Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Clubs

“And we talk about the chosen book for a few obligatory minutes before we move on to the part of the club I think most of us really look forward to, which is not talking about the book.” – Adam Sternbergh

I’m all in favor of book clubs, especially if they’re discussing my book. If asked, I’d even be happy to be a guest at such meetings. However, I have never belonged to a book club. I tell myself and those who have asked me to join one that it’s a time issue.

After reading, “Between the Sheets, Why you should resist the lure of book clubs,” by Adam Sternbergh at, I’m thinking the time factor may not be my only reason for not participating in one of these groups; an intimacy issue may enter into the equation as well.

Mr. Sternbergh starts off by saying:
"Reading is arguably the second-most intimate human activity, and, as with the first-most intimate human activity, there are people who will try to convince you that it’s better done in groups. These groups are called book clubs. I am in one. Maybe you are, too. If so, here’s why we’ve both made a terrible mistake."

He writes about the good side of clubs:
"In theory, there’s much to recommend book clubs. They encourage reading. They enrich authors who, as you may have heard, are not particularly in the business of being enriched these days. They spur socializing, usually face to face, another valuable and endangered activity. Public book clubs — most notably Oprah’s, or CBC’s Canada Reads — have become an essential economic engine for the publishing industry. And the book club remains appealing to anyone who, like me, romanticizes long arguments over sonnets in smoky coffee houses, or who occasionally longs for the womb of the lecture hall — where, as eager students, we were convinced that each new unread novel held the power to shape our lives."

Then he goes on to say:
"…But to suggest that the experience of reading The House of Mirth (a recent well-received selection by my own book club) is intrinsically enhanced by subsequently talking about reading The House of Mirth is to imply that reading The House of Mirth is an experience that can be, and needs to be, enhanced. And I think most anyone who’s ever read a book and loved it understands that’s simply not true. If you read Moby Dick while sailing the world alone, you would not enjoy it less. In fact, I think you’d enjoy it more."

He ends on this note, after comparing reading to a sexual type experience.
"And, as we all learn eventually, certain experiences are better when you don’t go blabbing about them afterward. Was it good for you? Then that should be more than enough."

I couldn’t agree with him more.

This is a funny, well-written
article and I’d recommend reading the entire piece if you have the time.

Do you belong to book clubs? Do book discussions add to your enjoyment of reading?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Adam Sternbergh, Book Clubs, Walrus Magazine, House of Mirth, Moby Dick, Oprah, Canada Reads,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

VERY interesting article.

I've spoken to book clubs, poked fun at book clubs (my recent release), but finally joined my first book club last month at the urging of my friends.

I like choosing my own books to read. I don't like socializing. I'm introverted. So...what am I doing in a book club?!

I'm hoping to get some reader perspectives on different books and am curious to see if that will help me with making my writing more appealing. I'm also interested in reading some books that I wouldn't ordinarily pick up ("Those That Save Us," which is this month's selection.)

I'll let you know how it goes!

Mystery Writing is Murder

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never been in a book club either. To me, it would feel like school - read this chapter, discuss, and write a report. No thanks!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I tweeted this one, Jane! Just to let you know in case a bunch of book clubbers join in the discussion on your site! :)


Vannie Ryanes said...

A book club is more than reading an "assigned" book. These clubs are also about socializing. I think they are great if you have the right mix of people. I don't see much difference between a formal book club discussion and discussing a book in common with friend or a few friends while lunching. It is simply another way of having a girls (or boys) night out.

Joanne said...

I haven't belonged to a book club, but can see that there is a great social aspect to them as well as the reading/books. Often my daughters and I will read the same book, and talk about it, rate it, that sort of thing. But that's as close as I've come to a "club!"

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Do keep me posted on your experience, Elizabeth. And, thanks for the retweet.

It's true, Diane, that assigned reading could feel like a school project.

Vannie, I can see the socializing aspect. I wonder though how much of the night out is actually spent talking about the book.

Joanne, I can see how discussing the same book with your daughters would be a type of book club. That means I also belong to one because I do discuss books with my daughter and sister. I just never looked at it that way before!

Karen Walker said...

I've never belonged to a book club and don't think I will. I don't like being told what to do, either. I like choosing what I read. But sometimes I read something and want to discuss it with someone and no one else has read it. Ah, but I can live with that.

cereus1 said...

For a number of years, I belonged to a book club in my neighborhood. The good aspects: socializing with neighbors; the food (we had a potluck dinner based on the setting of the book); the interesting book choices which caused me to read books I might not have otherwise chosen or known about. The bad (or not quite so good)aspects: the gossip; the lack of any real discussion of the book; the politics (both within the club and the nation - the discussions frequently turned to our collective disgust with the Bush administration). None of these things were so bad in themselves, but certainly didn't lend to the book experience. Over the years, the character of the group changed from mostly women, to all couples. It finally all got too tiresome and I gradually quit going. I've never been tempted to join another book club.

Helen Ginger said...

I've never belonged to a book club, although I know they are quite popular. I think I've not joined one because I tend to read for pleasure. I rarely stop as I read to analyze the writing or the emotions or the validity of the research. I read to enjoy then I move on to the next one.

Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

No - and now I know why! Thanks for the fun read.

Anonymous said...

I don't belong to a book club. I'm pretty busy and have to be selective about what I can and cannot be involved with. Case in point: I'm doing the Nanowrimo thing for November. Talk about making a msot committment. Have a great week.

Stephen Tremp

The Old Silly said...

You I never have belonged to a book club. I've had informal book discussion groups that just happen spontaneously but never the kind that you "join." Interesting post, Jane.

Marvin D Wilson

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I think the social interaction might be welcome however I balk at being told what to read. However I do enjoy discussing books with my reader friends and I do listen to their recommendations.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Karen, maybe the next time you have the urge to discuss a certain book, you can join in on an online chat - I think Goodreads has discussions and I'm sure there are other groups as well.

Cereus1, a potluck dinner based on the setting of a book sounds like a fun idea. Too bad, it didn't work out.

Helen, I read the same way as you do - purely for entertainment and not to analyze.

You're welcome, Carol.

Stephen, good luck with the NaNo writing challenge next month. Let me know how it goes. I haven't been brave enough to attempt it.

Marvin, I think the spontaneous kinds of discussions are probably the best.

Elspeth, I think you probably get the same sort of social interaction by the discussions you have with your friends.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Reading Elizabeth’s post, I agree with what she said, “I like choosing my own books to read. I don't like socializing. I'm introverted. So...what am I doing in a book club?!” That about says it all. I do love attending book clubs as a guest author however…and, if a member of a club, would look forward to an author’s visit for all the obvious reasons. Still, I’d just rather read on my own and not feel the pressure of finishing book X, which I may or may not like, by date Y so it can be discussed. Just me—and apparently, you and Elizabeth.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Sondra said...

I have joined several book clubs over the years...but they have always been a group of friends not an large group. I have had wonderful experiences and really enjoyed myself in these clubs.
I think, one of the reasons I enjoyed my experiences, is I tend to get in "ruts" read the same type of books or same Authors. These clubs got me out of my comfort zone and got me reading things I would not have picked up on my own. I discovered several new authors this way!
Also, the groups have been a more general discussion of why we did or didn't like a book rather than a class room breaking down and dissecting of a novel. It was approached from the stand point of people who read for pleasure rather than an academic discussion.

Just my 2 cents!


Tamika: said...

Hmm. Interesting.

Time is really the constraint that keeps me from participating. I need all the time I have to write.

But I love reading, that will never change.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world