Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon 16 - Book Clubs

The Sunday Salon I’ve come to realize that book clubs come in all shapes and sizes. The book club that I belong to is a work-affiliated group and in our current form we’ve been together for a year. There are six regular members and we all have different reading tastes and styles. We each have a month (in rotation) and for our month we are responsible for picking the book and the meeting location.

Since we are all so different, we have read a wide range of books over the past year: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ The God of Small Things ~ Eat, Pray, Love ~ Ride the Wind ~ The Art of Racing in the Rain ~ The Zookeeper’s Wife ~ The Last Lecture ~ The Woman in White ~ Miles from Nowhere ~ A Year in Provence ~ The Glass Castle ~ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ~ Boy’s Life ~ City of Thieves ~ A Golden Age. Next month we'll read Shadow of the Wind.

Book Club
Over the past year we’ve had some good discussions, but we’ve also had some books that didn’t lend themselves as well to discussion. As it’s about to be my turn to pick a book (for October), I thought I’d ask you lot what you think makes a good book club book.

So, Sunday’s questions:
Do you belong to a book club? What makes your book club work? How do you choose the books you read? Do you have a moderator or use a list of questions? How do you work around the inevitable lull in conversations? Is there something you would suggest to improve your book club? I'd love to hear anything you have to share, and hopefully we can all learn a little something!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful week. I can't believe it is going to be September in just two days--where did August go?

Happy reading,

27 comments:

  1. I've never been part of a book club, but I think it's neat that yours has such a big variety. :D

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  2. Our book club comes up with suggestions for books three times a year and then we vote on them and the top four books are our books for the next coming months.

    Its sort of funny, we tend to have a better discussion of the book, if the majority of the group did NOT like it! :-) In the Woods by Tana French was one that we all wanted to like and for various reasons we didn't or there were things we did like and some we didn't. That book actually provided for a lot of discussion from out group.

    If we all seem to like it, we tend to just sort of say we liked it and why and then our conversation moves to other books we're reading right now and what's going on in our lives.

    We don't tend to use a list of questions, but every now and then if the book has questions in the back, we might look through them and answer a few.

    Shadow of the Wind was a great book! Hope your group likes it.

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  3. I would LOVE to be part of a book club - but alas I have not been able to organize one (yet!)

    I LOVE the books your club has chosen to read so far this year.

    Sorry I cannot be of more help, but I look forward to reading others' responses to your post.

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  4. After years of wanting to be in a book club, I finally decided to stop waiting around and start my own! We're still working out some kinks, but here are some thoughts for you:

    - Each month someone hosts book club at their home and is also responsible for running the discussion (coming up with questions, etc.)

    - I solicited 3 book suggestions from each hostess and then created an online survey for each month's book. I sent the survey link to everyone and we all had the opportunity to vote. This way, the discussion leader has some control over what book we read, but the rest of the group also has a voice.

    - When the discussion drags, I've found that asking 'What else has everyone been reading lately?' gets people reengaged.

    - If you are looking for a book suggestion, The Book Thief generated a TON of discussion at our group.

    Good luck!

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  5. In my book club, people send me suggestions once a year and then I make a yearly reading list from it. Some turn out to have better discussions, some don't. I'ts hard to predict which ones will. I'm always the moderator (unless I"m not there and someone else does it for me), but I can't do the study question thing. If I have notes and stuff in front of me, I get nervous and can't pay attention to the discussion that's actually going on. Instead, I study the book in advance and sort of figure out a bunch of stuff I want to talk about, and then if there's any lull in conversation, I bring up a new thing I remember reading about.

    We do all classics, though, so often it's easy to have conversation. Some books don't lend themselves to much discussion, though, like Jane Austen, who's very singular in her themes. But usually it works out okay.

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  6. I have always wanted to be in a book group, but haven't ever found a successful one. A friend and I were going to start one and never really got going on it. She has since joined a different group (without inviting me, why yes, there is some tension now, thanks for asking!) and I don't see another opportunity.

    What I really want is a monthly "women's group" to sit around and have coffee and chat and perhaps do crafty things. You'd totally join if you lived here, right?

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  7. Hello Trish, and thanks for inviting our feedback.

    My name is Cyrus A. Webb, President of the Conversations Book Club family. I began Conversations in Nov. 2006 because I couldn't find a book club that allowed or welcomed men. As someone who has been a bookworm all of my life, loving all types of books, I wanted to make sure that Conversations was seen the same way.

    The first chapter was very unique, meeting once a week. That's right: once a week we came together, but we didn't discuss a book! Instead, that chapter talked to the AUTHORS. Because I have been a radio/television show host for a while, I been introduced to several authors along the way. What we did was have the author join us via conference call--or sometime in person--and talk about their body of work. This was great, because we were able to find something to fit everyone. It also gave those in attendance a healthy roster of titles to take a look at and see what works for them.

    Now almost three years later, I now preside over 10 chapters of Conversations Book Clubs in four states (MS, AL,TN,LA). Eight of the chapters meet every month. Unlike some book clubs that I have read about on your post and talked to, I choose the books for each chapter. There is an Inspirational chapter, Non-fiction chapter, Political chapter, Teen chapter, Urban fiction chapter, Mississippi authors chapter, Books 2 Movies chapter, Sports books chapter and one that reads a little of everything.

    What I love is that we have men and women, boys and girls of all ages, races and backgrounds that come together over books.

    Just to let you know I also create some free ice-breakers for book clubs and other groups. You can get them at http://readingmylips.blogspot.com.

    Feel free to follow us at www.thebestbookclub.info, and I look forward to doing the same with you.

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  8. I asked for comments on what makes a good book club book as part of a giveaway, and summarized the answers on the results post.

    I run two book clubs. I have some history and information on how we work on my blog. I describe the very unusual method we used to select books there-- I wanted something that would help us arrive at a consensus, as best as is possible.

    Both of my clubs read a wide variety of books. One club just finished picking what was supposed to be 6 but turned out to be 8 books. The other last picked books in April.

    Whenever possible, we bring a list of discussion questions, but don't pull it out until we've exhausted our conversation about the book. I do serve the moderator role at times, but mostly it is freeform conversation.

    Thanks for hosting this discussion on your blog!

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  9. I belong to a club that has a "leader" although she doesn't entirely run the club. She makes several recommendations every few months since she has contact with publishers and also reads a lot. The rest of us also make recommendations so we do a mix.

    Our leader also serves as moderator to keep things moving. About a year ago she started bringing a list of questions to keep things going but we're now pretty good about coming prepared with questions of our own.

    Sounds like you have a great mix of people if you're getting such a great mix of books!

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  10. It sounds like your book club has already read a nice variety of books. I started a neighborhood book club several years ago and we each host a month and come up with a list of books a few months ahead of time and we each vote and the book with the most votes is the one we read that month. The host leads the discussion and everyone tends to have their own style. We always discuss if we liked the book and why/why not first. Then we discuss the book and the host usually has a list of questions to guide the discussion and shares background on the author. For us, we've had to be aware of time and not spending too much time catching up and not on the book. We allow for about a half hour before book club to chit chat and catch up. We also are very careful about inviting new members and make sure that they are truly readers and not just want to be part of a social club.

    It's interesting to read about other book clubs and to see how they work and get ideas.

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  11. I have an award for you at:
    http://litandlife.blogspot.com/2009/08/ahh-im-blushing.html

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  12. It sounds like you've hit the jackpot with your book club. My sister was part of a book club at her office for quite a while, but she finally got tired of the books that were being chosen. The majority vote always went to light romances, and she wanted to read some books that warranted a bit more discussion.

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  13. I want to be part of a book club so bad! Whah! :(

    Seriously though (oh. well. I was serious above too! :P) I love the variety in your book club. It's similar to why I like book blogging. It exposes me to books I would normally not pick up.

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  14. I belong to an online book club and members suggest titles and then we all vote. We're all busy so we have titles picked out for the rest of the year already. We share moderating duties and generally don't have lulls in our conversations.

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  15. Good question! I'm always interested to see how other book clubs work. I think I agree with Holly--we seem to have more discussion when people did not love the book, or when people disagree about certain things in the book. I think I'm going to try to do a little more research about the author before my meetings. I hope Shadow of the Wind is a good one! :)

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  16. I love that you all have different reading tastes. It makes things more interesting. :-)

    The only book clubs I belong to are of the online variety. And only two of them have group reading assignments. The voting process varies for each on. In the one I'm more familiar with, each member of the group gets to nominate a book for discussion and then we all vote. Sometimes there are themed months and so the nominations are expected to be within that theme. Over the years, some of the groups I've belonged to with group reads have had set questions that each person can respond to while others are more of a free for all. I find the structured method works best for online groups, but then, it really does depend on the members of a group.

    I've never been part of a face to face group, which is probably the direction you were really aiming to go with your questions. :-)

    I hope you have a great week, Trish!

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  17. I don't do book clubs, mainly because I haven't found one and mostly because I don't like the idea of analysing a book to pieces. My reviews are all the analysing I can handle.
    Also, I wouldn't want to be forced to read a book just because other members want to read it. I like reading what I want to and I like having control over my reading.

    That said I can understand how book clubs could be fun. They are just not for me.

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  18. I don't belong to any book groups right now, but belonged to two when we lived in Cambridge. One was through the local library and the library staff who ran it picked all the books. In one way that was nice because she made sure she had a library copy for everyone so the books didn't cost us anything, but we didn't have any say in the choices. As well, she also kind of took over the discussion each month which sometimes made it hard for others to get a word in.

    The other group chose books every 3 or 4 months by soliciting suggestions and then choosing the ones that people were the most interested in reading. Everyone took turns either hosting or leading the discussion (not necessarily the same person as it's hard to lead when you're busy serving tea etc.) The leader of that month's discussion would usually prepare some background info and discussion questions in advance to get the ball rolling. And when the discussion died out, talk invariably turned to other books we'd been reading, or general chit chat. The best discussions were inevitably the bookss that some of us liked and some of us didn't.

    It was fun belonging to a book group and I kind of miss it. Have fun with yours.

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  19. *Eva - I like that we all choose our own books instead of voting—that way everyone has a voice.

    *Holly - I absolutely agree that we have better discussions when we don’t all feel the same about the book we read. And if there’s a lull we usually move into what we’re reading now. Sometimes I wish we could do a better job of staying on the book, though. Glad you liked Shadow of the Wind. Were there any books that worked really well for your group?

    *Molly - For me it was difficult to find enough people who were just as passionate about books. A lot of my friends read, but they aren’t interested in talking about the types of things a book club might talk about. Maybe check at your library? Amanda from Zen Leaf started a group with her local library and I believe it’s been pretty successful.

    *Brittany - I agree that The Book Thief is a great selection—all but one of us has already read it, though. :) You’ve got some great guidelines—have you guys read any other books as a group that worked particularly well? Any that didn’t?

    *Amanda - I’ve noticed that books that we all like don’t garner a lot of suggestions—and interesting what you say about Austen and the similarities in her works not lending themselves well to discussion. I don’t think book clubs should be rigid in structure, but I do think *some* structure is good. Sounds like your group has a good balance.

    *CA Webb - Thank you so much for coming by and passing on the information about Conversations Book Club. Sounds like a wonderful organization. Since we are a work-affiliated book club there isn’t much diversity in our group other than tastes. We’ve tried to recruit some of the men in the company who really enjoy reading, but for some reason there is that stigma that a book club is for women only—wonder why that is. How do you determine which books to put on the docket?

    *Lisa - Haven’t we talked about the fact that SD has a lot of snow?? :P Yes, I would love to be in a woman’s group of sorts. I’m not very good at initiating things like that, though, so I haven’t really had the opportunity. Weird about your friend—is she the one you used to have the “We’d Rather Read” blog with?

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  20. Trish - I think you probably read it already, but I answered most of your questions in the interview I did with Trish @ Hey Lady! Hopefully you can find something helpful in there. :)

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  21. I wish I were a part of a book club too! But I have none here... and no friends to coax them to join me :D

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  22. Trish, to answer your question about books that did/didn't work well:

    Pretty much everyone disliked The Alchemist, but we had a good discussion about what we disliked and how we thought the book could have been improved.

    Other than Book Thief (which I already mentioned), we haven't covered anything else. Tomorrow night we meet to discuss Possession by A.S. Byatt. For the rest of the year we'll be reading The Magician's Assistant, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and People of the Book. Hopefully they'll go well!

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that I decided to do our voting via online poll because people were being too nice and weren't voicing their opinions about any of the suggested books. Rather than saying what they wanted to read, everyone wanted to defer to everyone else. The anonymous online aspect eliminated that factor. :)

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  23. I used to belong to a book club but I didn't like the pressure of having to read something by a certain date. It's a wonder I like challenges so much, eh? ;-)

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  24. *Literary Feline - Face-to-face, online—questions for everyone! I really like the idea of the themed groups—actually, I’m wondering if maybe we were part of the same online group. Seems back when I was in the Yahoo bookclubs I remember coming across your blog that way—before I joined the blogosphere. I can see how a more structured forum would work better online—although sometimes I wish the monthly “leader” would prepare questions ahead of time just in case we run out of topics.

    *Violet Crush - I completely understand where you’re coming from, and as my reading has slowed down this year I’m feeling the pressure each month to read the bookclub pick. Used to be I would still have 4 or 5 other books of “my choice” but this year it’s more like 2 or 3. That being said, even though we all have really different tastes, I think we try to pick a book that all of us would at least find interesting.

    *Tanabata - I’m not sure if the library group you belonged to sounds appealing to me, but the other one certainly does. It’s hard when you have one person dominating the conversation, but I think our group is pretty good about everyone getting a say. I think there are some who are more quiet than others, but I guess that’s natural in a group setting. It’s also nice to have some say in the books your reading rather than just being assigned a bunch. Hopefully you’ll be able to find another group some day!

    *Heather J - Thanks for providing us the link to your interview! I know you’re really active in your face-to-face book club.

    *Veens - Before the work book club I often felt the same way. Do you guys have any club activities or forums at your libraries?

    *Brittany - I almost picked Possession for my next selection but went Alias Grace instead. Interesting about people being “too nice” about the selections—we have some pretty honest people in the group, but it is hard to say “I hated the book you chose!” :)

    *Joanna - Haha! Challenges—yup. Actually, I’m finding it hard to do the challenges because of the book club, unless I can find a way to count the book for my challenge! The deadlines are hard—and sometimes we have to move back the meetings a day or two, but for the most part we try to meet the same time every month.

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  25. *imbookingit - What great information about your group! I think before I was a member the group came up with a big long list of books to choose from, and while we sometimes have vastly different tastes in books I think we keep this in mind when choosing our own books. Hopefully this continues to work for us—I think it’s the best way for all of us to get our own “voice.”

    *Lit and Life - Do you ever find that one person’s recommendations are always getting picked over others? Have you found any books that have generated a better discussion than others? And by the way—Thank you so much for the award!!

    *Bonnie - Our work club started out as more of a social club, but I think we’ve finally gotten it down to serious readers. In a way it makes me sad that some of the casual readers don’t join us but it is nice to have people who are serious about books instead of just gossip! Do you ever find it hard to make the switch between chitchat and actually discussing the book?

    *Dani in NC - I think it definitely helps that we are each choosing our own book to discuss, so that weeds out some of the lighter or romancy type books. Plus, we’ve learned that there are some books best not to pick since they don’t generate conversation! :)

    *Christina - Check your local library and see if maybe they have a group. Not sure what kind of area you live in, but if you’re in a bigger city there might be other places too like the bookstore. I know our grocery store even has a book club! But yes, I love that I’ve read some great books with the group that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise.

    *Bermudaonion - You mention not having lulls in your conversation—do you meet “real-time” via chat or do you all post on a message board? I used to be part of a few Yahoo bookclubs—is that what you do?

    *Laura - I think we have better discussions when we either did or didn’t like the books—and also when we have strong feelings about why we did/didn’t. Even with Golden Age where some of us (you and me) were “eh” I didn’t feel like it was a really great discussion. Glass Castle was a *great* discussion! I think Shadow of the Wind will be really good, too!

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  26. The concept of book clubs hasn't really caught on here. So my blog is really the only place where I can talk about books. I wish we had a book club though, it's nice, and often illuminating to discuss a book, and people sometime come up with a totally new way of looking at the book. And sometimes, I may miss the theme of the book; a book club would help me understand it better.

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  27. Right now I belong to two book clubs, both of which I moderate: one is at my church and is a women-only group and the other is at the library where I work and is open to both men and women although it seems to attract mainly women. I structure the both groups the same way: members are asked to submit possible book choices and I compile the list (along with my own recommendations) and then we vote (2x a year for the church group and quarterly for the library group). The books with the most votes are the ones we read and discuss. The only caveat is for the church group, whereby the books should have a spiritual/religious element, however tangentially.

    A few of the ones you mention in your list have been discussed in one of my groups.

    We don't really have any lulls in conversation (if we do, I just ask another question) and members are generally good about staying on topic or at least relating what they're talking about to the book.

    I wish I could join a book club where all I have to do is read the book and show up, but alas, I don't have the time - that is what I'd change!

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