In the book groups I attend, we’ve developed such a routine that our members sit in the same chair at every meeting. Woe to the newbie who parks her carcass in a spot that’s TAKEN!
For the most part, I think these routines are a good thing: they show a level of familiarity and comfort with the group. But if familiarity is building contempt for your meeting place; if that drab public meeting room is getting you down; if you’re tired of squeezing into Marjorie’s living room and perching on those delicate chairs for an uncomfortable hour, perhaps it’s time for a change. Take a one-meeting vacation from your usual space before some of your members take a permanent vacation from the group. Here are some ideas:
1) Take It Outside
This is a wonderful time of year in many climates, with evening beginning to lengthen but temperatures still short of their summer highs. Why not find a park, a restaurant with a patio, or a friendly backyard? Read a book with outdoor settings like Ron Carlson’s Five Skies, Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year, or a classic by Henry Thoreau or Aldo Leopold. Or find a nearby campground and gather around a fire for an evening of ghost stories.
2) Go Home
If your group normally meets in a public space, you might find it refreshing to spend an evening in a member’s home. Ask for a volunteer host, but spread the load by asking others to bring food. Make sure to factor pet allergies and adequate chairs into the mix. Though best appreciated by veteran groups, a home meeting can create a sense of coziness and friendship that may be missing in public spaces.
3) Let’s All Go to the Movies!
OK, the summer blockbuster season is not the best time to find movies adapted from films, but a multiplex meeting can turn into a real special occasion. It will take a little longer, but make sure to leave time afterward to have a short discussion of the success of the adaptation. The Lovely Bones and My Sister’s Keeper are on their way to theaters soon. Why not put one on your schedule?
4) The Best Book I Ever Tasted
Restaurants are another great site for your bookgroup vacation. I especially like eating ethnic cuisine while talking about a book that highlights the food. Why not pair Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent with a Middle Eastern meal, eat Indian food with a book by Jhumpa Lahiri or Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, or review a local restaurant after reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires? If all you’ve got access to are chain restaurants, join Stewart O’Nan for a Last Night at the Lobster.
5) Boldly Go Where No Group Has Gone Before
To advertise your group and the value of book groups in general, take your group to a place where nobody expects you to go. Read The Devil Wears Prada or Confessions of a Shopaholic and hold your book group at the mall. Baseball games are long: Read The Natural or The Brothers K and hold your book group during a couple of middle innings at the nearest ballpark. Arrange a tour of a local prison or police station, or attend an hour of a public trial before reading a police procedural or courtroom thriller. The possibilities are endless and a memorable experience is guaranteed, even if the book doesn’t get the same detailed attention it normally would.
Have any of your groups held a meeting in a special place? If they have, make sure to share your experience with a comment.