By December 9, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

There’s always kickboxing…

I just have to weigh in on that article-schmarticle in the New York Times on the dangers surrounding book groups.

I’m not offended, rather, the author of the piece merely confirms what most of us who have been attending/leading book groups for years have always known.

Someone always wants to talk about their kids or the neighbors. Someone needs a little nip at the end of the day to relax and start chatting. Someone has plenty of opinions on plenty of topics and you are going home with every single one of them, thankyouverymuch. Someone wants to read LaVyrle Spencer and someone wants to read Edmund Spenser.

What should future book group members take away from that profile? Every book group is different and you try them on the way you try on shoes. You usually don’t buy the first pair that you see. Why would you treat a book group as if the first one you find is the last one you’ll ever join?

Some book groups are just little informal gatherings giving members a place to decompress. Some are more purposeful and members engage in weighty conversation. Some are a combination. Think about what you like to read for fun and what you’d like to read to discuss. Those are probably two different types of reading. Once you know what you want from a book group, you shouldn’t feel guilty for trying out a group for a couple of months before deciding to go or stay.

The Times’ author glossed over one of the caveats with privately run book groups—unless the members set ground rules that everyone can agree on from the outset, the meetings may degenerate into meaningless competitions over who can serve the best onion dip and charddonay or who can pick the most important book no one can slog through. If everyone takes a turn at choosing the book, then there’s going to be a dud here and there. Set guidelines for selecting titles and you’ll probably avoid the Da Vinci Code syndrome.

Book groups are not meant to be contests of wills, Shakespeare or otherwise. They are supposed to be meetings of the minds, whether those minds agree or not on the topic at hand.

If you don’t like the book group you’re in, go find another one. With four million of them out there, how can we not be tripping over them in the street? Better yet, ask at your local public library. Most library book groups come with a facilitator who can keep the literarytollahs on topic and you can bet no one’s dueling over the merlot in the meeting room at Smithville Public. And the librarian’s not charging $250 for her services either. Your tax dollars at work.

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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.

1 Comment on "There’s always kickboxing…"

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  1. hwesley@bham.lib.al.us' Holley says:

    I believe the NYT article was not a little heavy-handed with the criticism of book groups. It would have been more fair to have included a successful one here and there so people are running and screaming in terror when you mention it. I am a member of a book group and we all take turns leading the discussion each month (you lead the discussion of the book you recommended) and we all get along famously even when everyone doesn’t share the same opinion. I am a librarian and the bookgroup I lead at work is a genre reading group. We choose genres as a group and then each member picks what they would like to read. Discussions range widely with this format and some of the best we’ve had centered around Arthurian fiction and ethnic histories. As you say, there is something out there for everyone and it doesn’t make sense to give up and decide bookgroups are not for you after only one try. Shop around and have fun!
    htw

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