Book Clubs: A Three-Act Blog

by Jessica Mifsud

Published at 2013-02-22

Act One – A Booklover’s Quest for Satisfaction
Around the time I finished my English degree, I began to realize that unless you’re connected to Twitter or Goodreads every second of the day (I’m not), you might have difficulty finding Real Book Lovers to talk about Book Things with. After all, unless you’re the person who manages Random House’s Facebook page, posting a cover image of your current read as your Facebook status and typing “OMG BOOKS!” will generally only net you a smattering of “likes” at best, much less a formal discussion of unreliable narrators.
What’s a lonesome book lover to do? In this case, I took matters into my own hands, and started a book club with a needlessly complicated name that I won’t mention here. I gathered together a dozen friends and acquaintances who I knew were at least literate, and cajoled them into coming over once a month with promises of pizza and homemade cookies. Though the club ran for a year, this strategy worked for about four months. Then the arguments began.
Act Two – In Which Things Fall Apart
As Leader, it was my responsibility to make sure we had a new book to discuss every month that at least half the club hadn’t already read. For me, who finds reading the back of a cereal box fun, this was easy. But the problem with people is that they’re unique. Telling my friends “Oh yeah, we’re going to read sci-fi and fantasy novels together” was fine, until we learned that Henry* only ever reads Fantasy books, and any book containing an engine or a process that is not powered by magic is dubious at best. Or that James* will only tolerate science fiction, being something of a scientist himself, and made-up things that don’t conform to the Laws of Thermodynamics better be chemically induced hallucinations or else the book just isn’t worth reading.
I sat on the fence and tried to play the mediator, attempting to convince my friends that Neil Stephenson’s 900-page Anathem was really worth the slog, or that Gene Wolfe’s An Evil Guest may have been an homage and not poorly written pulp, but to little avail. When our monthly meetings stopped being about the joy of reading, and instead turned into pitched debates between Camp Magic and Camp Science even though half the crowd hadn’t even finished the book, I decided it was time to call it quits.
Act Three – A New Hope
I stewed over the dissolution of the book club for a while, wracking my brains to figure out what could be done differently, how to get people to be talk things out even if they didn’t agree with each other, and debating finding new friends. Eventually, deprived (and possibly maddened by the absence) of people to talk to, I struck on a solution that seemed to fix all of my problems. I cast my social nets a little wider, disposed of the usual “everyone reads the same book” concept that most book clubs use, invited everyone to the pub, and called it Books and Drinks.
Now, instead of people being forced to read books they don’t like, everyone just keeps reading things they’re already into. Everyone gets a chance to extol the virtues of their read to everyone else, and we encourage bringing a copy of something you’ve finished recently to lend out. Our meetings now consist of more generalized literature chat, which is fine, since it means no one is being force-fed Alice Munro against their will. But it does produce conversations like “HOW have you not read the first Lord of the Rings book?!” And meeting in the pub means if you don’t like where the talk is going … you can take a break and order another drink.
It’s been working pretty well so far! Attendance has been steady and I don’t have to clean up the house afterwards. My only concern is that we’re nearing our four-month anniversary.… At least now, if an argument breaks out, I can diffuse the situation with a swift order of nachos! Everyone can agree on nachos … right?
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.