This week's question is all about clubbing together:
Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?
Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?
Book clubs rule the world in Australia.
I've never been a book club member.* It is not the appropriate milieu for someone who believes life is too short to read bad books. Or even books she's not enjoying.
I tried to join one, once. The book we were supposed to read was The Hand that Signed the Paper, by Helen Darville (pictured in fetching peasant blouse, below), who fibbed a bit, concocted an Eastern European/Russian family history for herself, fobbed herself off as Helen Demidenko, and was eventually found out after this book was published.
All the brou-haha was way more exciting than the book, which was so mind-numbingly dull and boring that I couldn't get through more than the first chapter.
And though I was more than willing to hear what the others had to say, and to bring booze or make cake or whatever was de rigueur, everyone else had taken the task so incredibly seriously that they were pissed off with me for not having persevered. The discussion leader had pages of hand-written notes and reams of photocopied press reviews and transcripts of radio interviews and read the lot to us. It was horrible.
I never went back, and I have not attempted to join a club since. Though lots of my friends are in them and have the most wonderful time, and a rock-solid group of great mates who are great readers and wonderful literary conversationalists. Which I have also, but not in any regulated fashion.
And I frequently read books that are so marvellous that I do fleetingly wish I were in a book club to take part in robust discussion about them. Back in Australia, I always had my friends to talk books with and exchange titles, and over here in the US, that's where blogging comes in handy.
When we moved from Australia to San Diego two years ago, I thought I'd let my principles slip, vow to read anything I was told to, photocopy notes, and join a book club to meet people. The local Barnes & Noble had no idea about any local book clubs, so I searched the internet and found a great many 'book clubs' that were thinly-disguised singles clubs, almost all of which seemed to be run by very damaged-sounding sad men with beards.
I remain a solo reader.
* Some friends and I did have a sort of book club going, years ago, and I think we called it the Non-Readers' Book Club, or something like that. We used to meet regularly and have so much fun that no-one ever talked about — or even even seemed aware of — the books we were allotted. We appointed a discussion leader for each gathering, and she used to send out a newsletter with details of the next title to read, and notes about the most recent meeting. So it was that Bryce Courtney came to talk to us, and Louis de Bernières read from his draft of Captain Corelli Book II — all completely fictitious, of course. I might get that one going again when I return to Australia next year ...