Monday, April 20, 2015

Why My Book Club Is Awesome

Some facebook thing that I've now lost (found it!) gave a list of rules for a good book club, so I decided to compare this against my happy and thriving club. I also brought them up at out latest meeting, where we had a lot of fun, ate pizza, and talked about Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, recommended other books to each other, and planned our next books through the summer.

1. Don't do it with your best friends.

This might be a good idea if your friends are kind of lame. Probably not if your friends are awesome. Apparently the assumption is that your friends are a monolithic crowd who are more into the Kardashians than books anyway. This is happily not the case for me. I love having book clubs with my friends. And if I'm joining a new club, if many of the people in that book club don't become my friends, then we were doing it wrong. Of course, in my current book club, everyone is awesome. Especially my sister.

2. Rotate who chooses the book.

Our book club would hate this. We aren't into sudden surges of pressure. We do a lot better by throwing open the club for ideas every few months, picking some thing and trying not to remember who put them forward anyway.

Also, I was deeply scarred by recommending a book in an old book club that was universally hated. I eventually left the state and tried not to give the members my forwarding address. So I do think you should know something about the books you put forward, so the group knows if they are taking a chance or not.

3. Send out advance questions and pass them out at the book club.

Seriously? I mean, this works well with my elementary book club, but does not seem like an informal way to relate to a book with your peers. If there is something you really want to talk about, write it on your hand so you remember it. But if people are reading, they aren't listening, so it kind of defeats the purpose, unless you have a hushed time for people to frantically read up on all the questions and then try to figure out what to say that makes them look good.

At the kid book club, I write out some questions and put them on the tables at the library. Then I move around, pick up the questions and ask. It keeps things lively, gives the kids something to look at if they are distracted, and makes sure I think about the book enough beforehand to lead a discussion. But among my peers, I'm not doing as much corralling. 

4. Do it at work.

Actually, if I had a day-job this would probably be fun. I've done variations of this. My reasons did not reflect this article (no alcohol is a neutral, not a plus for me, and I don't want people worrying about looking smart. I want them smart enough already not to worry about it.). But daytime/lunch book clubs are fun.

5. Call the writer.

I think this might be inhibiting, actually. We're always interested in any contacts we've had with the writer (I've met a few, or emailed questions), but if the writer was actually THERE, and you didn't like the book for some reason, it might get awkward. We've read a book written by a friend of a member, which was bad enough when we complained about it, but at least if she was asked for feedback she could filter it through the good stuff we said as well.

6. Build in social time.

Yes, it's called eating time. Also arrival time -- at our club, we try not to start talking about the book until everyone arrives, so a lot of socializing happens at the beginning. Of course, the problem this addresses is that everyone forgets to talk about the book, and that's not a problem for a club whose members actually enjoy books and talking about books. Like, say, mine.

7. Size matters.

My club already deals with this -- we don't pick giant books, we look at our schedule and compare it to the books, and we'll read partial books if something hefty looks interesting. And we also do fun things like read a children's book for December, and have a movie for January on the assumption that those are crazy times for most people anyway.  The movie idea is especially great; we usually pick something that has some literary connection and meet on Sunday afternoon at the house with the biggest TV. Great meetings: that movie about a book club, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, (which led to a later book club where we read a Shakespeare play out loud), Sabrina where we all watched the old version at home and than watched the Harrison Ford one together and had a lively lunch comparing them.  

8. Give ample time between sessions.

How many clubs meet more often than once a month anyway? Who are these people, and why are they so easily distracted by TV? We had a great time picturing how this could go wrong -- have a club that spontaneously calls a meeting whenever someone finishes a book (RING -- the BOOK PHONE is calling!). Probably at least once a day.

Seriously, is this a problem -- do most people start a book club and plan to meet every third day or weekly? And then wonder why attendance drops like a rock? Maybe this would be a good theme for a play group -- meet weekly and talk picture books. Or if you are doing a chapter by chapter read of something that everyone is passionate about, but you'd better have a big crowd so you can take turns flaking. If your other concerns are how distracting Kardashian talk is at your meetings I think you are deluding yourself.

9. Have a cell-phone bowl (like a key party).

Again, as in problem number 1, I would fix this with a better grade of friends. If your book club members are instagramming the dip instead of book clubbing, forget to send them the email with the next meeting's location. Unless it's that time I made the sun-pastry tzitziki dip, in which case that was completely appropriate behavior. My club found this hilarious, but maybe we just aren't important enough for this to be a problem.

10. Venture into nonfiction.

We totally do this. Because we're so smart. I do think this one is a good idea.

My book club has only one rule, and we are very strict about it: You can't use not reading the book as an excuse not to come. We find it is often interesting to have an outsider opinion, so you don't have to sit in isolation while everyone else discusses the book -- go ahead and have opinions anyway. You can skip if you have other obligations, if you are feeling anti-social, if you just don't want to come, and maybe if you are loving the book and can't bear to have it spoiled, but don't avoid us just because you didn't want to read this month's selection.

Speaking of reading, what have I read this week? I'm going to ignore the month or so I skipped blogging. I like keeping a book diary though, so I can see what I've been up to:

Monday: Tell the Wolves I'm Home, I'll Give You the Sun, The October Country, Darkship Thieves (completed), Honor's Knight (completed)
Tuesday: When I Was the Greatest (started), The October CountryI'll Give You the Sun, Life After Life
Wednesday: Life After Life (finished), I'll Give You the Sun, The October Country, Codex Born
Thursday: Codex BornMatilda (started, finished), I'll Give You the Sun
Friday: I'll Give You the Sun (finished), Burn For Me (started), The October Country, Reading and Learning to Read
Saturday: Burn For Me (finished)
Sunday: When I Was the Greatest,  The October Country, All the Light I Cannot See, About Last Night

Started three, finished six. The direction is good! Currently reading seventeen books. I'd like to get that down to about ten. (It will never get below that, due to my habits of having some books I only read at certain times, and also needing to have books on my NOOK, phone, car, etc.)

Honor's Knight (Paradox, #2)DarkShip ThievesI finished up last month's Vaginal Fantasy Picks. Well, the sequel to one pick (Honor's Knight) and then the alt pick. I'm having a lot of fun with Rachel Bach's series; my older son has finished it and was very happy when I brought home her fantasy stuff from the library. It's got a smart, interesting woman solving the universe's problems with integrity, humor and space guns. Perfect for me. Darkship Thieves was more of a mixed bag -- it is clearly an homage to Heinlein's Friday with both the good and the bad that implies. The main character has enhanced powers and a mixed expression of sexuality; any book that involves grown women using the term "Daddy" is going to leave me cold a lot of the time.

Life After LifeI heard many raves about Life After Life, but I found it a bit tick-boxy. It's like the author had a list of things and issues to make the character go through -- rape?  check. Domestic abuse? Check. Hitler's buddy? check. And the questions about individual choice and history were raised much more interestingly in Jo Walton's My Real Children. Each page was easy to turn, but I had no problems putting the book down and a lot of inertia to pick it back up.

I'll Give You the SunMatildaMatilda was a fun pick for the school book club. I liked how Matilda and her friends are the smart, moral ones while all the adults are the base, foolish ones. I used that as an excuse to make the kids run the discussion as well as to cover the idea of transgressive texts. It was a good antidote to the teen read I'll Give You the Sun which had two astonishingly selfish and cruel twins, who loved each other heaps but had no qualms about selling each other out at the smallest provocation. Really, both were the kinds of kids who would eat the last two cookies off the plate and tell their siblings there were none left, unless the cookies had nuts or something they didn't like. I wish the endings didn't have them both in romantic relationships, because their partners are in for a rough time, and those two really need to spend some time with themselves.

Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1)Ilona Andrews writes books about witty and capable women who get together with superpowered men in a fun and diverting way. This worked well doing what the box said it would do, and I'll keep an eye out for the sequel. I bet my high school son would like it as well.

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris, #2)All the Light We Cannot SeeAbout That NightTell the Wolves I'm HomeBooks whose bookmarks moved included Tell the Wolves I'm Home which is beautifully written and I enjoy savoring it, but I suspect there are hard times ahead for the narrator so I'm in to hurry to get through it. About That Night is mystery that doesn't have a character to grab me (like the author's Dooley) so I read a little bit and then put it down. Codex Born will probably grab me soon, but right now I keep losing it around the house -- it spent several days on the dryer while I searched for it. And my NOOK's power issues keep me from binging on All the Light I Cannot See, which was sad when the library made it go poof. I have it back again now.

If I finish this in time, I'll report in to Teach Mentor Texts about my readings. Book Journey is on hiatus after a tragedy.

2015 Challenge Progress:
  1. Cybils 2014: 7/81. Wow, I'm going very slowly. I just had the eighth stolen by my eighth grader, so I guess I'll start a different one.
  2. Where Am I Reading?: 18/51.  Lots of unfortunate duplicates.
  3. Award Winning Book Challenge: I have apparently stopped reviewing books. But I've ticked off seven different awards. 
  4. Full House Challenge: 22/25. I love this kind of thing.
  5. Book Riot Read Harder: 13/24. I've done the easy ones.
  6. Alphabetically Inclined:  I V X Y Z still missing. 21/26
  7. Best of the Best 2012: 52/25.  I am stalled.
  8. Reading My Library: Library temporarily closed, so on hiatus.


kmitcham said...

Your book club is pretty cool.

Cheriee Weichel said...

I laughed at some of your comments about your book club. Even at school I don't come up with questions. (Except in our club where everyone is reading different books - then my challenge is coming up with one overarching question that everyone can participate in. Ever since I discovered Grand Conversations by Faye Brownlie, I love that children are responsible for initiating and participating in discussion.

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

I have three book clubs here in Singapore - one with young readers, another one with published/aspiring authors, and another one in my institution with fellow professors coming from different specializations. I love how each group has something different to offer - and I particularly love how the discussions take on a different turn even when we are talking about the same book. I also enjoyed reading your responses to each of the points raised. I'm tempted to do it myself. :) I'm excited to read All The Light We Cannot See - I am hoping one of my book clubs would recommend the title so that I have a perfectly legitimate excuse to find and read it.