I decided in the beginning of the year to look for a book club, as a way to meet new people and talk to people in person about books. I’m not sure if the live interaction of a book club is something I’ve been missing; in fact, I started this blog after years of feeling dissatisfied with book clubs. My book club way back when was a great way to get together with friends, but often a lousy way to choose and talk about books.
Would it be nice to get together with good friends over wine & cheese and talk about books? It would, and I miss those days, but most of my friends have kids and more complicated lives than I do. Plus, with most of us teleworking a couple days a week, the easy happy hour seems to be a thing of the past. Sigh.
Finding the Right Club
As I started thinking about in-person book clubs, I could see three ways to find one. The first was asking friends if they are in a book club they like. I’ve been doing that casually, but what I’ve heard is that friends are either in a closed club (like in their neighborhood) or they don’t have time for one.
The second is looking at local bookstores who host book clubs. My favorite bookstore, and closest to my house, wasn’t choosing books I was interested in. My neighborhood hosts a couple of book clubs, but with the same issue. I guess I’m on the picky side.
The third I discovered by googling book clubs in my city. Meetup.com is a website for hosting all kinds of clubs, and I was amazed by how many different book clubs were going on right in my area. One advantage of Meetup is that these are clubs actively looking for new members, so I can jump right in. I can see where they meet, when, how they describe themselves, and what they like to read.
What am I looking for in a book club?
- Books I want to read! I don’t have to love each book, but I should at least be interested and challenged. If there’s not a reading list of a few months out, I need to at least see the last few books the club has read.
- I need to fit in with the group, mainly age-wise. There’s no point getting together with a group of women in their twenties because I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Women only is fine, or a mix of men and women. My preference is for a group that’s diverse (age, gender, nationality, etc.)
- It needs to be at a place and time I can easily get to.
- It would be good to know the books a few months out. A lot of clubs choose books month to month, which is annoying. I like to plan ahead.
I signed up for a number of book clubs on Meetup, and so far I’ve been to four of them.
General observations: these Meetup groups are not like the book clubs I used to be in. Because it’s a more open group of people, these clubs are less about friendship and much more about the books. Which totally satisfies my need to talk about books but makes it a bit difficult to actually meet people. The first group I went to had only four people, two of us newbies, and yet there was almost no introduction or get-to-know-you. The club leader just dove into the discussion, equipped with all kinds of handouts and background information about the book. I enjoyed the discussion very much but was a bit taken aback that no one seemed interested in who I was.
The second and third clubs were more social, but still, I had to do a lot of the work of introducing myself and finding out about others — which as you might guess is not my strong point. My sense is that people jump in and out of these clubs, so no one besides the leaders are super committed and no one expects to know everyone else. A lot of people on Meetup are in multiple book clubs, so these clubs have hundreds of members even if only 15 show up.
My sister said, “so showing up at these book clubs is like going on a blind date?” Well, yes. A little. I was nervous the first time, walking into a restaurant looking for people I’ve only seen tiny pictures of online. I was pretty low-key the fourth time. Meetup actually has this feature where people can send a “nice to meet you” after the event. It’s a small gesture but still felt good.
It’s All About the Books
All four groups had really thoughtful discussions about the books, and all four are reading books I’m interested in. All four met at local restaurants, which makes sense if you’re opening your club up to random people. I think you lose a lot by having to meet in a restaurant rather than someone’s home, in terms of time ordering food, expense, and noisiness/space. But again, it’s easier to dive into something with people you don’t know in a restaurant rather than in their home.
My favorite club is reading books by women from/about other countries. Our first read was Here Comes the Sun, about Jamaica, and I’m excited about the other upcoming reads (The Poisonwood Bible and Persepolis). The club seems organized, I liked the meeting location, and I really liked the people I met there. The science fiction/fantasy book club also has a great reading list, but it’s a huge group (24 seats), and apparently fills up every time, so there’s usually a wait list. I really liked one group (a “women and wine” book club) but they meet on Saturday evenings, which just doesn’t make sense for me (Saturday nights are dedicated husband-time).
I need to narrow down to a couple and go back a few times, to get a better sense, and then I’d like to focus on just one going forward. I don’t have time for more than that.
I’m still exploring the idea of bookstore and neighborhood book clubs, so I’ll save that for another post.
I could start one myself if I don’t find one I like. My husband asked why book blogs don’t have live online book discussions. He’s in gaming groups that talk to each other regularly, and he’s surprised we book bloggers don’t talk more. For one thing, I suppose different time zones would be an issue. For another, I suppose there are enough local book clubs to make a dial-in book club unnecessary. What do you think?
The question I keep coming back to (and haven’t answered yet) is whether in-person interaction around books is something I need. Maybe book blogging is more than enough. In that case, there are other groups on Meetup that sound like fun, like wine tasting groups, childfree groups, board game clubs, etc.
If you’re in a book club, what works and doesn’t work about it? And if not, is a book club something you’ve done before, or something you want to do?