Book Clubs – Friend or Foe?

by Kaley Ingenito

It sounds like a great idea, right?

Let’s get together to discuss this thing we all love – books! So you gather together with your friends or strangers or maybe a mix of both, with the intent of unpacking some insight into this literary experience you all shared. What fun!

But- Is it really?

I’ve been involved with a few book clubs in my life and it always seems like a good idea at the beginning. I think things like “I really should read more- this can be my motivation” or “I’ve always wanted to be able to talk about the classics without sounding pretentious.” Sometimes it’s a lot less noble. “There will be wine,” for example.

So I order my book online, like a good little participant.

fox-copyAt first, I start reading with the absolute intent to finish it this time. A few chapters before bed, maybe one on the train. Turns out this book we all picked via the democratic process is absolute garbage. (More on the democratic process and why its a terrible idea later.)

Or maybe it’s not garbage.

Maybe it’s just boring.

Or maybe it’s not the type of book I particularly enjoy reading. Eventually, for whatever reason, my resolve evaporates and I have a harder and harder time picking it up from my nightstand. But now book club is next week already. No problem. I’ll catch up with reading on the weekend.

Yeah, right.

So now book club is tomorrow and I find myself reading the SparkNotes version of the ending, hoping to find something interesting to add to the conversation that I don’t even care about because I hated the book in the first place.

I’m also multitasking because book club is a potluck affair so while I’m trying to skim through someone else’s analysis of the use of the color blue in the wedding scene, my scones get a little burnt on the bottom.

I bring them anyway because fuck it.

I will say this- Book Club people are lovely. A bit eclectic but, hey, what can you expect from the vague prerequisite of “you just have to like reading.” The first twenty minutes always involves some pleasant small talk, which I don’t mind at all. They comment about how delicious my scones are. A blatant untruth. But they all say it because, as previously stated, they are lovely.

Then there is the discussion of the book, which can get pretty derailed if there is no clear leader of the book club.

This is especially problematic when it is a gathering of close friends. Sometimes we never even get to the book because Kim is pregnant or Jared is getting a divorce- far more interesting topics than the main character’s infatuation with clouds or whatever.

If you do manage to discuss the book it can be pretty interesting to note the points of the books you glossed over but other people pulled out as major plot devices. Perhaps a worthwhile discussion ensues. Then again, perhaps not. The book clubs I have participated in usually devolve into different iterations of “I hear what you’re saying but I think you’re totally wrong in your analysis.

Someone always thinks they are funnier than they actually are. That annoys me. Our more introverted participants require some coaxing to state their opinions. I drink too much wine. We all go home. And that’s my whole Sunday.

The most frustrating part of Book lCub for me is that we never reach any meaningful conclusion. It’s not like all (or any) of us have studied literature, or this book specifically, closely enough to have a real handle on the true intent of the author.

Sure, we all probably took literature classes in high school or college but how many of us have a masters degree in, say, middle eastern literature from the 1800’s? I’ll go with ZERO for four hundred, Alex.

It’s the blind leading the blind, really. Or closer, maybe, to the cataracts patient leading the tunnel visioned. Either way, there is very little truth to be found in book club discussions. It’s mostly opinions. Which is fine. But I baked scones for this.

Ok, so the discussion is over and now it’s time to pick our book for next month.

There are many ways to do this, some better than others. You could have a rotating mechanism, where a different member picks the book each time. I tend to prefer this- It lends interest to the variety and prevents one person or a small group of people monopolizing the choices. Perhaps you have a preexisting list of books, for example “top 100 classics”, and you’re just working your way down the list. Also a reasonable way to go.

But alas, I think most groups are seduced by the seeming equality of the democratic process and now we all have to vote. Here is where the claws come out and we get a peek at the dark underbelly that is

Here is where the claws come out and we get a peek at the dark underbelly that is Book Club. We see factions form. Sects of the group fraction majorities.

“I’ll bring german chocolate cupcakes next time if you vote for my choice.”.And we end up with garbage. I’m calling this “The Donald Trump effect”. In one book club we “chose” four consecutive books about the hardships immigrants face coming to a new country. Four different cultures. Four different time periods. All depressing.

And we end up with garbage. I’m calling this “The Donald Trump effect”. In one book club we “chose” four consecutive books about the hardships immigrants face coming to a new country. Four different cultures. Four different time periods. All depressing.

I’m calling this “The Donald Trump effect.” In one book club we “chose” four consecutive books about the hardships immigrants face coming to a new country. Four different cultures. Four different time periods. All depressing.

I’m not saying it’s not a worthy topic to explore but how did that happen four times in a row? Democracy. I’d advise against it.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. I’ll admit this is a cynical view of Book Clubs in general but, in my experience, there is precious little variance. It seems like such a logical conclusion-like-mindedd people gathering to revel in something they all enjoy. But the joy and the intrigue seem to get lost in the details.

There will likely be no more book clubs in my future. If you do choose to participate, do so at your own risk. And don’t burn the scones. Happy Reading!!

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