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?