Book Clubs

The idea behind book clubs has been something of intrigue and interest to me for a long time. I like the idea of chatting about something I have enjoyed reading with a group of friends who also read the book, and I think that they have a place in reading society.

Yet there is something about them that I have always struggled with: what is on offer to read. I’m by no means a narrow reader, in fact, I read quite a broad variety but if I am not enjoying something, I struggle to get through it and in fact often put it aside in favour of something else. This leads me to my thoughts on book clubs.

I know that there are several ways to agree on a book: voting for a book, or one person chooses per month or, somebody assigns the books each time. This might work in most cases but what happens when the books being chosen are constantly not what some people want to read? And if we go on the voting system, is this fair because potentially there will always be one or two members whose choices may always be vetoed by every one else and thus they may never get a turn to choose a book.

A few years ago some friends were doing a Jane Austen course and trying to set up a book club, to which they invited me. I suggested that it be continued afterwards in the planning stages and put forth the rule that we must all agree on a book, i.e. if there was one objection, then that book wouldn’t be read to make it fair. Why? Because if someone’s suggestions were always vetoed but the others always okayed, then this would never sit well with me for whomever that person was. There were some books that each and everyone of us would have objected to. So it never eventuated.

Availability of books, I find is also something that turns me off. Library book clubs in my area reserve the books – subject to availability. So there is every chance in a book club of ten people, three or four people may not be able to access that particular book if there are not enough copies. I see this as an obstacle: if you can’t access the book from a library or purchase a copy or borrow a copy from a friend, then you can’t participate. This, I feel, would make the member(s) unable to read the book feeling left out of the club, because not everyone will be able to access the book every time.

And if you don’t enjoy the book? In that case, I feel like I have wasted so many hours on something when I could have been reading something I enjoy. And I’ve heard all the arguments about reading out of your comfort zone, but to be perfectly honest, if it is a genre or author I am just not comfortable with, then there is no chance I can even try it. If the storyline described in reviews or on the back makes no sense to me, then it just makes it too hard to discuss.

My idea of a book club would be one where perhaps every member agrees on the book as stated above. If one out of six disagrees, I would hate to force them to read it not only because I would hate it to happen to me but because I wouldn’t want that person to be unable to finish the book. And I think the access to books is important because not every resource has the same books. I might be a little idealistic here, though, but this is just how I feel and think of as important. Book clubs don’t work for everyone. The social aspect is nice. My ideal book club where you all choose a book together or an author and their corpus of work is much like the book club in The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  But whether or not everyone can in that scenario agree on the books or author is something else that must be tackled.

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