One reaction I consistently receive when women find out I belong to a book club is some version of “how did you join a book club?!” This is usually said with a mix of excitement and jealousy – I make it pretty clear this is an awesome thing to be part of.
Julia was able to address some key topics in how the Unputdownable Book Club became what we are and are still going strong almost 3 years later in her three part How-To series:
These are three very important topics for anyone thinking of beginning a book club, of course – and she inspired me! After all, not everyone wants to be the commander in chief, because with great power…well, you know. Some people want to be members, and having been one for as long as there’s been a UBC I think I’m well equipped to give advice on how to be good at it.
Full disclosure, some of these pointers may be a do-as-I-say scenario at times, so let’s call this a best practices list.
- Read the book
Seems self-evident, but read the book. Everyone has times (or months) when they’re just really busy and it’s not happening. Everyone starts the month’s pick sometimes and realizes this is going to be a challenge. Everyone has times when they’re travelling, or family is in town, or they’re just really into another book they already started. At least in the UBC, that’s ok!
What it all comes down to is book club should be fun so if you didn’t read the book we will all still appreciate your company (and your food/wine offerings). It will be hard for you to really participate during discussion, so you’re ultimately affecting your own experience even though we love hearing from all the members. If your reason is that you didn’t like the book or it was hard to get into I would encourage you to think how you would feel if it was your pick and nobody had given it a proper chance. The reality is that sometimes even well-vetted picks don’t live up to expectations, and at least if you finish it (even skimming) you can contribute more thoughtfully with reasons why. And who knows, maybe a pick will surprise you, so don’t…judge a book by its cover?
- Come with some questions/ideas to discuss
One thing I realized when we first started the UBC was how fast I normally tear through novels without thinking critically about content. I was definitely a quantity reader! Now I read more slowly, but I also give a lot more thought to what I’m consuming and ultimately this makes reading more enjoyable. The discussion is better when people come prepared with things they’d like to discuss. In the beginning days of UBC, the picker usually came with discussion topics or questions and lead discussion. Somehow we fell out of that along the way and now it’s more of a free for all but both ways work! If you really engage in the book as you read the end result of discussion will work itself out.
- Be open to other goals and opinions
The sole reason for discussion is to bring out differing opinions. There’s little point in sitting around nodding at what everyone is saying – we want a little friendly conflict! The key word here is friendly. This ties back in to my previous advice about reading the book, even when you’re not enjoying it. If only the people who liked it are able to discuss we won’t get much interesting back-and-forth.
It’s also important to keep in mind that others may come to the meeting focused on entirely different themes or angles. Some may like discussing literary content in great detail while others may be more big-picture. How people relate to picks is very individual, and the criteria on which we rate them are just as diverse. Be open to the idea that someone may think “easy-to-read” is a huge plus, even if you’re all about character development. Everyone’s opinion is equally valuable, whether you have a degree in English lit or you’re not really a ‘reader’.
- Know your hosting or guest duties
Hosting is a lot of fun! You get to show off your place, have everyone over, and discuss your pick. In the UBC, I would say there aren’t really added responsibilities that come with hosting. You may choose to stock a few extra bottles of wine or make a secondary potluck item, but you may not. As a guest it is your responsibility to come equipped with some beverage (if you’re drinking) and a potluck item. By no means are you required to be a skilled cook or spend a lot of money. Once again, there will be months when you just couldn’t do anything other than pick up a salad or supplement with an extra bottle of red on your way to the meeting. That happens – we all have busy lives. For example, members have shown up with pizzas, frozen appetizers, and wings from the restaurant they work at. Trust me – you never have to apologize for supplying us with any of the above.
- No cheating
Although it sure is tempting, try not to have pre-discussions in any sort of detail. Many of us will get together outside of meetings, or car pool on the way there and it’s hard not to go there. After all, it’s an easy point of discussion because you have it in common! It can be hard at meetings, though, when a sub-set of the group has already talked about everything. It’s even harder when someone suggests right at the beginning of the month that the book is hard to read or that they heard nobody likes it. I’ve found this can bias my reading of any book and personally would rather formulate my own opinions to have lots of material during discussion.
What are your golden rules of being a good book club member? Anything I missed or that you disagree with?