Attending Book Groups Is an Unnatural Act

It all boils down to just one big nasty question. Why talk about reading when you can be reading instead? A conversation composed of addicted readers is a room full of people who aren’t enjoying their addiction. For moderate readers, socializing is a pleasant break from solitude, but for reading addicts who need their hundred pages a day, a reading group means temporarily closing your book. And possibly (shudder!) having to do without your fix that night.

It’s always slightly unnatural for readers to gather together. Reading is such a solitary experience. Bookworms are comfortable alone. We’re quiet, inward folk. We each cultivate our own private techniques and methods. Our tastes in reading are as private as our tastes in physical pleasure. Over the years we grow to know what we like.

For me, a happy life includes reading good stories.

Reading a story means participating in it, in a way we don’t have to participate in a movie. A movie is complete in itself, and happens without us. A book needs us to happen. A book is printed, but doesn’t surrender its pleasure until the words come alive in our brain. The words have to be mentally processed into an experience. Books are collaborations, author and reader working together. Books are fifty percent you, which is why our reading experiences of the same book may be similar but are seldom completely the same.

A book gives you the verbal triggers, but each reader has to do the personal work to bring the story to life. You imagine what’s being described. The more often you do it, the better you get at it. Like any sport, you develop muscle: for character names, for remembering plot details.

Out of the many different kinds of books, I choose to read thought-provoking, well-written novels and memoirs. I want to spend time with characters I care about, I want to see something in a new way, I want to participate in a verbally stimulating, well-crafted story.

Almost always this means reading a first person narrative, with a character talking straight to the reader the way a real human being would. Whether the story is fiction or not doesn’t matter as long as it feels true. As long as when my imagination encounters those words on the page, I believe someone is talking to me.

Because then I can evaluate how I feel about what that person is telling me.

Which brings me to the one reason that drags me back to our book club again and again, the one reading joy I can’t get alone.

In our book club, I can compare my evaluation with others. No matter how reluctant I am to surrender my reading time, I can hear alternate experiences, variant readings, and I’m always enriched and stimulated. I see my own experience in a different way. I discover data that I missed. My feelings toward the book are modified or enhanced.

Sure, I get the jitters, I don’t get much reading done that night, but it’s just once a month. Once a month I suppress the book-loving hermit inside me. Once a month I deviate from my reading addiction and force myself to go to a book club meeting and talk to other addicts.

Sometimes it’s good to go against nature.

Okay, enough. Writing about reading is all very fine, but what I want to do right now is tuck into a good story and see life through somebody else’s eyes. I’m grabbing my book. I advise you to grab yours.



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.

7 Comments on "Attending Book Groups Is an Unnatural Act"

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  1. Lisa says:

    I’m a reader and book club organizer. To me, book group is not at all unnatural.. I LOVE to talk about books and be social, and I love getting a variety of viewpoints on what I’ve read. Book club night is my favorite night of the month.

  2. valerie ryan says:

    Nick: NONONO…waste of time, maybe; big snooze, maybe; but…unnatural? I think not. Besides, the dessert is usually good. It is good for us to venture forth into that world that considers itself more real than our own – once in a while. Of course, everything depends on the group. If it is a bunch of bozos, there so they can talk about “their” book club, give it a pass. Occasionally, however, there is really a good discussion of a worthwhile book – which leads me to my point. The tipoff is: book selection. Not all well-written, enjoyable books are discussable, and most book groups fail to recognize that. Alas. Happy Reading! I’m going back to Ron Hansen now.



  3. I love your description–You’ve captured well the joys of reading. You’ve explained well why reading is different from a movie.

    You’ve also explained well the value of a book group. I will have to reconsider joining one! I never felt much interest–for exactly the reasons you’ve described. But now….

  4. helen says:

    The thing about book groups is that you know you are not alone in your addiction and in order to feed it you have to have access to better books, how better than to be recommended a book by a fellow reader.
    If it was not for the net and book groups i would not have expanded my reading tastes and been exposed to some lovely reads.
    The excitement that you get from reading a book is doubled when you tell a friend and they say oh i loved it, or you have a discussion about the characters.

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