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Book Clubs Are for More Than Books

When was the last time your book club discussed a book? If it’s anything like mine, discussing the book takes a backseat to socializing.

When was the last time your book club discussed a book? If it’s anything like mine, discussing the book takes a backseat to socializing. My book club comprises my oldest friends. It is older than my marriage. The original, core group of members were girlfriends who worked for the same company and knew everything there was to know about one another. When we convened for book club we didn’t need to spend any time catching up; we could focus on the book. And in the beginning we read serious literature like Of Human Bondage and Sons and Lovers. We were still relatively new when we decided to include our significant others, inviting them to join us for a discussion of Our Man in Havana, a book deemed light enough for them to enjoy. The men never left, and the book choices were wide and varied. 

Over time we created an algorithm for who would choose the next book. The variables included who hosted last, who chose the last book, and whose house we were going to next. It ends up being rather complicated (I blame the math majors among us) and we spend a few minutes at each meeting reviewing how that works. We also created a mnemonic to help us remember whose house we would meet at next. It would work, too, if we could remember what it was. 

We’ve read a lot of wonderful books. I’ve bought each one, filling several bookshelves. There were also some memorable disappointments. No one made it through Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, and we still laugh about how painful The Master of Ballantrae was. We used to work hard to find books that no one had read. A few years ago we decided it might not be a bad idea if someone had read the book that was being suggested. That way we could assert some form of quality control. 

If life had stayed the way it was in those early days, we’d probably still be diligently discussing books, but that’s not the way life works. The group has had marriages and children, a divorce and illnesses. The company we once worked for doesn’t exist anymore and none of us has worked with another for many years. We try to meet every two months, but it probably averages out to more like three or four. We use the time to catch up; a lot can happen in three months. We spend a weekend in the fall at my family’s house in Vermont. A lot of visiting gets done around the fireplace with a few bottles of wine when no one has to drive anywhere. And there’s an annual pilgrimage to another family’s home on the beach in Gloucester. We talk about having book club in Tuscany, but haven’t yet. No one is ruling it out though. Maybe when all the kids are out of college. 

When I suggest that my husband read the book for the next meeting, he scoffs that it’s not a book club; it’s a social club. But he’s wrong. There are always a few people who have actually read the book, and however anemic, there is time spent discussing it. A good book club is about more than books. It’s about the great stories we all have to tell. 

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Judy Mintz February 28, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Thank you!
Susanne Sullivan March 04, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Some of us would be truly bereft without our trusty book groups! I hope everyone is aware public libraries always have book discussion groups: start there if you haven't got a neighborhood group handy (or even if you do!)
Janet Beyer March 04, 2013 at 10:35 PM
I love my book club. We have been meeting for about 15 years. As guidelines: fiction and dead authors. We read the books we were too young to read when we read them. The hostess chooses the book, but usually has two to recommend. We also read (see above) Angle of Repose, last month Anna Karenina, and this month: Frankenstein.
Tina Stewart March 05, 2013 at 03:17 PM
All book club members and avid readers should mark their calendars for Wednesday April 3, 7 pm for "Book Talkin' with Eileen MacDougall at the Wilmington Memorial Library. Eileen will inspire you with lively descriptions of several good books. Enjoy the opportunity to share your latest reads. Register on the library's website for this event or call 978-658-2967.
BookOasis March 29, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Reading Library has a couple great book clubs. I think they post their lists on their website. We often take their recommendations as good selections for the store.

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