I have a love/hate relationship with book clubs. I’ve been in a few. I helped create one. They’re awesome and awful all at the same time for me.
My first book club was started at a library I worked at for a brief time. I joined partially because I was trying to help bump the numbers and also because I really was interested. The first book was…actually I don’t remember. What I do remember is that it devolved pretty quickly for me. For Halloween they picked a spooky book, which turned out to be the fourth book in a series that only one person had read. Which is a horrible choice for a book club. There was way too much backstory that we weren’t getting. (Note: It was Still Life With Crows by Preston Child.) The majority of the actual meeting was him telling us what we had missed. After that, I don’t remember every book except it started to feel like we were only reading that guy’s favorite books and suggesting new books was pretty much not allowed. The good news was I ended up quitting the job (for a completely different reason) which made backing out easier. Also the book club met in the library and had several library staff as members which apparently the librarian didn’t like so meetings tended to be a bit edgy and not fun. The librarian was one of the evil sort that didn’t like FUN at all.
The other big book club was the one I helped to create. It was a classics book club. We started out on Facebook because as founders, myself and the other lady involved, we’d just moved to new, separate cities. So we started getting members the old fashioned way…harassing our friends and family. That started okay. Except as Zuckerberg is currently finding out, Facebook sucks for book club discussions. So we moved our happy butts to Goodreads. All was going pretty well. We were fine tuning things. It was manageable…until Goodreads featured us as a book group. Suddenly in something like a week we’d gone from maybe 50 people to over 1000. And it just grew. So did the expectations and the pressure. Now people were wanting us to do our choices a different way, or debate what a “classic” was (if I never have to have that debate again, it will be too soon). We had at our peak around 3000 members, but only maybe 100 were participating. If I could do it over, I think I’d have to have a mandatory participation clause, maybe. I got overwhelmed and honestly, a bit bored. For a year it seemed all people were voting on were dystopian sci-fi. Woman cannot live on dead white guys alone (because they almost always were dead white guys). And oh my gods, the snobbery. The people who wanted to look down on the rest because they weren’t getting the metaphors or allegories. I stepped down as a mod and lurked a bit out of habit, then quietly left.
Recently I found myself in another book club. This one is science fiction and fantasy written by self identified ladies. This is pretty exciting to me. For one, I’m not running it so I can sit back and enjoy. Two, I’ve been needing a group to get out and talk to. Due to my introvert nature, I tend to be a homebody. Books are pretty much the only way to convince me to get out. Three, reading books by diverse authors is something I’m trying to get better at. Also I don’t have a great background in science fiction/fantasy so I’m looking to broaden my horizons there too. Our first book was my first Octavia Butler which was exciting. We read Parable of the Sower and even though I had a prior engagement so I couldn’t go to the meeting, I read the book. And the next one. I also bought Kindred. Our next book is Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. Another first for me.
I have concerns. I tend to get antsy about books that I’m supposed to read. Even books that I set up for myself. Why is that? I freaking don’t know. Flashbacks from high school? Also I worry about my social anxiety. I worry (see what I did there?) that I’ll worry too much and talk myself out of going. I get stressed out that I won’t “get” the metaphors and then feel too dumb to participate.
I’d like to also find/create a book group where books aren’t assigned. Where we get together x amount of times a month and just sit around drinking wine/beer/coffee and talk about all the books we’ve read since the last time we met and about the ones we want to read. Maybe set up some little buddy reads, but nothing formal. I might do this. I might already have, but with comics. Along with two other ladies, we informally decided to get together and trade the comics we own and chat about them. I’m sure regular books will get added to the conversation. When have I not used an opportunity to talk about books?
How do you feel about book clubs? Are you in one?