A Writer Walks into a Book Club…

canstockphoto16261737I fumed well into the night after attending an open book club at my local library. At first, I was hopeful. There were discussion worksheets with great analytical questions about the book laid out on the tables. Except they didn’t use the worksheet. Many people hadn’t even finished reading the book.

After an hour of people sharing personal anecdotes about trips to Italy and saying inane things like the book should have been shorter with no supporting reasons, I quietly closed my notebook. A notebook with ten pages of earnest notes about the novel – turns of phrase that really struck me, questions about this character or that, paraphrased ideas that I thought were interesting. I tried at a couple of turns, to bring the conversation back to the actual book, with little success. Defeated, I felt a familiar shroud of isolation and alienation descend over me.

Was it me again? Were my expectations too high? Was I too intellectual, too much the four-eyed pedant that I’ve felt like much of my life? Was it the ugly side of my introversion taking over? It would not be the first time that I felt abnormal or out-of-step. Sometimes people will console themselves with a sense of superiority. For me, it’s more like what the hell is wrong with me?

canstockphoto22317573Growing up an intense reader can put one with odds with the outside world. Especially if that world, as mine was, is a place of drunken brawls and cars on blocks in the front yard (that stereotype really holds up). Mocked for always having one’s nose in a book or being too smart for their own good is a surefire way to make a kid feel like they are not quite right.

It took me a moment or ten, but I shook off my automatic response of feeling like the ugly duckling and realized that I’m a writer now. I read differently. I wonder about things like themes and story arcs and symbolism.  I think about points of view and a writer’s choice to jump characters or time periods. A book is no longer just a story to talk about – it’s a work of art to be dissected and discussed and learned from. I can’t walk into a random book club and expect people to be discussing foreshadowing and metaphor.

Although I did expect them to talk about the actual book. Guess that depends on the club. I tried to readjust my thinking. Just listen. Listen to them as readers. As readers, they were a disappointing lot. One woman even piped up I am not going to finish the book, looking around as if to dare someone to challenge her. I scrabbled about my brain until I came up with a productive way to to turn it around. At what point did you decide not to finish and why? Too late. Someone else was already off on a tangent.

canstockphoto0615677It’s become clear to me that I’m hungry to connect with others about books. Flirting with Goodreads, exchanges here on the blog when I write about books – these tentative attempts are happening more frequently. But I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ve become much more analytical in my reading than I’ve been in the past and that the level of discourse I need goes beyond that of an audience entertained by a storyteller. I am a storyteller who wants to be a better one.

I’m throwing this post up in the hopes of getting some ideas.

Is a book club for writers a thing? Have you started or joined one? What are your positive or negative experiences with a book club?

Update 04/18/18: I’ve started an online book club for writers! It’s slow going so far, but check it out if you have an interest. We’re reading Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward for discussion 5/15-5/30/18. Next month is a poetry collection, Afterland by Mai Der Vang.

94 Comments on “A Writer Walks into a Book Club…

  1. I don’t blame you for being frustrated and disappointed. What a waste of time! My library has a bookclub. I wonder if it’s the same.

    I’ve been invited to join several bookclubs, by serious readers, but haven’t. For no other reason than not always wanting to read a particular book on someone else’s schedule.

    I wonder if there are writers’ groups in your community who have bookclubs or other events where they discuss books. Maybe look into that. Oops, I see you’ve asked that question. Try googling it. I am pretty sure I’ve seen notifications for that sort of thing here.

    Also wonder if there are bookclubs through the University that allow non students to participate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did a search last night for book clubs in my area. University book clubs are limited to students and seem to be in many cases, inconsistent or abandoned. I belong to a writing center here, so I may post a community request to start a book club for writers. Most other books clubs seem to have qualifiers – for women, or only reading classics, or obvious social clubs (when a wine glass is the logo!). I really don’t want booze or limitations on genre or gender, so if I don’t find a fit, I might need to create one.

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  2. There are writer’s groups, but many will be geared toward critiquing each other’s writing over the published word.

    That’s said, I would encourage you to try a different book club, possibly a smaller one. The bigger the group, the more chaotic. But they also all have different personalities and some lean towards more social.

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    • In my fantasy brain, I wouldn’t mind a hybrid group – something that meets twice a month, once for reading and another for writing. A one-stop shop. It seems to me that a lot of any group dynamic can depend on the personalities involved, which can be a total crap shoot.

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  3. The various types of readers you describe in your post are similar in many clubs. The one club that was the ideal was one held by a university. The leader was a creative writing teacher who selected the titles. And they were out there. They were contemporary. They were fresh, innovative, deep, US and non US writers. The discussions were the same. We stayed on topic. We came prepared. It ended when he was unable to continue. I hope you find the same.

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    • That group does sound ideal. I am going to keep searching, but if I can’t find a fit, I’m going to start researching how to start a group. Fortunately there are a lot of readers and book club discussion guidelines out there that will be useful. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to take something like this on.

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  4. There is nothing that drives me more nuts than people who go to a book club and do anything other than discuss the book. I’m lucky in my club we take it very seriously. Our “leader” does her best to keep us on track.

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  5. Book clubs serve a different function for every person. Some social, a way to get together with friends. Some analytical discussing technical aspects of novels or poems. Some for old folks, some for kids.
    Often fun to read comments on the PBS club. So many so different.
    I ran an analytical journal club for residents and enjoyed having attending come. I could force those under my tutelage to read as I could ask incisive questions and try to teach reading requires questioning the authors’ purpose , data, and conclusions. Most disappointing when an older commented on the current article and within seconds obvious he had not read more than the title.
    So now reading Sing…by j. ward I found enjoying the prose made it a slower read for me than others who could speed read. Chewing through the sentences more important than getting to the end.
    I live too far away from a place where I can attend a social club. There must be one that fits each need. And the good is it does encouraging reading.

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  6. Writing is mostly tedious, and as writers, we are expected to come up with something that’s absorbing and encapsulating because, as writers, most of us write to be read. I read you, and much like my own blog, believe that what resonates most with readers is honest write ups, They touch the heart and mind.

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    • I don’t think the book that was being discussed was in their hearts or minds. I do think it was a social event and not a discussion of a book. But c’est la vie. I’ll have to find a different group.

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  7. I’m sorry that you didn’t have much success with book club. I have been a member of a writing group and found it an interesting experience. However, I have never been to a book club. I am a member of an online book club/ forum though. Mostly though, I use my blog to talk about books, because I find it difficult to find people in ‘real’ life, to talk about book with.

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    • How is the online book club? And how does it work? I’ve wondered about those as well, since sometimes online communication is fraught with misunderstanding that you don’t sometimes get face-to-face. Another challenge I find is that because I read all genres in fiction and nonfiction, it would be a challenge to find a club that reads that widely. I noticed that a lot of the local clubs focus on genre.

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      • Ok, well the book forum I am a member of, isn’t a traditional book club as in, we don’t read one book a month a discuss it. The forum is divided into genres and then you can search by book title and talk to people about a specific book there. Also, there are individual member’s threads, where you can talk about books or any other subject. There are also off topic threads and games too. I would recommend having a look, to see if it would be something you would use. The site’s address is http://www.bookclubforum.co.uk You don’t have to be from the U.K to be a member of the group. Hope that helps!

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  8. I’m an extreme introvert and it’s not always easy for me to meet new people, so even though I’m an analytical reader, I welcome having a social book club. The only book club I’ve been in was me and four other ladies. They had previously been a larger group and were looking for more members, and I found them during a pretty lonely period of my life and was grateful for their willingness to include me. We took turns facilitating, and the facilitator would also pick the restaurant where we would meet. Not everybody would come having read the book, but meeting every month gave me an opportunity to go out with a few really cool ladies every month. And at that time, I needed that more than I needed discussion filled with heavy analysis.

    I think finding writers’ (critique) groups and reading groups is extremely difficult. Right now I’m in the process of trying to find a critique group. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a group in the last two places I’ve lived. Both groups were willing to meet me where I was in my writing at that time and helped me improve dramatically. Since my last move i haven’t had much luck. I’ve taken UCLA extension classes hoping to find writers who might want to continue working together outside class, but didn’t manage to find individuals who I thought would be a good match and I ended up not asking anyone. My current strategy is to try Inked Voices (an online forum of writers) with the hope of finding a partner or two who might be a good match. This week I’m starting a Pro workshop through Inked. I’m hopeful to see if I can find some writers in this small group who might like to continue exchanging work after the Pro workshop ends.

    All this to say that finding a readers or writers group is tricky. And frustrating. Especially since meeting new people is so hard and among all the people we meet there is such a wide variety of needs and interests. I think the important thing to remember is that whatever group you find or create, you will likely have high variability within the group itself when it comes to levels and needs, but I really believe that even with high variability, all the individuals could still get something valuable out of the group if it’s handled well.

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    • I certainly understand that people come to the table with different needs and personalities. It sounds like you found groups that suited you.

      Since I do want to discuss books, I will have to continue to look for a group that actually does that. And if I can’t find one, there’s a lot of guides about how to develop a reading group, including how to facilitate a group that stays on track.

      Writing groups are a whole other beast. I have not done that yet. My participation in a few writing workshops was not enjoyable. I might just be one of those people who does not thrive in that scenario. I felt like I had to do a lot of work for others in providing helpful feedback, but didn’t get much out of it myself. It sounds like you are being very thoughtful about finding people who would be good fits for your writing needs.

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  9. Ha ha, yes, you are a four-eyed pedant. That made me laugh. As are we all. If you were that dissatisfied, you should tell the librarians, so they can improve the program — appoint a facilitator, for example. I’m a librarian and we work very hard on a lot of programs for often not much response. Any feedback is appreciated.

    Every book club is different. My assistant manager runs a mystery book club at my branch which is a small group of dedicated readers, who do all read the book and discuss it earnestly. See if another library branch in your town has another group. It might be completely different.

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    • I amused myself with that phrase as well.

      I feel like I’d need to attend another book club meeting before raising concerns. Next month is a nonfiction work, so maybe I’ll go to that one. Sometimes it really is me, not them, so while I can gripe up a storm, I also recognize my tendency to get easily irritated in social scenarios where there is a lot of chitchat.

      I’m also going to check out the other library branches – thanks for that idea!

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  10. Do you have any bookstores in your community? They often sponsor bookclubs and/or maintain lists of book clubs in the area. A good bookclub that matches up with whatever it is that you want out of it is worth searching out…or creating! I’ve been a part of great ones and also ones that sound more like your experience. Don’t give up!

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    • Our suburban area is a barren wasteland when it comes to bookstores. The only used bookstore closed last year. It’s really a bummer. Fortunately the library is nearby. I’m going to keep searching and if I can’t find one that fits, I’ll drum up my own. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  11. Lots of helpful comments here. Some book clubs are covers for unrelated chit-chat, others are more on-point. A good leader/facilitator is important. I would say that “good” book discussion groups aren’t necessarily just for writers, but for any reader who appreciates and understands plot, theme, character, narrative, dialogue, etc. (I don’t write screenplays or act or direct, but I look for these things in film).

    The good news is that, even if it’s a “bad” book club, at least people are still organizing around books. With all our other electronic diversions, too many people these days don’t read books at all.

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    • Of course, the definition of a “good” book group relies solely on the participants. The people at the library book club might very well have thought it was wonderful. And yes, it’s nice to see people organizing around books. But I will need to continue looking for something better suited for me. From the book clubs I’ve looked at in the area, I would say socializing is the primary need being fulfilled – lots of promises of food and fun, as if the book discussion itself is not much of an enticement. But no one has ever accused me of being too much fun.

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  12. I love the idea of a book club for writers. There must be such a thing, but I haven’t encountered it. Maybe bringing together so many introverts offers other logistical challenges. In our area, there is a large indie bookstore that coordinates the reading lists of about three dozen different book clubs. If there is a similar store in your area, they may know if there’s a book group for writers—or perhaps one that takes its charge a bit more seriously. Perhaps even checking their planned reading lists for the next few months would give you an idea of how they approach the undertaking. Last year I quit the book club I had been in for 12 years—partly because of frustrations over mediocre books, conversations that had been unsatisfying and superficial, and also because of some eye-opening political viewpoints that surfaced after Nov. 2016. I had been the group’s “resident writer,” so they always turned to me to ask questions about writing: style, POV, quality, process, etc. I really would have preferred to hear others’ thoughts about those things. I have to say I don’t miss the group at all and I’m reading considerably more books and more diverse books without having a monthly obligation of an often unexceptional book. I have a few friends—mostly distant ones—with whom I share book thoughts and reading recommendations via email, but it’s not the same—or the depth—of a good book discussion group. If you find a great solution, Michelle, please share it. There are probably lots of people eager to talk about books in ways that also help us become better and more aware writers.

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    • I hadn’t thought about the introvert aspect of things, perhaps because I’ve gotten into such a habit of forcing myself to engage. Of course that might be the reason I’m so disgruntled when I do. The book that we had to read for this month’s meeting was an outstanding book filled with so many nuances and layers that it could have led to hours of discussion. I was disappointed by its superficial treatment when anyone even talked about it directly. I suspected only about a third of the people had even finished it.

      I mentioned to a commenter above about having a hybrid group – writers that meet for book discussions and a writing component – the full monty. But I am often a little too ambitious when it comes to things like this, so I will have to do a lot of research and really think through how to execute creating a group like that, if I ultimately decide to. It could be a wonderful thing or a disaster.

      And I hadn’t even thought about how politics seems to pollute everything these days. I actually saw a book club that advertised itself as being comprised of liberal and progressive readers, which sounds easier, but I would be concerned about the echo chamber it could create and whether or not it would be inclusive of a wide range of books.

      Even as I’d searched for other book clubs to try, I also wrote the ad for a new one I could create, to post at my local writer’s center, which surprisingly, doesn’t have its own bevy of book clubs. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Donna – it’s so useful to know what other writers are doing to feed their creative life.

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  13. I joined a book group briefly enough to read a book I didn’t much like and listen to people say either “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” Then I left.

    I did know some writers who formed a book groups but wasn’t well at the time so I didn’t join and I’m not sure how it was. A writer I used to know called her book group (a different one) her eating group. So, no, my experience with book groups hasn’t been great, but one made up of writer does sound like it might at least involve some intelligent–or at least technical–discussion.

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    • Wow – I would be so irritated with quipped answers and then I’d drive everybody crazy asking them “why?” I don’t mind reading books I don’t like in the context of discussion or a class, because I have to force myself to explain why I don’t like something, which can often be more informative than a book I’d gush over.

      It does seem that many groups have an eating/boozing component that is used as a selling point. Because I’m no fun at all, all I can think is – geez, I hope they’re not spilling stuff on the books. I was probably a librarian in a former life.

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  14. I wonder if your experience with this book club is particular to this book club or whether it might be a sign of the times. The simple fact is that rules and norms are breaking down all across our society, so why not in book clubs? When I was a kid, I was in something called a Great Books Club discussion group sponsored by my school and lead by two mothers who volunteered to lead it. One of the mother’s was mine, and neither mother was much of a reader, and certainly not well-versed in “Great Books.” But I remember them both taking it seriously and doing their best to make good use of the materials provided. That said, book clubs aren’t for everyone, and maybe some of the members of yours have yet to figure that out.

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    • Since this was my first experience ever going to a book club, I don’t know if this is a widespread issue or it’s just me, not having a clue. What triggered this need to talk about books was a collection of essays by Zadie Smith. I so much enjoyed her literary criticism essays and her ability to travel through a wide range of books to compare and contrast. It really got the intellectual side of my reading brain going. So my expectations were probably a bit much for a local, public book club.

      It’s funny, I think when I was a kid I was in a lot of summer reading programs, but those were mostly contests for how many books you could read. It’s probably the first place I learned to read at a ridiculous pace and then not remember anything I’d read.

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  15. I’ve actually never been part of a book club before. I know I want to, I just don’t know where to look first or if it’d be anything at all like I’d imagine.

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    • I know that a lot of book groups just start as some friends who get together to talk books. It seems like a more organic way to start a discussion group. Except if you’re an introvert who is friends with a bunch of introverts. I think I’m also going to look into the online option mentioned by some other commenters. Maybe that would be enough to feed the need to talk books, who knows?

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      • Or people who you’re friends with that aren’t big readers. I think that’s why I’ve never been in a book club because I’m such a big introvert that I have to be comfortable around someone to talk to them. And there aren’t that many people I feel the most comfortable around. But you are right, starting a book club that involves your friends is usually the best way to go, though an online book club might not be too too bad either. Might have to consider that option myself.

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  16. I don’t know about book clubs. You could try starting a club for writers to talk about books. That way they will be more serious. Or audit a lit course where you are in on discussions but don’t have to take exams or write papers.

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    • Do you attending poetry reading or writing groups?

      I researched auditing college courses. You still have to pay tuition in most cases, so if I did that, I’d want to enroll as a student. I even thought about going back to get an MFA, just to be able to have elevated discourse about reading and writing, but that’s an expensive, time-consuming route just to be part of conversations.

      So I may be left to my own devices, which would require a lot of thoughtfulness and effort, in order to create a group like that. But it might be worth it.

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      • I wonder if you could turn a blog into a place like that. I’m not sure if it would work or not. What do you think?
        I have done a lot of writing group stuff and classes, but taking it by myself for awhile now.

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        • The idea of creating an online group is appealing until I actually think about people online. There isn’t a forum out there that doesn’t get polluted or have to be heavily moderated.

          I go through phases where I want to attempt groups, workshops, and conferences. Then I do it and I am cured for a very long time. For some people, it really enlivens them and their work. I usually feel depleted and occasionally, a little ripped off. And then I forget and do it all over again.

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  17. Michelle,
    I’ve sporadically attended book clubs and writers’ groups but didn’t last. The books chosen for the book clubs were not ones I wanted to read. Writers’ groups were dominated by ego-centric individuals, with most time spent having people read their work out loud. Critiques were polite or picky, and time limitations didn’t allow for thoughtful commentary. I’m a commitment-phobe so would need lots of incentive to attend regularly. Also, I’m not good at extemporaneous commentary and prefer time to think things over.

    I joined scribophile.com awhile back. It works on a karma point system. I liked it but haven’t gone back in a long time, so can’t speak about it now.

    Good luck in your search. I’ll be interested in what you discover. You are not alone in your frustration. (But I have to say I would not be very helpful on topics like foreshadowing and story arc.)

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    • I’ve not enjoyed writing workshops I’ve attended, so a writing group would be a tricky thing. My writing skills tend to be pretty strong, so I found myself being a proofreader for others, instead of getting help with the larger issues of voice, POV, and character development. And inevitably, there was a lot of bad writing to listen to and wade through (and always one dude writing excruciating revenge porn).

      I participated in an online writing course and there was one aspect I appreciated – we had to submit the work a week before group discussion. I think that might be a necessary component of a writing group – allowing others to see the work before meeting, hence allowing some time and thoughtfulness.

      I glanced at Scribophile last night – and will be checking it out further. I hadn’t heard of this site before, so thanks so much for mentioning it.

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      • Michelle,
        Yes, you seem well versed in the technical aspects of writing, not my strong point. I agree with submitting a week ahead. Things need to percolate with me. And, I commiserate with having to endure bad writing, and with trying to find something honest but polite to say. That is torture.

        I’m glad you liked what you saw of Scribophile. I should go back to it and maybe will soon.

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  18. “Was it me again? Were my expectations too high? Was I too intellectual, too much the four-eyed pedant that I’ve felt like much of my life?” Yes, yes and yes, and I mean all that positively. I think “book club” is primarily an excuse to socialize for many people. That said, there must be clubs out there, especially in the Twin Cities — perhaps affiliated with a university or focused narrowly on a particular writer or genre, or, as you suggest, a book club for writers — whose members would be more like you in intelligence and approach. Like others who have responded, I rarely go to a club in which I’m included here because my tastes and those of the club don’t often dovetail.

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    • There is definitely a social/food aspect advertised with a lot of the groups I could find through online sites like Meetup. As I mentioned to a commenter above, it’s a tip-off when the club’s logo is a wine glass.

      Thus far, I’ve found no evidence of a book group for writers, which seems strange. Since I read a wide range of books in all genres, I don’t mind if a book gets picked that I don’t much care for. I’m usually reading four other books, some of which I actually enjoy. It does make me somewhat indiscriminate in my reading. I would only hope that the books picked would be well-written and not a chop shop of bad grammar that makes my eyes bleed. No Cormac McCarthy for me. I actually like punctuation.

      As you say, I live in a metro area. There has to be something out there. If not, I might have to build it and see if anyone comes.

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  19. I just googled “online book club for writers” and there were quite a few hits – not specifically for writers, but worth checking out. I think online is really the best way to go – either to start your own, or to join one. Let me know if you do… 🙂

    Your experience reminds me of a writers group I used to belong to. I would spend HOURS carefully reading, editing and commenting on other members’ work. A depressingly common response? “Oh, well, I’m not too worried about grammar. I’m a writer – a story-teller. Grammar and spelling are the editor’s job.”

    And then, when my turn rolled around and I put forward the first two chapters of a novel I was working on, a couple of young men (lit students at the local community college) decided to share their input. One read the first chapter, the other read the second chapter. And, naturally, Mr. Second Chapter spent much of his critique telling me I should have provided context … which had been provided in the first chapter.

    Needless to say I got fed up. I figured the time would be better spent writing.

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    • I am going to check out some online groups. That appeals to part of me, but since I work at home, getting out of the house sometimes seems appealing. I get tired of looking at a screen. Of course other times, the thought of being around other humans makes me want to crawl into bed for a week. Is there a book group for moody buggers?

      From talking to writer friends who have been in writing groups, so much depends on guidelines and facilitation. People actually have to be trained to critique. It sounds like Scribophile, mentioned by Katherine above, might be useful. And don’t even get me started on grammar. I’ve heard that attitude before – “I’m a storyteller, leave the proofreading to someone else”. All I know, is that you have to be a genius storyteller to pull that shit and most people are not genius storytellers.

      You’re right about one thing – best not to get too distracted by outside input and better to get more writing done.

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      • Is there a writer who isn’t a moody bugger?
        I don’t think I have the energy to join a group of actual human bodies, but online might be fun, especially if we can use something like Skype, or another magic program, and actually see faces.

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  20. I had a similar experience with our library’s writers’ group. Very disappointing, lots of work on my part—not much on theirs, unhelpful critique, and blathering. I decided I was doing fine on my own.

    I hope you find what you need. Facilitating a group can be exhausting and anxiety-producing, which can ruin the whole point of it.

    I still have smart, readerly/writerly friends up there who might be interested in such a venture. I could ask if they know of any groups.

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    • That would be great, Sandy, if you could check with your friends up here. I am concerned about taking on a venture involving other humans. That’s always fraught with pitfalls and stress. I think it would have to be a small group of focused, but amiable people who want to read and write in earnest. Those kind of groups often don’t emerge out of an ad, but rather organically.

      If I want to take the long road, I could start showing up at readings and other public events in the hopes of talking to and meeting like-minded people. That’s a commitment in and of itself. Not sure if it will be a wise way to use my energy or not. Still mulling things over.

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  21. I just came across the Asymptote Book Club via Ann Morgan’s blog (Reading the World) and remembered your post, Michelle. It seems mostly concentrated on fiction, so maybe not quite your thing; also, it’s online, and I quite understand your reluctance to be in front of the screen too much (more). Still, it might tick a box for you? I’d be interested in a good online space myself so might investigate further, or jump into your when it gets started? 😉😁

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    • I read that post as well and looked up the book club. I love the idea, but I’m hesitant to use a subscription service for books. I’m already such a book junkie! Still, I’m keeping it in mind, because they have global selections I’d never run across on my own.

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  22. How come no one’s asked what the book was?
    Maybe you need to post an ad: “Looking to join a book club consisting of people who have abandoned ‘book clubs.'” The quotation marks being key.

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    • I was wondering that as well. Sometimes I’m vague to spare feelings or information that might identify exact location, if someone were feeling creepily ambitious. In this case, it was just that I wanted to focus on the book club and not necessarily the book. It was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

      I don’t know who picked the book, but I think it was done for Black History Month, so much of the book discussion focused on people’s anecdotes about race and not the actual book. That was a whole other component – that uncomfortable situation of talking about race without a single person of color in the room. And some cringe-worthy things were said. Again, that seems like a whole other blog post.

      My mini-review is that it was an outstanding book with so many layers – the writing and the writer’s choices were worthy of discussion. It felt like the book became a token, the writer dismissed, the artistry never noticed, and perhaps that’s really what I took umbrage with.

      If I were ever to have a book club, the first rule would be “Must finish book, or not brag about not finishing it.”

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      • I AGREE…I HAVE ABANDONED MY ‘BOOK CLUB’ AFTER SOME PEOPLE WERE PROUD OF NOT READING THE BOOK AND APPEARED TO ONLY BE THERE FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION. THIS, PERHAPS, IS FINE FOR SOME PEOPLE BUT WHEN ONE END OF THE TABLE OF ‘BOOK LOVERS’ PRODUCES A BOTTLE OF EXPENSIVE WINE, GLASSES ARE PRODUCED AND TOASTS MADE TO ‘FRIENDSHIP’. THE REST OF US SAT WITH BEWILDERED LOOKS ON OUR FACES.
        I AM ONLY IN A SMALL TOWN SO THERE IS NOT MUCH CHOICE RE BOOK GROUPS.
        SINCE I HAVE JUST COMPLETED MY PHD I AM DISREGARDED FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON.

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  23. I’ve been on both sides of this dilemma: I’ve been the one who thought the book club wasn’t serious enough and the one who thought the group was too serious and felt intimidated. The book clubs I’ve enjoyed most have been small and have been among friends who were moderately (but not completely) like-minded. It also helps to be loosely organized around a topic. And finally I think it’s helpful to have ground rules. So for example, start with a quick check-in to allow people to vent their first impressions and what went wrong with their day and their recent trip to Italy, and then go around the circle and give everyone a chance to speak without interruption about the book, or pass. More elaborately you could have a “talking stick,” and only the person with the stick gets to talk, but usually with adults having a rule is enough. You might check meetup.com to see if there’s a group more to your liking in your area. It’s got a wealth of groups around here, more than I can possibly check out.

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    • Part of the problem was that it was only an hour long and there 12 people there, so the time limitation and the size of the group would mean they’d have to be laser-focused and efficient. The printed discussion questions would have helped a great deal, so I was surprised they didn’t use them.
      And I could see how a too-serious group would not be enjoyable – I’ve read where book clubs become an arena for people to show how smart they are. Nobody wants that. You’re probably right – that the ones that grow organically among similarly-inclined friends are the best options. Dang, now I’ll have to go make some friends…
      I did go through the groups on meetup.com and found a lot of genre-oriented groups with socializing a rather big component. One group I contacted never responded to my inquiry, so I gave up the site at that point. Still, I’ll figure something out.

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  24. Michele has made a true and telling statement about her book club.
    I can agree with what she writes as since 10 years study as an undergrad through to PhD it is noticeable as to how much I am unkindly
    treated by by my EX-bookclub since the PhD in 2015

    Like

    • I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience with your book club. People were very polite at the book club I attended, they just weren’t focused on the book.
      I looked at your website and enjoyed reading about your background and looking at the art works.

      Like

  25. Pingback: Building an Imposter’s Life | The Green Study

  26. I was bookish from the minute I could read, and I do relate to this. I always did feel a bit out of step and isolated, and there was for sure some mocking. I like to think those poor buggers were missing out though; I got to visit a thousand worlds and know a thousand heroines and hero’s, they only had themselves. As a bookish person and aspiring writer, I also look at books as art as well and I’ve had good and bad experiences with book clubs for that reason. The best was one run by an independent publishing house, that was wonderful because they really wanted to talk about the books.

    Like

    • It is strange how reading is simultaneously isolating and connecting. I think a lot about how so many cruel and indifferent people are not readers – how it is possible to grow empathy from reading of other people’s experiences.
      Any social activity for me has to be weighed and measured in terms of benefit and cost. As an introvert, it’s exhausting to engage for any amount of time, so I need to get something out of it. The same applies for a book club.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s very profound… I feel I learned so much from reading. About the world. About people. Values. About myself. And, I hope, empathy. I was a very introverted kid, and reading made me feel I wasn’t alone. Still, to this day, when I’m having a rough time I turn back to a book. I’m sure there are cruel people who read, but I have to agree with you, reading grows people. I’m the same with social activity. I like to be social. I like to engage with people. But to a degree. I very much need time alone or I get stressed and frazzled.

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        • Of course your comment has me thinking about the fact that they should do a study of sociopaths and what their reading habits and interests are. Wouldn’t it be nice to see if science backed up the empathy issue?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting! Coincidentally, I just read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. It doesn’t cover the subject of reading and interests, per se, but it does look at the way sociopaths / psychopath’s brains work. I’m sure there are better books on the subject, more technical ones, but having read that, and our discussion… I also wonder what, if anything they read, If they do, perhaps they would just draw different conclusions than we would? Or maybe they only read non-fiction?

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        • They do! Though, imagine finding out your book had a devoted fan base of psychopaths… That would rather make you question your calling, I feel! I can’t say it made me see psychopaths everywhere either, but I did have rather an “aha” moment about certain people I’ve known… Even if you did know someone was a sociopath, I mean, what could you really do differently anyway? I thought it was an interesting book, and an interesting subject, but left rather a lot of things unanswered. I suppose it just wasn’t long enough to tie off all the threads… Have you read anything else in a similar vein?

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        • I’ve read quite a few books on narcissism. Little did I know I was preparing for the current age. Although I DID start to see everyone as being narcissistic, myself included. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a healthy ego and narcissism. Except in very obvious cases…

          Liked by 1 person

        • I think that’s true… we’re all capable of ego and pride, and it’s only in really serious cases you can clearly see narcissism

          Liked by 1 person

  27. I haven’t had good experience with book clubs. Usually, the book goes unread by some and is discussed superficially for about 10 minutes by the rest. If food is part of book club meetings, food and socializing are the focus. Last, I have limited time for reading so I really want to read what I want to read. I’d be more inclined to be a guest participant with the right people than a committed member.

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    • Sometimes I try to look at things like this as I do religion – if people enjoy it, if it makes their world better, then who am I to deride it? It just doesn’t do it for me. Perhaps there is a book club that would, but I am sometimes wary of my judgment in these things – and how I react if my expectations are not met.

      I think most people would prefer to be drop in-visitors, with a lot of latitude. That’s why an online attempt might be useful – people can pick and choose when they want to join in, with no obligation because of a social component. I’ll just have to see how it goes.

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  28. I’ve also given up on book clubs. I have plenty of time to read since my life shifted sideways after a serious car accident that’s left me in a wheelchair. Thank goodness that I was an avid reader beforehand because my life now centers around books. Like yourself, I’d like to find a group of like minded individuals to discuss novels that we choose to read/listen. I haven’t had much luck. Usually, when I contact an individual who is sponsoring the book club, I explain that I’m w/c bound and provide all the clearance measurements to ensure that I will have no problems attending. I guess individuals just don’t realize how much room a wheelchair requires to maneuver because 8/10, I make it through the front door but I’m totally embarrassed to find that they obviously didn’t pay attention to my explanation on measurements. If you can believe it, I even had a woman who was holding the book club in her ‘library’ located on a second level up 9 steps. She thought her husband and my attendant could lift me up those steps. 😱 That was my last experience at a private residence. I next tried a local library thinking the librarian would keep the group well controlled especially since we were reviewing a ‘Canada Reads’ novel. This is an eBook offered by several libraries across the country without any waiting period, and then groups get together to review the book. The book was excellent, but the group that came to the review the day I sadly attended, kept getting off topic. I felt sorry for the assistant Librarian, another reader and myself who truly wanted to discuss the book. It is not easy for me to get out of the house. It takes me 2-3 hours of preparation time, so no more wasted time at book clubs. I begged my husband to read the novel and I discussed the book with him. After buying him a Kobo, he reads more now, however, I just have to change his genre likes/dislikes 🙃. I understand all the grief that you are experiencing Michelle, trying to find a book club that wants to get together and just express their thoughts about the chosen book, without turning the entire evening into a ‘social event’ or a literature class where the group writes a critical review of the novel for their blog.(this happened🤣- I never returned). I wish you the best of luck finding a group that want to discuss a book just for the pleasure of hearing what other readers have to say about the same novel. You would think this would be a simple task….

    Like

    • You have some good arguments for not wasting time going to events that don’t serve your needs. Still, you never know these things until you try. My mother-in-law is wheelchair bound and it is surprising that there are still places with incredibly poor accommodations – like restrooms where they have a handicapped stall, but you can’t even maneuver the chair into the restroom. I’m sorry that you have such constant challenges and it is understandable why you’d be judicious in your planning.

      I started an online book club in the hopes of attracting people who had trouble finding a club to meet their needs. It’s slow going thus far, but I’m going to keep at it for a while to see if it catches on. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your experiences.

      Like

  29. Ahh that sounds really painful and frustrating!! Sorry you had to go through that! From what I saw of your updates though at least, it seems to have sparked an online club! That’s super awesome! Wishing you the best of luck! 🙂

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    • Thanks for the good wishes. Fortunately, it was one hour of my life – and not the worst meeting I’ve ever sat through (that sounds like a blog post in itself). I have to see how the online club pans out, but I’m giving it a shot.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. I can totally understand how that would be majorly frustrating!
    But I would also remind you that there is nothing wrong with the way your brain works or the discussions you crave!

    Like

  31. I’m an avid reader but I’ve never belonged to a book club. I’ve never really considered it.
    I’ve belonged to writing groups though, and even co-hosted one for a while.

    I started writing seriously when I joined my first writing class 10 years ago. Writing totally changed my perspective on reading. I get so much more out of a well-crafted novel now. It also applies to watching films.

    I suppose it’s like a lot of things, the more you know about something, the more you get out of an experience. And one of the most useful things I ever read, was by Stephen King. He permitted me to abandon a book I was reading if I wanted to. There are so many books and so little time…and that’s before you factor in the fact that you’re writing a novel now too!

    Good luck with your online club, Michelle!

    Like

    • Hi Chris. As an FYI, your comment got caught up in the Akismet spam net. I usually check that file once a week, so I’m glad I found yours and “de-spammed” it.

      You are absolutely right in that the more you know, the more you notice. I’ve followed the King policy for years now – if a book doesn’t hook me in the first 30 pages or so, or I am not enjoying the narrator’s voice, or the writing is just bad (I don’t wait 30 pages for that), I feel free to put it down. There are too many fantastic writers to read to dither about with works that don’t engage you.

      Thanks for the wishes on the book club. It’s slow going now, but I’m giving it six months to develop, before abandoning ship. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment!

      Like

  32. I love that you started the online book club! I run a book club at my work and I’ve run into a similar situation, where people are surface level or didn’t even read it. As the moderator it is so hard to not run the whole conversation with my thoughts and also get others to share. Our group can get as big at 30 people and some don’t like to speak in front of groups, so that adds a level of complication.

    Over time I’ve learned to break people into small groups, give them a question to discuss, then as a team they present it to the group with their opinions. It seems less daunting for people and it’s easier to engage.

    Keep up the good work!

    Also if you have time check out my blog. I’m still very new but can’t wait to be apart of the book community!

    – Courtney

    Like

    • Thus far, the online book club is a bit of a solo venture, but it’s a tough time of year to start something up – everybody’s wrapping up school, etc. Hopefully things will pick up. You sound like you have the knowledge borne of experience and it’s working out well. I have a some things to learn and online is a peculiar setting for a book club – you’re just never sure how it’s going to land!

      Like

  33. You’ve just stated why I quit looking for a book club. I now read with likeminded friends who want to actually READ THE DAMNED book, share quotes, insights, feelings, etc. As a writer, trying to get my first novel published, I cannot imagine going to a book club for a “reading”. I put that in quotes because it would disolve into “why did you pick THAT name/title/location” or “I hate books that [fill in the blank]” Or “could you share the recipe for gazpacho on page 94?” etc.

    GREAT POST.

    Like

    • I suppose for a lot of people, it serves a distinctly social function and there is nothing wrong with that. “Book club” can be quite misleading as a group title, though. Specificity would be useful, like “The Reading, Drinking, and Casual Chat Club”. Not particularly catchy, but certainly a tip-off that if you want a focused discussion, it might not be the place to be.
      My like-minded friends are all introverts. We try not to make eye contact and each get the heebie-jeebs at the words “group, club, crowd, social…”

      Liked by 1 person

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