Hello from the Dogpatch. A while back, Amy Blackwood told us about her book club’s very unique take on book clubbing. Ever since, we’ve been after her to tell us more—and she did! Today’s post is courtesy of Amy, and we’d love to know what you think, because according to Amy:
It’s not about the book.
Is your book club feeling stale? Do you find you rarely ever talk about (or even read) the chosen book at your book club? Do you wish there was a way to liven up the evening’s discussion while still talking about great reads at your club’s gatherings?
Been there, my friend. Done that.
Don’t worry, there is hope for your book club yet! And I speak from experience.
There! I said it. You all know my dirty little secret. And if you know me at all, you’re probably thinking, how can this be? Amy is an avid reader, working-at-it writer and hopeless bibliophile; book clubs should totally be her thing, right?
Wrong. And it kills me. I really want to be a great book club participant! I mean, I love everything about them. Let’s see, there’s wine, snacks, books, fellow book lovers, a kid-free evening to discuss grownup literature, wine … What’s not to love?
And really, I am excellent at certain aspects of the concept (see above). However, it’s the structure to which I could never fully commit: Read this book, talk about this book, pick next month’s book, repeat. I guess I found it a little stifling.
And yet, I tried. I joined clubs enthusiastically, even started a couple! I’d arrive promptly at the gatherings, chosen paperback duly tucked under arm (and wine bottle in hand), ready to discuss The Book with a group of intelligent, wonderful people who shared my love for all things literature. And every time the evening ended, I left feeling refreshed and energized, happy to have such a creative social outlet.
Except, wait … my eyes would drift to the novel in my hand (the wine bottle long emptied and recycled), and I’d realize: We hadn’t really talked about The Book.
Wasn’t that the whole point??
No, it really wasn’t. Deep down, it was not the main mission of our gatherings – it was all a (gasp) front! Although we all adored reading, we just weren’t that into talking about the selected title. Oh, we’d start out dutifully enough, paging through a few chapters (those of us who had managed to actually read the book, that is). But soon the conversation turned to other things, and we pleasantly chatted amongst ourselves about daily life and current events. No one seemed to mind that our book club never really lived up to its purpose.
Then one night, it all came together. We were supposed to be focusing on a book which only one or two participants had managed to read. The rest of us guiltily shared our excuses through embarrassed smiles: “Still working through Book Five in Game of Thrones,” “Work has been crazy,” “Kids were sick,” “Had to finish knitting a baby blanket for my second cousin, twice removed,” and so on.
Then one woman mentioned she had read the book years ago, and had since read a few more titles by the same author. Another lady asked how she had liked those, and which she would recommend out of all of them. Someone else added this particular author’s work reminded her of another writer … yada, yada, yada.
As the discussion grew more lively, someone started taking notes to share with the ladies who couldn’t make it that night, and we all were having such a great time talking Books, it was as if a bolt of lightning struck the very floor we sat on and we all slapped our heads and proclaimed: “Duh! We don’t want to talk about A Book. We want to talk Books.”
That’s when the Theme concept was born and we decided to change our whole approach to book club. It wasn’t exactly a novel (ahem) idea – we simply diverted from the usual pick-one-book routine and instead assigned a theme to each month. Pretty much the same concept of the usual book club etiquette, except we no longer limited our choice of read to one book.
Instead we chose monthly themes, which was one of my favorite parts of the year (and I hope we will always devote one meeting a year solely to this particular task – So. Much. Fun.). Here’s what we came up with: March – Neurology, April – Cook Books, May – Self-Reflection Memoir, June – Humor, July – Coming of Age Novel, August – Local Fiction, September – Mystery, October – Death, December – Short Stories. We even brainstormed a few fun activities to fit the themes (for example, we met at the local improv comedy club in July and we all prepared a recipe from our favorite cook book in April).
I’m happy to report I’m loving our new arrangement, although I have to admit my To Read list is now a lot longer, with all the extra suggestions and recommendations to add. Luckily, I can’t help but see this as anything but a good problem.
So bottom line, if your club isn’t doing it for you, change it. Devote a night to a group discussion and figure out what motivates your pack. Perhaps you might like to try our model of multiple themes, or maybe you’d benefit from picking one genre and sticking to it. Whatever works for you, just so long as you’re getting what you want.
Because books are our friends, and reading should be fun.