In which I’m looking for a book group

Not just any old book group, of course, or I’d have joined one by now. It’s been almost four years since I moved back to England, and I still miss my US book group. Somehow, they’re still going strong without me, and last year they generously allowed me back as an honorary member. A couple of new people have been a great addition, so it remains a group of intelligent, articulate, well read people, all of whom had read the book in question alongside thousands of others, and could contribute to a lively, informed, wide-ranging and sustained discussion. All that and good food, too. I could weep.

Because I don’t know if you have tried book groups, but I have and they aren’t all like that. They do not all do what it says on the tin. Some are more about the dining out or the getting together; most are more about the being out and having a bit of a chat, in which the book might be mentioned but is rarely the focus. Some do try to focus on the book, but discussion doesn’t get beyond the level of ‘I thought it was really good’, ‘Oh, me too’, which is enough to make anyone try to carve off their own limbs with a sharpened bookmark.

And that comment, of course, is enough to make the average book group absolutely not want me as a member. I get that. I read quite a lot, I’m bloody opinionated, I’m reasonably articulate and I think fast. I can take apart an argument in very little time, or construct a new one on the fly, just for the hell of it, and I expect people to be able to justify their responses and put them in a broader literary context. None of that means I’m right or that my views are more valid, but it does make me (mostly) unintentionally intimidating. I am definitely not the person you want in a book group if most people’s aim is to have an evening away from the kids and eat in a restaurant. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that (if I had kids I would jump at any opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge), but I can go out anytime so it’s not a big treat to me.

A big treat would be a high level, complex conversation that challenged the views I held and made me reassess my interpretation of the book, and in which there was no need to hold back for fear of accidentally scaring someone. That added layers of understanding beyond my own perceptions and made my lazy brain spark in a hundred new ways.

Is that so very much to ask?





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I've run out of books. Again.

6 thoughts on “In which I’m looking for a book group”

  1. Excellent post, Musings. It’s amazingly difficult to find a good book club. I have an elegant but simple (an probably impractical) solution – move back to the US and rejoin your old one! I am sure they would love to have you back.

  2. I always try to be “unintentionally intimidating.” It never quite works out.
    You capture the quest I feel like I’m always after: to know when conversations will change your mind about things (not just books). And it’s always a little disappointing when it fails.

  3. Wish we lived nearer because I can take a good bookish argument without getting riled as long as it’s with someone decent (read, not a guy talking out his arse).

  4. I was in a book group with a bunch of teachers. They would immediately go into classroom talk mode and the non teachers would look at each other. Funny they couldn’t see what they were doing. Now I belong to a book group run by the indie book store in our town. They pay a staff member to facilitate it. She brings chocolates and we meet in the store after hours which is very nice to wander around the shop before hand when it is closed. Discussions go for about 90 minutes and the book is truly dissected to death. Much better group. Wish you lived closer to me and you too could join in. (Tasmania though). I know exactly how you feel.

  5. It is hard, I know. Somehow, I’ve managed to belong to two good ones, even here. Have you tried any at your library? I’ve always found them to be very good, and when I lived in Stamford and worked at The Ferguson Library, we often had outside guests (authors and experts) who came to our discussions.

  6. Mr W – I like your thinking.

    Dalia – I am attending a lot of conferences and roundtables etc at the moment, and all of them are falling short of my expectations in terms of level of discussion, new thought, sparking ideas. Thank goodness I’m not paying for them.

    Jodie – from your blog, I think we could have good discussions. Men talking out of their arses (and OMG how much does that happen?) beware!

    Travelling Penguin – you’ve struck lucky! I think it has to be held in the right environment for a book group to flourish, too. Bookshops are perfect, of course.

    Emily – Alas, the literary activity happens in Oxford, and mostly at times that I can’t make. Blackwells (of course) has plenty of events, but does not host a book club. I doubted that Bicester library would have anything on offer, then doubted my own snobbery so checked. Rhymetime at 10am each weekday morning isn’t quite what I’m looking for… Libraries are struggling here, though. The government slashed the funding, in case they contributed to an educated and literate electorate, so they can barely afford their core hours, let alone evenings and events.

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