The Beauty of Book Clubs

April 11, 2013

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I once went to a book club where they couldn’t wait for me to stop talking: they just wanted to get to the food (it was an Indian-themed soiree).

Despite my increasingly waning efforts to stimulate discussion, the group collectively took an immense interest in the ceiling’s grooves and paintjob.

The host, polite and apologetic, asked me to stay for dinner. I was mortified – as most are –at having failed at the job I was hired to do. Not wanting to appear rude, I heaped a mix of dishes on my plate and sat there, swimming in self-pity. 

Slowly, once the food (and wine) started flowing, the questions and comments spilled forth. With every bite, the group energized itself and started discussing Jumpa Lahiri’s wonderful novel, The Namesake.

One woman brought up her idea regarding the imagery in the novel (one none of us had picked up on).

They were leading the discussion and they were having a damn good time exchanging personal connections, ideas, and more.

The opinions flowed and they carefully listened to each other as I sat back and thought about how – although I hadn’t helped them facilitate their discussion – I was thoroughly enjoying myself. It didn’t matter how we got to that point – the beauty was that we did at all.

The art of conversation is one of the most fulfilling components of my life. I love nothing more than getting together with friends or family, or strangers, where a fruitful, solid discussion takes place, leaping and bounding all over the place.

A good conversation over books and what they provoke – or don’t – within each of us, makes for an especially rich conversation – however long it takes to get there – as seen in the aforementioned example.

Book clubs are a great way to gather around a common experience, and discuss its success – or lack thereof.

I’ve led book clubs with an enormous amount of rules (you miss one and you’re outta there), with no rules (people came when they wanted to); book clubs that are strictly historical, strictly fiction, strictly classic; book clubs that require a different genre be studied every month. Book clubs with no food, book clubs with heaps of food, book clubs with no interest in discussing the book and book clubs that need to be closed down by midnight.

One thing these all have in common – however serious or casual – is the arena they provide for discussing a specific work of literature with a group of people with different experiences to bring to the art of conversation.

Much like a classroom, a book club (or, Book Talks, as we like to call it in my school) – needs to incorporate different personalities and tolerate different opinions.

I’ve seen friends who’ve never read become the dominant ‘quote-givers’ and watched as shy people become comfortable introducing their opinion after having been silent for months.

Book clubs are a great way to meet new people, to discover people you already know, and to understand why you probably wouldn’t make a play date (either for yourself or your child) with a specific personality type.

I guarantee you – no matter how long it takes to get rolling – it will provide you with a sense of connection and meaning from which you will walk away enriched.

I hope you use the list below as a starting-off point for your own book club and please feel free to email me with any advice.

Please join in the conversation below should you have additional comments.

The Book Dumpling’s How-To-Book-Club List

  • Just read a book and discuss the ideas / opinions / thoughts it provoked with some people at someone’s house or at a café or restaurant: it’s that simple.
  • Advertise your book club with people whose presence (never mind the opinions), you like to bask in.
  • Try to allow each member to recommend or pick a book at one point.
  • Highlight interesting passages: that’s it. Conversation has a way of starting by reading out parts of the book that spoke to you. Chances are the same passages did (or didn’t) speak to someone else: either way, there is talk to be had.
  • Come with some questions about parts of the book you didn’t understand.
  • Try to pick the three upcoming titles (along with dates) and encourage people to give notice if they cannot make it. Even if you keep changing the titles (as long as no one ordered them), this will give your club a sense of organization.
  • Come with some related articles by using good ol’ Google
  • Listen to some podcasts before and jot down some ideas related to the book or author
  • Rent a movie or go to a movie together related to the book (a documentary, an adaptation)
  • Try to let people finish their sentences: seems like it would be a given but it’s not. Make sure everyone feels heard.
  • Have fun.
  • Try to spend at least ten minutes discussing the book if you’re worried about how much time to designate. Chances are, you’ll go over.

And, if you’re of age – bring the wine and let the discussion take its natural course.

Happy reading! 

Comments

  1. Wow! I am truly amazed. Miss Borod, you may think I am joking, as I most often do, but I am being completely serious. I am very impressed with all of the work you have done to make this website a success. Your devoted time has really paid off. This website is remarkably helpful and informative. I will be sure to show it to my whole family and all of my friends. As I have already told you, my grandmother is an intense reader and she would love a site like this that is so descriptive. Good for you Miss Borod, the best has yet to come!
    Corey

  2. Hello Ms. Borod, I am dumbfounded by the incredible website, which you have created. The Book Dumpling is by far the most helpful site I have encountered throughout my years as an avid reader. The summaries, which you have written are concise and very accurate. You touch upon every part of each book. The amount of time that you have put into this project shows how devoted you are and how you have a knack for helping others. I can now enjoy reading to the fullest extent thanks to you. I hope you have come to an equilibrium with nature and are now one step closer on your path towards enlightenment.

    Your student,
    Harrison.

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