A combo of two suggestions by: Heidi and by litlove
Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?
Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?
I haven’t done a booking through Thursday post in ages, and then I noticed that my question was up – yay! So I thought I should say a few words about why the question interests me.
I have never been in a book club despite having a desperate longing to be in one. No one I know has ever been motivated to start one up, probably because my local friends mostly all teach literature for a living and so don’t have the time or the inclination for more book chat. There are clubs organized by the local bookstores, but I am far too shy to meet up with a whole bunch of strangers, and in any case, I do worry about how I would behave at a meeting. When I get started talking about books I can become very over-excited, and couple that with the usual verbosity and spuriously authoritative traits of a teacher and I fear I might be a real pain in the neck. It would be too awful to finally find a book club only to be blackballed from it after the first meeting.
However, I do now belong to the Slaves of Golconda (see blogroll), which is the closest thing online to a book group that I’ve come across. I love all online interaction because it has the feel of immediacy about it, but you get a chance to pause and think carefully about what you want to say before plunging in. I’m also very fond of all the members in it, who have been blogging friends of mine for the past two years now. I have great respect for their reading skills and love to click around all the posts, drinking in everyone’s thoughts on the latest book. After all these years of working with literature I still find myself fascinated by the way that people respond so differently to the stories and see so many facets of a novel. When it comes to picking a book, the Slaves elect one member to offer a selection of novels and those are duly voted upon – it seems to be a great method because we all get a say in the choice. I find it quite exciting still – I love the moment when the selection is posted and we get a first look at the books on offer.
I asked my question because I have this theory that people will be that bit more courageous and experimental when they’re part of a community. I think that book clubs work best when the members stretch themselves a little, and agree to take on challenging books that they might not choose if they were reading alone just for relaxation. I think there’s something very primal in human beings that makes us like to discuss stories, to get more out of them than just the entertainment of listening, and that there is a very particular pleasure to be had when we work together to mine the layers of a story and extract its meaning. Rabelais, who was writing way back in the 17th century used the metaphor of sucking the sweet, nutritious marrow out of the bone – although you had to gnaw on it a bit first. And he also described the pleasure he got out of a story as being akin to the pleasure he had on opening up an apothecary’s box and seeing all the little vials and bottles inside. I know I read a story much better, much more carefully and mindfully when I know I’m going to discuss it with others, or write about it on the blog and that there is a special, intense pleasure available to me when I feel like I’m moving below its surface and puzzling its hidden secrets out.
That being said, I wouldn’t want to read this way all the time. Reading is also about escape for me, the delight of switching off my mind and letting another place and time swallow me up. And I love the feeling of really wanting to read a book, having a thirst for it almost, that only the story can quench, and that sensation isn’t bound up with books that have been chosen as a group decision and scheduled into my reading life. I’ll always persevere with books that are up for discussion, but I’m also more likely to see their faults and flaws because my heart is less engaged in the reading than my head. In the end, I want to have access to both kinds of reading, the trance-like state of pure relaxation that a novel can bring, and the lively aliveness of reading that comes with careful attention to the tale. And I just wondered what others felt about it, too.
(And sorry, folks, still no links available here. When will wordpress fix this?)