My first introduction to book clubs was in sixth grade. A group of us were selected for the Junior Great Books program. Every Tuesday we sat in chairs in the hallway and discussed a story. Through the program I was introduced to Ray Bradbury and “All Summer in a Day”, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and many other short stories. We sat in our circle and simply talked. There were no grades, no wrong answers and no reports. I loved Junior Great books. It began and ended in sixth grade and no other English class offered the same freedom. College lit classes offered more discussion and debate, but always strongly moderated by a professor with varying degrees of student input and there were papers and grades.
Much later in my 20’s I joined my first true book club organized by a friend. It started with four women and grew to be a much larger group with both women and men – all very different, all very opinionated. Our book list was eclectic and included everything from classics to post-modern to memoirs, poems, short stories and plays. Meetings were informal with lots of food and the first hour spent socially discussing anything and everything. Book discussions were sometimes heated, sometimes hilarious, but never dull.
After a move to the burbs from the city, I sadly gave up the book club as another part of my pre-children city life. Now, thanks to my colleague Erica, I’m in a new Tutor.com book club. We meet in the conference room over brown bag lunches and since we’re trying to fit our conversation into a lunch hour there’s less chit chat and more focus on the book. I love that our group has both men and women and includes 20, 30 and 40 somethings in different stages of life. We tend to have different cultural/social reference points and bring our own sensibilities to the same text. To-date we’ve read The Hour I first Believed by Wally Lamb and discussed what it was like to be in high school during the Columbine shootings; The Autobiography of Ben Franklin spurred a conversation about today’s politicians and a lament for more renaissance men (and women) and The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates was not loved, but offered much to discuss. June’s book is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
Picking books is an ongoing debate. Should it be democratic with voting? Should someone simply choose a book for the rest of the group? What if everyone put their favorite book into a hat and we pick one each month? Poor Erica. It seems we’ve settled on a democracy of sorts where someone provides a few books and the rest of us vote over email. I’ll read anything as long as I can discuss it, not write a paper or be graded.
Most of the libraries we work with and my hometown library offer book clubs usually around a theme such as women reading women or mother/daughter clubs. If you’re thinking about starting your own book club, take a look at two recent articles in the San Fran Examiner that offer tips for getting your book club off the ground and picking books.