Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Clubs - What Goes On?

What I'm reading: One Small Victory, by Maryann Miller

Last week, I talked about reading outside my normal genre range for a book club.

They meet at their library (which is not in my county system, but isn't that far away, given typical distances up here in the mountains). After a bit of mingling, they have a nice breakfast, and then they have their business meeting.

The leader assured me that this meeting was atypical in that they had a lot of community business to discuss. The club is part of their "Friends of the Library" and they do more than discuss books. Things on the agenda included organizing a library clean-up day, and a book sale at a local community "fair", a cemetery tour as a fundraiser, as well as concern for a new school scheduled to break ground next month and open in a year.

Once their business was finished, the group divided to discuss the two books assigned for the month. Because the group is large (about 35 members), they're split into two groups, so although they're a united front for the business meeting and social time, each group reads only one of the books, which allows more time for each member to add to the book discussion.

Since I was a visitor, I had my choice of groups, and I opted to sit in on the group that had read the book I didn't much care for. I was curious to see how my opinions matched those of others in the group, and how reading like a "writer" differed from reading like a "reader."

Their setup is that they go around the room, with everyone saying what they liked or didn't like about the book, and giving it a score from 1 to 10. The first woman to speak had listened to the book on audio, and she said the reader did an excellent job of keeping her in the story. Also, his English accent helped ground her in the book's setting.

As we went around the room, opinions seemed divided into "really liked it" and "didn't like it at all" camps. One woman had read it when it first came out, and didn't like it then. She said she normally tries to at least do a quick re-read when this happens with a book club book, but she had no desire to revisit it. Only one member said she felt the book fell into the middle of the spectrum. What were some of the reasons people gave to back their scores?

Descriptions: Some loved the flowery descriptions, others said it interfered with the read.

Characters: Almost everyone agreed about the main character's personality traits, but some thought they made him a fascinating character and others said they wanted to see him show a little backbone. The term marshmallow came up several times.

Pacing: Some liked the meandering pace, others felt it dragged to the point where they didn't want to finish the book.

Plot: Some saw clever twists, others said it was totally predictable.

The book was blurbed as "humorous" yet it was British humor, which some appreciated and others didn't get at all.

As for how the members approached the meeting. Some took copious notes and read quotes of passages they liked. Some admitted they didn't read the book at all.

And I think that in the end, that's about the way it is for any book you read. You'll like some, you'll dislike some, and some, you won't care about one way or the other. Is it a good thing to read books because someone makes it "required" reading? I don't know. I do know I read two books I would otherwise never have considered, and trying something new is a good thing. For next month, one of the selections is a mystery set in the Leadville Colorado area, written by a local author. That one sounds closer to what I'd like to read. The second book is written from a dog's POV. I think I'll give that one a pass.

My ideal book club? I'd have a relatively small group—maybe 10 or so—and each member would read any book they liked, and then tell the rest of the group about it. If someone liked what they heard, they could then read the book for themselves. Of course, I suppose that brings up the problem of spoilers—but since word of mouth is still the best advertising, the members would have to have some sort of guidelines about what to reveal or not reveal.

Tomorrow, my guest is aurhor Maryn Sinclair, who's going to be talking about knowing when your book is finished. She's giving away books, so be sure to come back!


Jemi Fraser said...

I've never joined a book club - sounds interesting. I've tried a few mini book clubs in my classroom. The kids like it best when they are in clubs where they read books of their own choice too. :)

Jan Morrison said...

I belonged to a book club years ago. It was fun but when I went back to school to get my English degree I decided that I couldn't take anyone else telling me what to read! I've been back since then, as a guest, and it has been fun. I like your idea - I've floated it out a few times but with no takers. Or I'd like a club that decided they'd meet for a certain amount of time to read something quite difficult - Moby Dick or Russian novels or...?
Jan Morrison

Jeff Rivera said...

I've been a member once, but that was years ago. I could have been the president if it weren't for my hectic schedule.

Barb Albright said...

Love your new look here on the blog. Great post about book clubs. I'd like to find an on-line one.

Barb Albright The Empty Nest Mom

Anonymous said...

Terry: I've spoken at writer's clubs; at librarie (one a grand opening they wanted me for near my home town; and done book signings but never talked to a book club, thanks for the insight. Interesting and helpful Thanks
Jackie Griffey
Author of The Maryvale Series

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - this was my first. I'll go to at least a few meetings and see how I like it. And the food was great!

Jan - that's probably the only way they'd get me to revisit the classics!

Jeff - I'm definitely not jumping in to volunteer quite yet.

Barb - Thanks - an on line group sounds interesting. Although the f2f does add something.

Jackie - I love talking to groups of readers. Very different from doing writer workshops.

Carol Kilgore said...

I've never belonged to a book club. I try never to give reviews either because I rarely like things others love and love things others don't. I'm a slow reader and picky. It has to grab me from the get-go or I move on. Some things I forgive and keep reading, others make me close the book. I don't think I'm a typical reader. It's going to make Goodreads difficult, I think.

Terry Odell said...

Carol - I don't like giving reviews "publicly" because I don't think I read like a typical reader--and I don't like giving scores to books written by people I know. I've left a few on Goodreads, but usually for Big Name authors where there's already a long list of opinions. I will admit to checking there if I'm not liking a book, just to see if I'm alone in my opinion.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm not alone!

Kari Wainwright said...

Speaking as a one of the founding members of the book club Terry visited, I have to say the group has evolved a lot since it first started, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not so good.

I, for one, will not finish a book I feel is poorly written, so I don't feel compelled to read something just because it is for book club. One thing I really like about our group is that we are a bunch of opinionated women and all opinions are respected. At times I've been the one dissenting voice, either loving a book most hated, or vice verse. And I wasn't chased out of town.

Unfortunately, for next month, I'm in the group that chose a book written from a dog's POV. Now, I'm a dog lover, have one as a furry companion on my lap right now, but in the past couple of years I've tried two very different books written from a dog's POV and didn't like either of them, so I didn't finish. One that I tried is the August selection.

For book club, I'll skim the sampler I have on my Kindle so I can recall specifically why this book didn't work for me. But I'll be dog-goned if I'll read the whole book.

Terry, I'm glad you decided to visit us and hope you'll decide to come again.

Terry Odell said...

Kari, I'll thank you again for inviting me to speak at your book club last month, and I do intend to come back. (I was told that because I'm not an 'official' member yet, I could choose whichever of the two books I wanted, and I opted for the one written from a human's POV!)

I did like the way everyone's opinion was heard and respected. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

Karen said...

I've never belonged to a book club, either. My reading tastes differ greatly from those of my friends, so I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable.

Terry Odell said...

Karen - this group was very welcoming, and I'm glad I went to the meeting. I guess I'll wait and see how many books on their list will be ones I'd be willing to read--but just the social connections of real live bodies is a good thing! And did I mention good food?

Karen said...

I am an introvert with a boat load of insecurities; so 'social connections of real live bodies' is a scary propositiion. :O)

Clover Autrey said...

Interesting. Book reading is so subjective.

Maryann Miller said...

Book clubs can be a lot of fun, but sometimes I think of them like the literature classes where we all had to read and report on a book. I love literature and I love talking about books and stories, but I don't always like to have to "study" them. I like your idea, Terry, of everyone choosing their own book and sharing with the group about that particular book. But then that might defeat the purpose of a book club.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

What a fun post, Terry. Most of my friends belong to book clubs, but their meetings often revolve around elaborate luncheons or dinners. My daughter's book club, however, is held in the evening, after work, so I see something of a generational shift there. The book club you describe sounds interesting and a bit different. Oddly enough, though my mysteries center around a book club, I've never chosen to belong to one. (Shh. Don't tell anyone. Maybe that's why my characters behave so outrageously.) Liz M.

Terry Odell said...

Karen, these were friendly bodies.

Clover - you're absolutely right. What works for one reader might not work at all for another.

Maryann - yeah, but maybe we could call it a "book Discussion group"

Elizabeth - I won't tell. Promise. And I'm sure there are lots of different kinds of book clubs. One set in a bar might be fun.