Friday, 15 January 2016

Book Clubs: Is It Really About the Book?

by Liza Perrat 

For today's post, I had the pleasure of speaking to some members of different groups to get their take on book clubs.

LP: Why did you decide to join a book club? And how long has your book club been running?

Lesley: For an excuse to go out and so I could get some suggestions for good books. 
Cathy: To find new books to read and because I love to eat out.

Deb: Because a friend I didn't get to see often asked me to join and as I loved to read anyway it gave me an opportunity to catch up more often. Our book club has been going for about 10 years and I was one of the original members.

Carol: As I knew the women involved would be fearless, feisty and forthright in their opinions of the books chosen and read. The book club has been running in excess of 5 years.

Gwen: To introduce me to books that I would not have heard of and sometimes not likely to read. For the pleasure of discussing books with others who often have a very different interpretation to me. For the enjoyable social interaction.

Mandy: I joined a book club as 1 I love reading, I like talking about books and I thought it would add some greater variety to what I read. Our book club has been going for a few years with an ever changing cast and some originals.

LP: What's the best thing about belonging to a book club?

Lesley: Going out for dinner and I get to read books I wouldn't normally choose and of course the wonderful company!

Cathy: I get to read books I probably wouldn’t choose and I get to have a great night out.

Deb: The social interaction as well as the exposure to so many different books that I would not have come across otherwise.

Carol: Reading out of your genre comfort zone and the discussion about the chosen book as well as other current social issues.

Gwen: the social interaction is a big benefit … if the company was not enjoyable and too serious, I would not go.

Mandy: The talk, the social aspect, the regularity, the divergent views, the opportunity to wander off into other non-book chat.

LP: How do you choose which book to read? And do you find you end up with a wide range of books?

Lesley: We choose books from suggestions from friends in other book clubs, radio interviews, TVs Book club and online suggestions.

Cathy: From popular reads lists, Jennifer Byrne’s ABC book club and from recommendations from friends who are in book clubs.

Deb: We take turns choosing a book which does give us quite a range of genres.

Carol: The book selected for the month is chosen by the monthly host.

Gwen: the person who is the host the next month chooses the book and we end up with a wide range of books including non-fiction. About one book a year we all choose our own such as a non-fiction. This year I chose Darwin’s Armada, Iain Mccalman. 

Mandy: Every person has an opportunity to choose a book during the year and we make up a list for the coming months so people have a chance to read ahead if they wish. This also helps in planning the location as we rotate around people’s houses. It also accommodated the travel plans and other commitments people have.

LP: What's the gender/age range of your group?

Lesley: All female … eldest 55 down to 40ishes? Have I insulted anyone?

Deb: Our group consists of all females and the ages range from 40yo to a lady in her late 70's [at a guess].

Carol: Female between 60 and 85.

Gwen: all female, currently 8 members but usually less at a meeting as many are travelling, some still working part-time. 60-80 year age range. Must be left leaning as politics is always in our discussion! We have all been teachers except a librarian, most were principals of schools, so a very professional, well-educated group.

Mandy: We started as a mixed group and now it is female.

LP: What key elements make a book a good choice for your club?

Lesley: Interesting, likeable characters, well written, surprise twists … maybe that's just me.

Deb: The only stipulation that we have for a book to be a good choice is that it is readily available. After that we mostly leave it up to the individual. I say "mostly" because there is one person who has chosen Matthew Reilly twice and the rest of us found it too far-fetched so it is often bought up 'jokingly' [but not] that we can choose anything except M.R. Ha ha!

Carol: Availability; range of genres fiction and non-fiction including biographies.

Gwen: a book recommended by others, not too large to read in less than a month, that has some intellectual element such as historical fiction.

Mandy: Engaging plot and characters, not too esoteric, easily accessed.

LP: How useful do you find questions for book clubs prepared by the author? 

Lesley: sometimes questions at the end of a book make me laugh … feel like I'm back at school and have to analyse it … I’m only in for enjoyment.

Cathy: We don’t use them often. Occasionally they’re a good conversation starter.

Gwen: we don’t use questions but I think it would be useful to discipline our discussion that can divert from the topic!

Mandy: Useful albeit not used by all.

LP: What was your group's favourite read of 2015?
 Lesley: I think we liked Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle best last year.

Deb: I'm not sure which book was the best for 2015 [we did have a few 'dud's' more recently] but with no doubt the favourite of all time was The Pillars of the Earth followed closely by Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon. Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin was the book that provoked the
most discussion even though it was not loved by all.


Carol: That would vary with the different members but I liked The Strays by Emily Bitto.

Gwen: The Golden Age by Joan London, Harper Lee’s Go set a Watchman and Spirit of lost Angels, especially having spoken to the author!!


Mandy: Given the divergent opinions in our group that would be hard to say for everyone. The session talking by skype to the author was a very big hit! Another one that proved popular was a genre/topic from which one chose one’s own read and then told the group about it.

LP: thanks for the plugs, Gwen and Mandy!

LP: Is it a very social occasion, with food and/or drinks too? Or rather more serious, and just discussion about the book.

Cathy: Definitely social, with lots of food and wine.

Deb: Definitely very social. We take turns having it at each other’s house for those of us who can and want to and alternate times we choose a restaurant. The person hosting the meeting provides the food: nibblies and the wine and drinks. We talk and laugh about everything while eating our meal and towards the end of the night we finally get around to discussing the book. Then we do the new book reveal and organise the time and place where we will meet next time. We start at 7pm and usually finish about 10.30pm but occasionally have partied on longer. Once a year we have an overnight trip somewhere nice and on these times we have been happy to not even talk about the book.

Carol: Definitely social with food and drinks.

Gwen: Yes, it is a very pleasant social occasion. We have nibbles and wine followed by cake and coffee after the discussion. We have to allow for chatter about travels, film, plays, other books and then we discipline ourselves to discuss the book! We do not have any guidelines for questions but we still have a very beneficial discussion.

Mandy: Definitely food drink and lots and lots of talk!!

LP: How often do you meet, and where? 

Lesley: meeting every 2nd Wednesday at local pub, Ryan’s Hotel 

Deb: We hold our meetings every 6 weeks as the full-time workers felt that they needed that long to finish a book. Even though I will read many more books in this time I find it works well, any longer would be too long especially if you missed a few and 4 weeks being a Friday night would take away too much from family time.

Carol: Meetings occur monthly and rotate at members’ homes.

Gwen: Once a month, 7.30pm to about 9.30 or later! We meet at members houses, rotating the venue.

Mandy: Monthly in members’ homes

LP: Do you find members have very differing opinions about each book?

Lesley: we usually do have varying opinions.

Cathy: yes most of the time.

Carol: Definitely

Deb: Regarding different opinions I find it interesting when people’s opinions vary considerably. It tends to be with books that may put forward religious, political or strong moralistic views. The people who rate the book poorly usually hold different opinions to those in the book and sometimes will not even finish reading that novel. Other times people can rate differently when they were or were not in the mood for that type of book. For example, they had read too many of that type just prior and were ready for a change or that their lifestyle at the time was conducive to something more humorous, light-hearted etc. Generally though our rating of the book is fairly close.

Gwen: No, some have stronger liking for some books than others. I like to hear their interpretations which is often something that I have not seen in the book.

Mandy: Yes sometimes but not always.

So, it seems book clubs are mainly a chance to get together with the girls for a bite, a glass of wine or five, and a good old chat. Oh, and of course, to discuss the chosen book! Thanks to all who answered my questions and raising my glass to book clubs!

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