I’m Bad at Book Clubs

Recently I discovered I no longer fit with the book club I’ve been in for 2-3 years. I love the theme of the book club, which is reading books by women around the world, and I’ve loved many of the books. But over the last six months, I’ve felt really out of sync with the rest of the group. There was one book they all seemed to love, that I could barely finish (Against the Loveless World). Then I loved the next book (The Puma Years), while everyone just complained about it. 

The whole point of a book club is to have spirited conversation about the pros and cons of a book, right?  So why should that bother me? I think because I felt like the outsider in the conversation, and it just seemed like once one person skewed positive or negative, everyone went in that direction. In our recent discussion of The Puma Years, for example, even though a number of different points, pro and con, were raised, the discussion morphed into “why we all hated this book”. Since I’d already said how much I’d enjoyed the book, I felt defensive and ignored.

This bothers me because I though of myself as someone who doesn’t mind being disagreed with. But now I’m not so sure.

A problem with this book club, and maybe all of them, is you get 2 or 3 chances to make a point about the book and then you need to let other people talk. Normally I’m more than happy to let others talk. But I’ve gotten spoiled by writing long reviews on my own time, so when I only have 30 seconds to make a point, I immediately feel like I’ve left out all the important bits. I want to explain, discuss, provide examples, but the group’s already moved on to something else.

I also realized, sadly, that after more than two years in this club, I knew almost nothing about the people in the group, with the exception of one or two, and I don’t think they know anything about me. This is where I have to tell you that I’m not so good at clubs in general. And now that I’m 50, it just feels impossible to meet people and really get to know them. It would be great to have one of those book clubs where you’re close friends who get together and maybe talk about the book. (Of course then I’d probably be annoyed because it wouldn’t be enough about the book.) I’d love a book club that had both camaraderie and book discussion, but I feel like that’s not going to happen.

My husband keeps urging me to start the book club I’m looking for. But I have plenty to read without one, and with this blog I have plenty of people to “talk” to about what I read. I already get a feeling of community from reading challenges and blogging events. Trying to create a book club will take away from the time I want to spend on the blog, and I don’t have time to manage one. And maybe, no one needs one more book club. 

I recently joined an “Un-Book-Club” which is a group that meets once a month (virtually for now) to share books they liked and didn’t like. It’s a completely random mix of genres and you have no way of knowing whether you have similar reading styles as the people recommending books. But it’s also fun and low-pressure — no stress forcing yourself to read something you don’t want to. 

My neighborhood just started a new book club based on the Glennon Doyle podcast We Can Do Hard Things. It would be nice to meet more of my neighbors (maybe) and it would be convenient to get to. I listened to a podcast episode with Susan Cain (author of Quiet) and I don’t know if I loved the podcast but the books might be interesting. 

Still, why jump into yet another book club I have limited time for, one I might feel crushed by? Is the need for in-person connection over books that important? 

I know enough about fixed versus growth mindsets to know it’s not productive to say “I’m bad at book clubs”. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one. Or maybe curling up with a good book and then writing a review is more than enough for me.

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  22 comments for “I’m Bad at Book Clubs

  1. April 26, 2022 at 3:05 am

    I’m in a book club for ten years now, and I lot of what you say chimes with me. Especially the effects that book blogging has had – I think more deeply about books now because I’m reviewing them, and sometimes in the bookclub we don’t get beyond the surface. I keep going because there are times when do have a lively discussion but more often than not there’s a general consensus about a book and that steers the conversation. I’m also the only bloke, which doesn’t bother me anymore but I feel like a bit of a lone voice at times.

    I also think I can nearly predict which books are going to be popular – there’s a certain type of book which ticks all the right boxes. Maybe I’m just there too long. But bookblogging has become more satisfying as a hobby.

    • April 26, 2022 at 7:52 am

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Adrian! I’m glad you’ve found a book club that works for you, for the most part. Sometimes I think the book club raises a lot of things I hadn’t thought of (like when someone researches the author or topic) and sometimes, like you say, it feels more surface. I appreciate hearing you’ve had similar experiences to mine.

      • April 26, 2022 at 8:25 am

        Thanks Deb, I think that’s key, finding one that works. Sometimes I wish there were some new faces, to add a bit of variety. I definitely think things can get a bit staid. I also wonder why more blokes don’t join bookclubs – we’ve had a few, but they didn’t stay for long. I’ve also noticed the same with book blogging, definitely more females. There’s still a number of blokes who don’t see reading as worthwhile hobby. Someone in a pub said to me recently that they hadn’t read a book in years, and said it with a certain pride. Anyway, that’s a different topic! Good luck finding the right book club!

  2. April 26, 2022 at 3:58 am

    I haven’t been able to find a club or even a buddy to read with, so yeah, just reading and reviewing might also be my thing as well.

    • April 26, 2022 at 7:41 am

      Thanks Davida – maybe for those of us who think about books all the time, a book club isn’t the best fit. I’ve never really thought about buddy reads, though I was just looking at a site that was trying to match up readers. That’s an interesting idea.

  3. April 26, 2022 at 5:28 am

    Sounds as though your book club has moved into “group think” – happens all the time with groups who have worked together for a long time so no reason it wouldn’t also happen with a book group. Time to move on and find a group who are happy to agree to disagree in a civilised way.

    • April 26, 2022 at 7:39 am

      That’s an interesting point about “group think” – it has started to feel that one or two very opinionated people are leading the others in the same direction. I appreciate the suggestion to move on and try to find something else. I like disagreement as long as it’s based on the book. And I love books too much to pretend to believe something I don’t.

  4. April 26, 2022 at 10:52 am

    Book clubs can be hard, even in the best of times. I think that’s especially true for avid readers who read a ton anyway and don’t necessarily need the motivation of a group to try new and different books. I had a workplace book club for many years and it was fun while it lasted, but eventually we all got busy and realized that we weren’t necessarily interesting in reading the same sorts of books. While I like being exposed to books outside of my usual preferences, I already have so many books to read that I sometimes resent being obligated to read something for a book club that I might not really be interested in.

    In any case, I’m now a part of an online book club, where we choose a book of the month for the whole year in advance, and we discuss via our online forum. It works well for me, because there’s no one voice that drowns out others and all opinions are given equal weight. I don’t always love the books we end up reading, but we all work on the year’s list together ahead of time, so the books tend to be things that at the very least, I don’t mind giving a try.

    • April 26, 2022 at 5:41 pm

      Lisa, I’m glad you found a book club you like – and I do think online forums work well for many of us who otherwise might not be heard. My current book club does nominations and then votes on the results, four months at a time, which is a pretty good system, and I’ve suggested a few books that got chosen. I think how a book club chooses its books is really important.

  5. April 26, 2022 at 11:24 am

    Book Clubs to me feel like high school literature class–assigned reading, make your points to get your discussion grade, gunners/high achievers dominate, quiet introspective types who may have better comments are drowned out and cliques inevitably form. Even with wine that’s just not for me. I must prefer blogs–to read what others say about books–some I read to find books, sometimes I mark a review to come back to after I’ve read the book–not wanting any opinions before I try one I’m looing forward to. Sometimes I find online reading challenges/clubs to also be “assigned reading” and I tune out, but lately I’ve been enjoying those. For example, the Classics Club Spins, the [Year] Club reads and various month-long ones like Reading Wales or Japanese Literature or German Literature or whatever month hosted by a blog. I look through and comment on others reviews and find lots of great books to read that way without the bother of going to a book club. Now, if I could find a book club as agreeable as those in fiction–I’d be all for it, lol.

    • April 26, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks for commenting! It’s interesting to see I’m not the only one who struggles with book clubs (even with wine…). And like you, I really enjoy some blog reading events. Nonfiction November is a favorite for me, but I always want to do the ones that are nationality-based and haven’t made the time.

      • April 26, 2022 at 8:06 pm

        Pick one. Just one. Read one book. You may just love it! Nonfiction November is great. I’ll look at your posts!

  6. Sharon
    April 27, 2022 at 6:31 am

    Book groups can get a bit cliquey, have to admit I have had similar past experiences, but I really like the idea of an Un Book club. I have been thinking about starting a kind of neighbourhood coffee group to just discuss in a very general way, what people have been reading, more about building a sense of community than anything else but been feeling a bit exhausted with commitments at the moment so not sure when or if I will do it. The online community is great for sharing the book love and I am looking forward to reading The puma years, thought it sounded great from the post you wrote on it.

    • April 29, 2022 at 11:10 am

      The “Un Book Club” is fun, and much more relaxed. I’ve also seen groups on Meetup.com that just get together to read, which would feel strange to me but I can see it being helpful for those who don’t get time to themselves to read. I like the neighborhood coffee idea. I’ve been thinking about starting a casual “book chat” in Teams at work.

  7. April 27, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    I tend to struggle with book clubs, but I’m also the lurker in any group. I do like buddy reads with one or two people. It makes things flexible for us. We also have expectations going in at this point of each other’s discussion styles and tastes. I also like readalongs where everyone writes their post individually and then we go on other people’s posts at our leisure. In general, I also prefer to have multiple discussions throughout reading the book rather than trying to do it about the whole book at the same time.

    • April 29, 2022 at 11:14 am

      I like the idea of buddy reads, I’ve never thought about doing that. How have you set up your buddy reads? I also enjoy readalongs – what you say about having multiple discussions makes a lot of sense, and a readalong allows you to respond on your own time. We had a book club at work last year that did one chapter at a time, and that didn’t work for me at all. I can’t segment my reading that much.

      • April 29, 2022 at 11:20 pm

        It depends on the person and book we’re reading. Usually we pick a book we both are excited to read and then we decide how much we’ll read and when we’ll talk about it. With a Tanith Lee book we did a chapter or two per week and knew it would take us longer to finish. But with a Gail Carriger book we did a few chapters every few days.

  8. April 28, 2022 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve gone to two book clubs – one in London that met locally (in fact so locally it was in my own block of flats the first time we met!) and we read two books I hated, there was a cabal choosing the books and then it folded. Then I joined one here which a few friends went to, but two people I knew had a massive row at one session and it was so embarrassing I never went back (I also went to a discussion on One Day by whoever it was accidentally dressed as the main character!). I have since refused to join the feminist book group three of my close friends are in. I love discussing books on other people’s and my blog though! I think I work better in writing than in real life. I am part of BookCrossing here (though I haven’t been to any of our zoom meetings really!) and a running club which is fine as you can just run, although I have actually made some good friends there, around my late 40s and now 50 I can see I can still meet people that way and via parkrun volunteering.

    • April 29, 2022 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments Liz! It’s been really interesting for me to see these reactions and hear about other people’s experiences with book clubs. I kind of felt like I was the only person who couldn’t make a book club work, or maybe I’m taking these things too seriously. Like you, I feel much more comfortable in writing than verbally. I’m glad to hear you’ve had a good experience with your running club and BookCrossing!

  9. May 1, 2022 at 9:36 am

    This sounds like a good change for you.

    I’ve never found a book club I vibed with either. An un-book club sounds cool, though.

  10. May 23, 2022 at 7:00 pm

    My book club, it not like this, we each get a set time to discuss any books, up to three, that we read, the genre what the plot is, why we liked and recommend or dislike and can’t recommend. I love my book club.

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