How Far Will Group Members Stretch?

Every group has its comfort zone. The delight of a group after reading a book they truly enjoy is addicting. There’s a temptation to keep choosing those same kinds of books that become easy favorites, the kind you know your book group will thoroughly enjoy. And, of course, that’s basically a good idea.

In both reading groups I hosted to read Khaled Hosseini’s Thousand Splendid Suns, every reader had a lot to say. It was never in question whether we’d read it or not. It was the best attended meeting of the year. Like The Kite Runner, the book made publishing history. Hosseini’s profound good nature combined with his storytelling determination create such a human experience, it’s impossible not to be moved. That was an easy choice. Choosing an adventuresome book outside of the reading group’s comfort zone means submitting the other group members to a potentially unsatisfying reading experience.

On the other hand, giving your fellow readers an opportunity to experience a toothsome literary experience, a book that takes a little work, can be a true blessing. Some books are like a bag of unshelled nuts. You need to do the cracking and the shelling. But when you do, sometimes what’s inside is truly worth it.

Take Night Train to Lisbon, which my club will be discussing this Monday. I had some reservations. It’s thick. It’s got two plots, includes big chunks of philosophy, and involves enough characters to fill two football teams. Yet it’s still vivid in my mind months after reading it, and certain scenes – like the brilliant young student’s outrageous graduation speech, or the revelation of the mystery as to why Adriana always wears a black ribbon around her throat – will haunt me forever.

But I may find myself at a very, very small book club meeting.



About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

2 Comments on "How Far Will Group Members Stretch?"

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  1. | January 26, 2008
  1.' Janet Blake says:

    I purchase books for discussion kits for my public library, and here’s one nobody has yet borrowed: Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. At 990+ pages, it’s a whopper, but I was hoping a club or two would be willing to take it on. So far, none has!

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