By January 26, 2008 6 Comments Read More →

Don’t try this at book groups

Keir’s not going to believe me when I say I’m lousy at cocktail parties. But I mean it. I suk at them. I don’t ever walk into a gathering of any kind without some kind of game or trick to share in order to avoid embarrassing lapses in conversation.

At the Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia my entree’ was a poll guaranteed to bolster witty repartee among librarians already plied with wine and crudites. I merely asked, “What is the worst book you’ve ever encountered in book group?”

Answers flew thick and fast and the list is rather incredible. Some reasons for a book’s failure were provided, most reading group facilitators/members simply rolled their eyes and said they’d discussed that particular biblio-dud enough, thankyouverymuch.

Here’s the list of books that “tanked” in some book groups. You may be surprised. Perhaps your group has discussed one of these titles and had a great chat. Perhaps your flop isn’t listed (feel free to add it). And maybe you’ll find your next great book group read, equipping you with plenty of material for cocktail parties or book discussions.

Possession by A.S. Byatt–“It’s never a good idea to choose your own personal favorite.”

Middlemarch by George Eliot–“Oh, this book was looooonnnnnggggggg.”

Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama–(shrug) “Don’t know what they didn’t like about it.”

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen–“Whine, whine, whyohwhy, did you pick THIS book?!?!”

On Beauty by Zadie Smith–“Snore.”

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury–“Not every book is suitable for every group.”

Bird’s-Eye View by J.F. Freedman–“Only a shot of Maker’s Mark could make this book palatable.”



About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

6 Comments on "Don’t try this at book groups"

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  1.' Jim Rettig says:

    I can’t remember the title of the novel. But one member raved about it and persuaded the group to read it. It was published in the UK and was hard to obtain; the recommender got copies for all who wanted them and we paid her for them. I wondered about this book when I checked WorldCat and learned that only Harvard and two other libraries held it in North America.

    Published in the 1960s or 1970s, it was a plodding effort, a fair imitation of a 19th-century novel in both structure and theme (downtrodden rural Brits triumphing through grit, faith, and determination). When the group met to discuss this book the response was restrained and tepid. Perhaps disappointed that the rest of us didn’t share her enthusiasm for the book, the recommender was the first to leave that day. Just before she left, she told us her grandmother was the author. Many were relieved that we had withheld our stronger comments about the book–and then willingly shared them then. The recommender soon dropped out of the group, citing her responsibilities to her young children as her reason. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

  2.' Keir says:

    Great anecdote, Jim. And Kaite? No, I don’t believe you. But it’s good of you to be so modest.

  3.' Kaite says:

    See, my ruse is working! And Jim? That is the sneakiest ploy I’ve ever heard to drum up business for a relative’s book.

  4.' Lisa says:

    I remember disliking Black and Blue because it was a huge whine fest. Our only book club dud so far was 1000 White Women: The Journals of May Dodd. Only 2 out of 13 who read it actually had good things to say.

  5.' Michelle says:

    I am in 2 different book groups with 2 very different tastes. I recommended Gilead for the group who likes more popular reads, and got totally blasted for it–it was boring, nothing happened, etc. When we discussed it in the second group, which is more literary, they loved it. The choices for that group tend toward trendy literature titles, which can get a little old sometimes, too.

  6. Kaite says:

    1000 White Women by Jim Fergus tanked?! Wow. I loved that book. So did my book group. All of them found things to like about it. What fascinated me the most was the different elements each reader liked. One talked about the story; one reader talked about the characters; another the frame and historical detail; we all liked the fairly quick pacing for an historical novel. Just goes to show, every book isn’t suitable for every book group.

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