You Mean You Can Eat & Read & Talk About Books!
Or, My First Book Club
Or, My First Book Club
Growing up I never wanted to be in a book club (today I'm in 4!) but that's only because I don't think I had any real concept of such a thing existing. I always loved reading books as a child, but it never occurred to me that people would gather for the sole purpose of discussing books. Ironically, now that I think about it, the first that I heard of a book clubs was probably through reading, but don’t ask me which book. As much as I search for that final connection I can’t say what definitively put book clubs on my radar.
Since I graduated college, I’ve always had a book club of sorts with my mother. I would read things and then make her read them and then we would talk about what we had read. We both share a love for intricate stories with complex characters, and we both love having the perspectives of different characters to examine and learn from. We enjoyed discussing The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand; Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende; The House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III; and before audio books became the thing we took turns reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens to each other. Sadly, much as I enjoy reading about Dickens, ‘til this day I still have not finished that book. I was usually the one making recommendations (and I still do!), because I always had my head in a book, no matter how short or long my commute. My poor mom, she can’t keep up with me- so I started looking for other people to force ask to talk with me about books.
In later years I worked in magazine publishing, and found a few fellow readers, and (bonus!) I had access to review copies that had been sent to the different publications for review. A lot were health, exercise, and weight loss books along with some, usually dry, business titles- due to the nature of the magazines that we published, but occasionally there would be some fiction and non-fiction books that would be of interest to me. This is how I first heard of Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife. It was my first foray into advance reading copies and the world of Pride & Prejudice sequels. Who knew that so many people were writing about the lives of Darcy and Elizabeth after they got married?
At the publishing company, a co-worker of mine would regularly circulate copies of books that he had been reading for others to enjoy. That’s how I got to read The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, a book that I’m not sure I would have read on my own and had managed not to hear about even though I was informed that it had “sold as many copies as The Bible”. Another co-worker was actually in a book club and we chatted about starting one at work, but sadly it just never happened.
By this time I had become brainwashed enamored from books, movies and friends by the idea of sitting around over some good food and wine and talking about books. Talk about combining a few of my favorite things! Does life get any better? I thought it would be easy to start one. I had friends…we read books. Easy peasy, right? Let’s get together and do it! The reality turned out to not be as simple. Conflicting job schedules, book preferences and extra-curricular activities made it difficult to decide on absolutely anything. We couldn’t come up with a common time, types of books we wanted to read, or whether we should host at each other’s homes (space is a big issue in NYC) or meet at a local bar or restaurant. I tried out a book club run by a local women’s group, but with a large membership (over 1,000 women) it turned out to be a little less intimate than I would have liked. It was different women all the time and the book selections varied wildly from month to month.
I ended up turning to good ‘ole Craigslist for help. I don’t have the original ad that I ran, but here are a few of the responses I received from people who ultimately didn’t stick with the group.
I am very interested in your Book Club. I am a mid-twenty something professional female, living on the Upper East Side. I am originally from Michigan, and just moved here last summer for a job opportunity.
I am interested in reading I am Charlotte Simmons, London Bridges, Witness for the Prosecution (of Scott Peterson). I am currently reading the "Georgetown Women's Social Club". I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction (not sure if this is strictly for fiction reading, which would be fine as well). In the past, I have only read for enjoyment purposes. I have never been involved in a book club before, but this sounds like a great way to meet people and have interesting discussions.
Please let me know if you have room for another young female reader in your group.
Hello. I'm interested in joining the book club you posted about in CL. Some books I would like to read that come to mind right now are Of Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and books by Leo Tolstosy [sic]. This will be the first book club I've been in, I look forward to some interesting discussions. I would appreciate if you let me know the exact time and location. I hope to hear from you soon.
I was thrilled to hear from people who, Angels and Demons aside, wanted to meet and talk about books! I think that I must have had a pretty detailed ad because, from my previous experiences with friends, I knew that if I didn’t put forth a coherent vision, I would have the same results as before. I started with a big group, and to begin with we met at coffee shops around the city. I knew that some people would drop out and I wanted to weed out any problem children before I started inviting people into my home! I think the original number was 13 and we ended up with a cozy 6. We lost the one male we had managed to snag after a particularly heated discussion on rape in Montana 1948, by Larry Watson. Poor guy, he had chosen the book. Unfortunately people can get offended or uncomfortable if their book choice comes under fire- especially when you don’t know each other that well. At that point we hadn’t bonded enough (or at least not with him) to withstand such a fiery discussion. Book choices can be such a personal thing.
After the group dwindled down to about 8 regulars (that took about 3-4 months), we were ready, and a small enough group, to meet in one another’s homes. Yay! I was so excited to not have to try to find venues that were quiet enough, with enough space, that weren’t too expensive, that didn’t mind us monopolizing the place for hours. With a regular group, and smaller group, we were finally able to start getting to know each other- and that my friends is where the fun starts, and where managing the book club gets a little tricky. Book club got to be an experience. We knew a little of each other’s lives, we had met up outside of book club and genuinely liked each other and had found some things in common. We were having interesting discussions, but not always about the book, and not all of us were managing read the book! (My approach to this was to schedule some alternate times for us to hang out so that when we saw each other we were interested in more than playing catch up after not seeing each other for a couple of weeks or month.) I couldn’t have asked for more from my book club and was so happy to have met such a wonderful bunch of women, some of whom have become close personal friends.
My book club has been going for 4+ years now. It has a special place in my heart because I had the nerve to invite strangers into my home, month after month, and through the power and the love of books made good friends. Finding the time to join a book club as a member, and especially as a facilitator can be a tough proposition. There are always competing demands of time, scheduling issues, changes in membership and sometimes personality clashes, but the book club that I started taught me to step outside of myself, to take chances- and has been among the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had in my life as of writing this post.
Nicole is the author of book review blog - Linus's Blanket, lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is a known and documented addict- addictions being food, books, wine, and bocce. Mostly in that order. She has been trying to form a book club with her cats for several years- thus far the cats don’t appear to be interested. This is her first guest post ever, be nice.
I am so grateful to Nicole for sharing some of her book club experiences with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.