too light” and then forced me to read Reading Lolita in Tehran when, as it turned out, no one else did. I don’t really regret it–Nafisi’s discussions of literature are lovely and insightful–but still…)

Anyway, my point (I do have one!) is that I am in a new book club and it is lovely and filled with nice people who read books for fun, even when there is no club around to make them, and brought lots of good food to our first meeting, last Saturday. The founder of the club is my friend Scott who was in my most successful bookclub in the past, which ended due to depression (a number of unfortunate book picks in a row made us too dispirited to continue–although I still recommend Disgrace by JM Coetzee [just brace yourself]).

This new club is the “250 pages or less” bookclub, so it’s a bit less pressure and also poses an interesting challenge to find books to meet the limit. So I get exposed to some new stuff, in addition to the interesting conversation, friendly people and steamed dumplings. Heartily recommend 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xialu Guo, if you are looking for something short and fascinating.

Anyway, bookclubs–not for everyone, but lots of fun if that is what you are into, and I am, so yay! Off to read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.

One Response to “Book clubbery”

  • Scott Watson says:

    Well you helped make it fun. Thanks for coming out.

    I notice you didn’t recommend the Wapshot Chronicle. :)

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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