In an e-mail from one of the guys at my favorite soon-to-exist book store, Wordsmiths, Russ asked if the BGB crowd had a “physical” book club. The new store will have space for groups to meet, and Russ graciously offered to host our book club at the store. If we had one. The short answer is “No. We don’t have a physical club.” There are several reasons, I suppose. One reason is purely practical. While several of the BGB crowd live here in Atlanta, others of our group live in the Mid-atlantic, the Northeast, the West Coast, and Texas.
Another reason, and maybe no less a logistical nightmare, is that I don’t think it is possible for all of us to agree on a book. I hate going to the video store with more than one other person, because the time spent picking a movie goes up exponentially with each additional person. Picking a book with 10 people would be worse. Maybe I’m wrong.
My own experience with book clubs is shaky at best. I’ve been a member of one actual book club. When I lived in Miami Beach, a Canadian friend of mine asked me to join a book club that she was forming. I immediately said yes and couldn’t wait for my first meeting.
As it turns out, maybe I should have asked some questions first. The point of the book club was to assemble the most diverse cross-section of people possible (easy to do in Miami), read far left political theory (our first book was Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky), and then argue about them. I’m not big on personal conflict as entertainment (and I hate arguing about politics in particular), but as it turns out we were all like-minded people anyway. It only became apparent to me later (when I was told by my friend) that I was invited to fill the role of the White American Man. Despite my qualifications in this regard, I didn’t meet the groups expectations. Yeah.
Most of the book clubs in my area seem to exist for women to get together, drink wine, and read fairly mainstream, non-controversial books. My wife has been invited to join several. There does not seem to be an active book culture for men – at least not that I know about. Reading: the pastime that dare not speak its name.
I had one false start assembling a small reading group known to me to be hard core and dependable readers (a mixed group). We had decided over beers that we were all going to read Absalom, Absalom and get together to discuss it afterwards. I was the only one to read the book. As far as I know, that original group still hasn’t read the book. Not only had I endured some fairly strenuous reading, but there was no one readily available to discuss it.
It wasn’t a total loss. This web site grew, in part, from that failed experiment. The idea being, let’s all just talk about what we’re reading and let’s not count on ever being able to be in the same place all at once. Internet to the rescue.
What has been your experience with book clubs? Anyone have a positive experience with a book club? Ever? Any good negative stories? Anyone belong to a book club with any men in it? What is the secret to maintaining a successful book club over the long haul?