Last week, I spent several hundred words bemoaning the failure of many book groups to take on longer books, and outlining the reasons why I find that problematic. This week, I’d like to take a more positive approach, looking at some of the ways your group can bring longer books back into its meetings.
The first step is planning ahead. If longer books are to get on the agenda, your book group must make reading decisions on more than a month-by-month basis. A longer book on the schedule is manageable if readers know about it more than one or two months in advance. It also helps to plan a schedule that factors the lengths of books into selection decisions, balancing longer and shorter titles.
Second, there may be a psychological barrier to cross before your readers quit ruling out longer books out of habit. If your group has developed a short-book addiction, you might benefit from talking about the pleasures of long books, directly addressing the benefits and drawbacks of various lengths. Have a meeting where each reader introduces long books enjoyed in the past and the reasons she or he enjoyed them. Some groups will discover that they are well-suited for reading long books, even if it makes for a demanding month of reading. I highlight for instance, the comment of Linda J on my last message, who noted that her group read both Michener’s The Source and Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, in the latter case with every member opting for the full 1500-page book instead of one of its abridgements.
Dividing a rewarding long book over two months is a workable possibility, but this succeeds best if the goals for each month’s reading are clearly defined and aspects of discussion are saved for each meeting. For instance, in the first meeting, you might discuss the author, the setting, the book’s fundamental conflicts, and the events of early chapters. It can be fun to play the game of predicting the novel’s outcome if too many readers haven’t jumped ahead. The second meeting might address the resolution, the arcs of the characters and the plot, and the events of later chapters. Be strict in maintaining this division so that both meetings have meaning, so that the second is something to look forward to instead of a rehash of the first.
You might also occasionally select long works, but provide a short, related alternative for readers who need a quicker alternative that month. A quick read by the same author, that is set in the same time and place, or that references the larger work is often available.
Finally, I’ll again make the case that long books might best be handled in a thematic format instead of a common-selection format. Given a theme, readers who enjoy the more epic or detailed approaches to writing will be able to indulge this tendency, and if everyone in your group isn’t reading long books regularly, you’ll at least be exposed to them more regularly.
Whichever path your group takes to occasionally including a long work in its reading list, I think you’ll find it a worthwhile goal for the upcoming year.