Book Club Love

by Angela Noel

September 29, 2016

I recently attended a class on unconscious bias at work. The facilitator asked participants to think about this question: When was the last time you deliberately disrupted your routine? She gave us a few minutes to share our responses with others sitting nearby. Almost immediately, I knew my reply.

Book club.

I intentionally disrupt myself in a variety of ways. I change my workout routine, seek new friends, try new restaurants, climb mountains, and learn computer code for fun. But some of my habits are harder to break than others. Though I am an avid reader, I have trouble picking up a new book. I walk the aisles of bookstores or libraries quickly becoming overwhelmed. How can I choose the perfect book to spend my time with when so many enticing choices exist?

When I do find a book I love (Jane Austen and anything with the words Harry and Potter in the title, for example), I read it over and over and over again. I open it up anywhere, to any page, in any chapter, and pour over the familiar words. Though soothing and familiar, I learn nothing new.

Dilemma: I need to learn new things in order to feel alive. 

Enter book club. Almost nine years ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of what would be an important routine-disrupter in my life. My friend Kate founded it with the intention that the members of the club actually READ the books. The original group morphed over time. Kate dropped out after she had her baby. Others had demanding schedules, moved away, or just moved on. But as one member would leave, the remaining members would invite a new friend to take her place. Thus seeding the reading pool with fresh blood and new interests.

A few years ago, this book caused a lively discussion.
A few years ago, Haruki Murakami caused a lively discussion. Talking cats proved an interesting plot point.

Every year, we pick books for the upcoming book reading cycle in an annual “business” meeting. We come prepared with two choices and an alternate. Armed with summaries and reviews, we sell the merits of our choices to the other members. A lively discussion, fueled by wine and good food, winnows the list to twelve candidates.

We seek an eclectic book list made up of various genres and tones. We look

We meet at restaurants with some connection to the book we are discussing. We met at Constantine at the Ivy Hotel, where nobles, like this guy, adorn the walls for the discussion of Whipping Boy.
We meet at restaurants with some connection to the book we are discussing. For “Whipping Boy,” we met at Constantine at the Ivy Hotel, where nobles, like this guy, adorn the walls.

for characters whose experiences vary from our own. We have read literary bestsellers, All the Lights We Cannot See and Fates and Furies. We’ve read critically acclaimed memoirs like Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for my Twelve-Year-Old Bully, and classics including Great Expectations and Dracula. This year we also enjoyed Seven Stones, a young adult novel by local author Julia Lee, published by RiverPlace Press in Brainerd, Minnesota. (Julia and her husband even drove to the city from their home a few hours south of Minneapolis to join us for food and a chat about her book.) Upcoming for discussion is another young adult narrative, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

We ask ourselves how did the book make us feel? How did the six hours (give or take) we spent engrossed in the author’s world impact our world?

When I told the three strangers gathered around my table at the training about my book club, I realized again how important my book club is to me. Not only do I truly love and respect each of the women in it, but I love that I’m not allowed to live in my routine because of them. I feel alive, in part, because of them.

Thank you current amazing book club: Lynn, Sarah, Sara, Julia, and Kelly. Thank you former and equally amazing members: Susan, Kate, Shelly, Karin, Lindsay, and Kristin.

For however long our lives touch, we will always have the shared experience of finding ourselves engulfed in story, unsure just who we might be on the other side.

Do you have a book club? How does it work? What does it mean to you?

 

Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

23 thoughts on “Book Club Love”

  1. My book club does disrupt my routine and I love it and everyone in it. This month it is Halloween and we all dress as witches. So much fun. Our host is a Halloween fanatic! We are reading a young adult book. I never read young adult…I’m liking it…makes me feel like a young adult!! I am going to suggest picking all our books for the year in one
    Meeting. I like your clubs way of choosing. We have the host for the month pick a book. Since we are 12, a restaurant would be hard but I would Like that idea also.
    I may have to disrupt the whole club!
    Thanks Angela. I am enjoying your blog!

  2. Angela, the Murakami book brings back fond memories of talking cats and Johnnie Walker! Until book club, I had no idea that my reading list was comprised only of books about New Yorkers, hoarders or New York hoarders. A big THANK YOU to you and our other club members for introducing me to new books, new genres and new friends. xo,Susan

    1. So many good books! I definitely would know less about New York if it wasn’t for you, Susan. The image of those two brothers still haunts me. . . Miss you!

  3. You’ve totally inspired me, Angela! I’ve really struggled in the past with book clubs. I like to decide spontaneously what I’m going to read next. I hated reading other people’s suggestions ha, unless on the rare occasion it was one I really wanted to read too. So anyway, I might start a book club within my blog. I’m thinking of ideas now as to how it might work. Thanks for the inspiration! I do love discussing books with people after all.

    1. Hooray! You absolutely should start a book club within your blog and I want in! I love recommendations because I’m incapable of sorting through all the good books out there. I think your friends/readers would be a great source of inspiration. Awesome idea, can’t wait to see what you do.

    1. It’s not easy! I tend to love the timeframe because then I feel accountable to prioritizing reading. There’s no shaming of anyone who fails to read the book. Occasionally, we’ve all just chucked the book because the first few pages just didn’t resonate with anyone. On those days we have a cozy chat about life and drink wine instead. My local library does a book club over the summer. It’s public so all kinds of folks read the same book and discuss. I also attended a kind of “book club” called “Books and Bars” where a local pub hosted a discussion session lubricated with beer. I sort of hated the book, but I enjoyed the discussion! Thanks for reading, Ritu!

  4. Enjoyed your post, and have enjoyed many of the same books! (All the Light We Cannot See, for example). But, though I’ve tried to join in a couple of times, actually leading a discussion on All the Light, book clubs and I just don’t seem to get along. Invariably there’s a person who just Likes To Hear Herself Talk. And I guess I chafe at the idea of reading anything at the same time as anyone else. But that’s what I like about BlogLand; room for everyone!

    1. I think so many book clubs fail when they try to be everything to everyone. Finding the right group of people with just enough structure that works but doesn’t oppress seems to work, but it isn’t easy! I agree though, blogland is perfect for sharing thoughts on books without worrying about timelines. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. I would love to join a book club but none of my friends are interested! I’ve done the online book club thing but I really want to try an in person club. What has been your favourite book from the club??

    1. I think both types can be great–though I’ve never done an online group before (thought would love to try it!) I think the relationships built through actually meeting in person have been amazing. So if you can find (or create) a book club amongst folks that live nearby it’s a worthy endeavor.
      Two books stand out to me as my favorites: ALL THE LIGHTS WE CANNOT SEE and WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson. We’ve read so many great books though! Like WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson. My friend Lynn suggested this creepy 1962 novel and I truly couldn’t get it out of my head for months. We also read THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins. Published in 1859 it was one of the first mystery genre novels. We’ve taken on non-fiction, too. Like THE BIG SHORT and IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS. We’re very eclectic in our tastes! I appreciate reading books I wouldn’t otherwise choose. But sometimes I just hate them–like THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. Couldn’t get through it, though I know others love it. We went to a fun Speakeasy to discuss that book. So, even the “bad” books still make an impression.
      If you decide to start a book club I’d love to hear how it goes!

  6. I love how your book club is structured! At our previous residence, I used to participate at the group formed through the town’s library, and even though we moved 6 years ago, I’m still in contact with many of the ladies. Because of them, I read many incredible books I wouldn’t have looked twice at otherwise (“Art of Racing in the Rain” and “The Kite Runner” are the first two that spring to mind). You’ve reminded me how much I miss those meetings.

    1. Hi Traci! OMG, THE KITE RUNNER blew me away. I didn’t read it for book club, but it rocked my world nonetheless. I think you’re right, the relationships that happen over books is special and long-lasting. The library is a great place to find like-minded folks. Right now my local library is doing a book club discussion around a book called THE LATEHOMECOMER by Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang. I’ve read another of her books THE SONG POET about her father and his journey from Laos to the US. She writes with spare beauty and I’d love to support a local author and get to know more people in my community. Meeting the author would be a bonus, too!

  7. Wow, what an inspiring would choice….disrupt oneself. Never hear it put that way before, but I like it. Too easy to sit in that rut and drop into sameness. This book club things sounds excellent. I’ve never really considered joining one myself, but maybe I am missing out with some serious disruption!

    That said, I’m with Traci; yours sounds very structured and well organised. Excellent way to meet new like minded people too. Must look into this methinks !

    1. Hi Gary! I’m glad that thought resonated with you. Tonight my husband and I are heading out to the other side of town to see a play. We live in this great artistic city but only venture out to sample the riches once a year! I felt like we were in a bit of a rut so we bought tickets to the play instead of doing the old “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” routine that sometimes takes hours to ponder and results in watching reruns of THE OFFICE. Sometimes, whether it’s book clubs or just committing to try something new, we just have to do it! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      1. Redoing this direct from here as in my reader it didn’t acknowledge it was sent, do if it repeats please accept my apologies!

        Definitely it did! Especially after last year when I did several courses and CBT to escape thinking that was stagnating me. In fact that process started to change when I started writing and January 2016 when I opened up into blogging and engaging people with the aim to build a platform and “test” my writing with total strangers. I’m with you on that “What do you want to do tonight?” thing too. Hard looking back to identify when that began happening! New things I am told drag you out of that comfort zone and start rebuilding the mojo. My current one there is finding a publisher lol

        1. They do! I think it’s standing on the edge of the cliff without falling over is the perfect spot when I think about what it means to challenge my comfort zone. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, or even different things to me depending on the day! Good luck with the publisher–I’m with you! There’s so much to this publishing journey and no one “right way.” We’re in this together. 🙂

          1. Very good analogy; the tumbling anxiety bomb so to speak. You’re right though the number and types of internal barriers are huge and never a case of one size fits all. I think the best way is to find friends in similar position and use them as a partner to find the way forwards for moral support. The publisher thing is me and stepping out of my own comfort zone. Not sure why, because throwing writing onto a blog is potentially asking for trouble. Publishers are more discreet in saying no; but then again its them that give the blasted validation it’s worth reading!! Rock…me…hard place !!

  8. I love trying new things and it’s something that I blog about. As for book clubs, I tried twice and it was not a great experience. In one, people were picking Oprah Winfrey book club items and then not reading the whole book. They were picking Nicholas Spark novels that make me shudder. The last straw in that book club was when my friend (we’re still friends today, but don’t share books) didn’t realize a character died in the book because she hated it so much, she only read every other page. I did try one more book club after that, from a yoga studio. That was even more disappointing as each person tried to prove they were more enlightened than the next. Really, we’re all yoga teachers here and you have an ego that big? I just read on my own now. Which is ok, because it allows me to follow my own path.

    1. Oh man, you haven’t had good experiences! Bummer. I definitely think finding the right book club is key. In the nine years we’ve been doing this we’ve had members leave, but then someone sort of “nominates” a new person to fill the vacancy. For whatever reason that seems to keep it going. I have participated in work-based book clubs that sort of fall apart. I noticed in those situations everyone would direct their comments to the highest ranking person in the room, instead of really getting into a healthy, authentic discussion about the book itself with an open mind. So much of a successful affinity group, whether its about books, wine, movies, music or whatever, is finding people with the right combination of open mindedness and experience. I want people who know stuff about stuff I don’t know. And I want us all to learn from each other–not even agree necessarily. It’s not an easy mix to find, for sure!
      But I think you’re right–whether you’re in a book club or just reading on your own the important part is keeping on with the journey!

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