Thursday, 7 January 2010

BOOK GROUPS

Joined a book group this week. Not content with having several hundred (long) short stories to appraise, a novel to finish, and a whole shed-full of too-big logs to chop up before we freeze, I thought I’d risk letting someone else choose how I spend some time.

I was in one many years ago, which was much more about the quality of the wine than any literary aesthetic. Typically, we’d line up to briefly laud or chastise the book, the only person who’d bothered with a close reading would attempt a solo deconstruction, while the remainder of us got, well, sloshed. I nearly left after having to read this first up. Aggghhhhh. I think my opening comment was, ‘I’d rather eat petrol than have to read that again,’ which sort of set me up as the overly harsh critic. It got a lot better, however, and I enjoyed many a novel I’d not have gone near otherwise.

This current one looks a lot more promising, kicking off with this wonderful Marquez. My only reservation is that I’ve seen the film, which was good, but for me that’s usually the wrong way around. It’s going to happen again next week when I watch The Road having yet to get around to the book.

Anyway, I’ve promised myself to enjoy other people’s selections, whatever they may be, conducting discussions with both reverence and compassion. Unless someone tries to sneak a Dan Brown in. They wouldn’t, would they?

Anyone got good / bad experiences of such groups?

12 comments:

Julia Bohanna said...

I have to be honest; book groups leave me cold. They don't feed any sort of intellectual hunger and they invariably are shallow exercises. I have done a number of short courses in literature, run by a group called the WEA. They were chaired by a fantastic lecturer called John Still. We talked about each book in depth; he gave handouts and people could delve as deeply or as superficially as they wanted to - looking at theme, structure, meaning etc. Some people even wrote essays or thougths that they read out. There is no reason why this same template couldn't be applied to book groups, to make them less about wine and chat, more about proper literature.

To me a book group can be the equivalent of a cruise instead of proper exploration - everyone ticking off an itinerary and appearing better read in society, when in fact they are not. Not really.

Oh dear, I sound like a snob but sod it, when it comes to books - I am one! I am also tired of the books chosen being the 'one of the moment' or a prize-grabbing bestseller. More classics please as well.......

Julia Bohanna said...

Thougths of course is an anagram of thoughts. Ahem.

Donna Hosie said...

I find online book clubs far more satisfactory than "real life" ones because the discussions tend to be more book related and succinct. I have also found that when you get a group of people in a room, the wine tends to be the priority!

Paul Lamb said...

I've had wonderful experiences with book discussion groups; I think they've made me a better writer because I've seen deeper into book and so learn how I might delve deeper in the creation of my own. Of course the good ones are lead by a committed facilitator who brings his/her own strengths and knowledge to the interpretation. I tend to enjoy best the groups that leave me feeling like I'm the stupidest person in the room (not too hard) because they all have insights that I never guessed when I read the very same novel. We did have some wine when we discussed Moby Dick but that was more for novelty than sociability.

JJ Beattie said...

I think it's about fit. The fit of the people, the kind of books they choose and their intentions at the meeting.

I've been a member of two book clubs. At the first one, my attendance lasted a few months because they really wanted a wine fest and to trump each other's food. I also hated several of their choices - not because I didn't like the book but because, really, who'd choose Jane Green for a book group to read?

The other one I've been a member of for nearly years and I completely love it. I don't always like the books but that's okay and part of what you expect. But I've discovered books that I loved; books that I would never have picked up without being 'told to'.

Elizabeth Baines said...

I love my book group. Of course there are certain irritations, but on the whole I find it a great insight in to how people read and what they read for, which is a great thing to keep in mind as a writer.

Paul Lamb said...

You really should read The Road before you see the film. It's a short read, and you should come to such a story as pure as you can, without someone else's vision already in your head.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Some interesting comments, thanks all.

And yes, Paul, that's me told. Will read it first.

Douglas Bruton said...

Tom, read The Road first... it is a brilliant and swift read. I couldn't put it down. Really, you should not put off reading this book. I am hopeful that the film will be great in its own right, but this is a book that figures in my top 100 for the decade just past.

D

Fiona Joseph said...

Hi, I just wanted to second (third) what others have said about The Road. It's easily the bleakest and one of the most technically brilliant books I've ever read. It will make you want to grab your loved ones and hold them extra close for a while.
Happy(!) reading and congratulations on your shortlisting too. Well done.

Bill Kirton said...

Hi Tom. I'm visiting from Nicola's party. Just two things to say about book groups, both positive. Anything that encourages people to read has to be good and my experience was that it made me read stuff I might have missed (or promised myself to read at some point while knowing I probably wouldn't). The second point is that, with a good group you actually do get even more out of a book than on a 'private' reading.

arlee bird said...

I have never been part of a book group but I'd like to. Even if it was just for the wine, that would be fine with me as long as I could walk home. Problem is that where I live is blue collar 95% hispanic so don't think I'll find it here.

Loved THE ROAD. It was a very unique reading experience for me and it does read very fast. Haven't seen the movie yet, but I hope it is as faithful to the book as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was.

Found you at Nicola's party.

Lee
http://tossingitout.blogspot.com/