Book clubs: the good, the bad, and the ugly

In a perfect world my book club reads fascinating contemporary works (but never the best sellers) with a few classics thrown in to make sure we’re well-rounded and culturally literate. Leaders rotate–everyone takes a turn–and prepare diligently: a review shared, a YouTube video discovered, an NPR interview served up. We are astute. Serious. Profound, even.

But in real life … not so much. (And this is one of those timea when reality trumps fantasy.)

The only book club I’ve been part of is one I was asked to organize several years ago for some teaching friends I work with. We set some ground rules (if you don’t read, you don’t share; everyone takes a turn leading; we agree on books together) and met once a month, give or take. We called ourselves Chicks on Books, maybe because it sounded snappy?! Here are the books we read over the year-and-a-half we were together:
+ Columbine by David Cullen
+ Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
+ Full Dark No Stars by Steven King
+ Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler
+ The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
+ Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhonda Jansen
The Immortal Life of Harriet Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

book clubsHeavy on non-fiction, but that was fine by me–I need encouragement to read something other than fiction. The books sparked wonderful conversation, of course. As you can probably guess, teachers can talk about Columbine for days. Add a book to the mix and we’re set. And we deal almost daily with helicopter moms which are a subcategory of Tiger Mothers, after all. The author of Mennonite is a professor at a private college in our back yard, and so we were able to hear her speak at a local library branch. (Always, always go hear the author speak when you have the chance.) And more than a few of us had families who put the “fun” in dysfunctional (Not!) so between our own childhoods and those of our students, we had more than enough fuel to discuss The Glass Castle.

And like many book clubs, our was not averse to adding a little vino into the mix. Conversation was never an issue–in fact, we had to exercise self-discipline to ensure we talked about the book for at least forty-five minutes so we didn’t talk shop. Our tangents were wonderful, though. Just what I encourage my own students to be open to–reading isn’t about plot lines, conflict, and metaphor; it’s about letting a work touch our souls and inspire us.

So why was our little book club so short-lived? (I’ve heard of some book clubs that go on for decades …) I’m not sure. Some of it was family–half the members had young children. Some of it was plain ol’ time–during the school year we teachers find it difficult to do much more than eat, sleep, grade, repeat. When we first skipped a month, a couple members asked me, “When are we going to meet again?” And my reply would be, “Whenever someone organizes it!” I didn’t want to be the one to run the show and thought if the group was meaningful, someone would keep it going.

But after another missed month, the idea of planning book club again slowly fizzled out–kind of like a book whose pages we stop turning because it’s just not engaging. Or because it’s not what we expected? Or maybe we just got too busy and put it aside. Maybe I should be grateful that we got several chapters in.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up the book club again someday and give it another go.

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here:



    • Laurie says

      We did a mix ‘n match, Laurie adn you’re right–I don’t think most book clubs spend much time with non-fiction. But it was great! Interestingly, many of my high school students (especially those who AREN’T readers) like non-fiction better than fiction.

  1.' says

    Same! In my last group, attendance got spottier and spottier until I quit organizing. Then all I heard was “When are we meeting again?” I get that life is busy, though. You had some interesting reads in the list you covered!

    • Laurie says

      That’s the thing–they were great reads and fit the group so well! I loved the suggestions and read titles I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  2.' says

    I was a little alarmed I haven’t read any of these until I realized your non-fiction focus. If anything, I can imagine that leads to a more impassioned discussion than fiction. As for the group fizzling out… at least you had some terrific reading experiences. And you’re right, it can always revive if circumstances and motivations change.

  3.' says

    I guess the timing is just what it is. Maybe there will be another book club in your future, maybe not? We don’t do a lot of non-fiction in my book club, but I do like that they make me read outside my ‘comfort zone’.

  4.' says

    You covered a lot of ground with those eight books. Great titles! I’m sure the conversation was rich. Perhaps call the group back together for one more book? See who might be interested in starting back up now that the little ones are a little bit older? Or maybe launch another book group based around your interests (i.e. all women’s fiction titles or all non-fiction titles, etc.)?

    I’m in two book groups and I find the book group that meets on a set night of the month gets more read in a year. The other book group is smaller and shifts the dates a bit which can be tricky some times.

  5.' says

    I’d consider this an accomplishment, Laurie. You put a club together, it ran for a year, and sounds like everyone had an amazing time. Maybe your club provided what was needed for that period of time. And you never know what gap the material read filled that spurred others on to other research or challenged their ideas or another course in life. CONGRATS!

  6.' says

    Wow! That’s quite a list 🙂 It’s true that it’s hard to stick to things like book clubs these days – there’s always so much going on in everyone’s lives that’s it seems harder and harder to fit it all in. It’s wonderful that you got to do it for a while at least.

    • Laurie says

      I’ll tell you if I start one up again, Suzanne! 😉 Thanks for stopping by–isn’t the Road Trip great?! I’ve visited more blogs than I did during the Challenge 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.