Five Ways You Know You’re in a Good Book Club
By Kim Wright
When Love in Mid Air came out in hardback last year I got invited to a lot of book clubs and pretty soon I developed a sense of when a group dynamic was working - and when it wasn’t.
Now that the book is debuting in paperback, I’ve got a new wave of book club visits coming up and I’ve been thinking of the factors that set a fun, thriving group apart from one that’s boring and anemic. It isn’t just about the food – although in my experience, there are few occasions in life that aren’t helped along by a bit of pinot and brie – and it isn’t even about how well the club members like each other, or how much they know about literature. Instead, the best clubs seem to have these factors in common:
Love in Mid Air, there’s a scene where the heroine throws a dinner party and I was astounded to show up at one book club where the hostess had recreated the four-course meal served in the book. If that’s a bit of a stretch, just tweak the music and the snacks to reflect the setting where the book occurs.
- People actually read the books. In some clubs the social elements outweigh the literary to the point where half the members show up without having read the book. In this case, conversation quickly switches from the book to general gossip. It might be fun, but it isn’t a book club.
- The books chosen cover a wide variety of subject matter. Clubs seem to thrive when they have a mechanism in place so that the person who chooses the books is constantly changing – everyone takes one month at the start of the year, for example, or whoever is hosting selects the book.
Otherwise, it’s just too easy for a mystery buff to turn the group into a mystery book club and one of the key benefits of being in a book club is to have the group nudge you into reading things you’d never otherwise have chosen.
- The group isn’t afraid of a little controversy or at least of choosing books that not everyone likes. I was once in a book club that got completely bogged down in reading a series of historical dramas. Now, I love history and I love the Tudors, but after a while there was nothing left to say except “I really hated it when he cut off her head.” Part of the reason we got into this rut is that we were hesitant to pick books that we knew in advance wouldn’t be liked by everyone. So we stayed in the safe zone of our historical dramas and pretty soon conversation dried up entirely.
- Everyone talks. It’s poisonous when one personality dominates the group, but I was amazed at how many times I spoke to groups where it was apparent that exactly this was happening. Some people will always be more gregarious and opinionated than others, but when it gets to the point where one or two people are calling the shots – not just in terms of the reading list but also in terms of how the discussion plays out - your book club is in trouble.
- The group is willing to mix it up a little. The most fun groups will occasionally bring in a local author to speak. Connect their book choices to the seasons or topical events.vary their meeting places so that they’re not always in the same home or coffeeshop. Or even jazz it up so that the background music or food is tied to the theme of that month’s selection.
You know, for as much as I read, I'm more of a solitary reader... I've never done a book club, and I'm kinda embarrassed to admit that I wouldn't know the first thing about participating in 'em. *blush*
What about you? Are you, or have you been in a book club? What do you think of Kim's points?