The Good, The Bad and the Really, Really UGLY
Thirteen years ago I walked into the public library and joined a group of women to discuss Lady Chatterley's Lover. It was a smallish group made-up of women of different ages and backgrounds. We met in the community room and we had a really good discussion. The only rule we had was, "no crosstalk." That's it, and we never had a problem. For years we met this way. The group was open to the public and although we had the occasional floater, the core group remained the same. Thinking about this now, it's amazing to me how long we went without any problems.
However, as you can imagine, problems did arise. About a year ago some of the members noted a "staleness" to the group. They felt that the discussions were not as stimulating as they once were. In part, I agreed. We had gotten comfortable with each other and the discussions were more casual than thought provoking. Additionally, our book selections for that particular year were rather dry. We took a vote and it was decided that we would advertise the group once again with the hopes of getting some new members.
Well, the plan worked. It worked too well. We ended up with 8-10 new people at every meeting. That put our total number anywhere been 18-20 members depending on the book. All of a sudden, we had different viewpoints but we also had a lot of cross-talking and side conversations which made it impossible for us to enjoy the meeting. As much as we were struggling, we muddled through it.
Then one night it all fell apart.
One of the newer members began to speak out of turn, mutter under her breath and essentially derailed any hopes of a productive discussion. It was obvious to us that this individual had "issues" as I like to call them. But what do you do when it's a public group meeting in public venue? You can't just pick-up and leave.
Here's where we went wrong:
After stalking us for several months and showing up at a private event that she was not invited to, a handful of members decided that enough was enough and (almost forcibly) asked her to leave. She continued to come to the meetings but by that point, the library had done some investigating of their own and determined that she had harassed other groups before and was even banned from other libraries! Eventually she stopped coming but the damage was done.
- We didn't come together as a group to address the problem. We actually split on how to handle the situation and this individual used this against us.
- We waited too long to address it with the library.
- We continued to treat this individual with respect up until the end and it gave her a false sense of belonging.
- We didn't have formal guidelines to fall back on.
What I have learned from this situation is that a book club is always a work in progress. It takes work and dedication and respect for others to make it a success and although we are struggling to bring it back together, it's made me aware of how important it is to do so. I can't tell you how this story is going to end but I hope that whatever happens, we are able to remember the good times because there were many.
Has your club ever dealt with an issue like this? How did your group handle it?
Ti is short for Tina, but everyone calls her Ti. Ti is a mom to two kids (three if you count her husband). She works full-time as a technical writer. Her life can be a bit hectic at times but one thing that grounds her, is reading!! She started my blog, Book Chatter back in February 2008; and she has been a member of her book club for thirteen years! She lives in sunny, Southern California and her favorite activity, besides spending time with her family, is browsing through bookstores and adding to her virtual to-read list on Goodreads.
I am so grateful to Ti for sharing her very interesting book club experience with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.