Book clubs: good and bad, virtual and local

book clubs

I miss my college literature classes. Sure, it’s great to read whatever I want instead of following a syllabus (although I’ve swapped that responsibility for reviewing secret assigned books for Kirkus Indie — my lips are sealed on those, sorry!), but I miss opening my mind to new styles, genres, and authors. As consumers, we don’t always do that. We have our preferences because books cost money. Unless you frequent libraries and don’t mind the waiting periods, chances are you stick to books you think are most interesting.

Of course, you might go off a friend’s recommendation, and that’s a good way to expand your reading palette.

girl readingI have to confess two things: I don’t much care for classics (being honest here), and I hate the reality of book clubs. First of all, it’s not that I don’t respect or like the classics — I do, and I studied them in college — but I think a lot of people are tricked into thinking they have to love all of them or that nobody on Earth is allowed to dislike them.

That’s why I have an aversion to book clubs. Everyone wants to read the classics, or they want to read a specific genre, or they don’t give members the choice to pick the selections. Or maybe there are just too many members and not enough turns to go around.

Reading old literature comes with benefits, of course. But I love exploring what’s new — what today’s writers are writing and how they’re making history. We can only conjecture at what life was truly like for people like for people back when, but we know more intimately what life is like for people today, and reading about it (in fiction or nonfiction, which both draw from modern experiences) can help us grow and better understand others and the hardships they face now.

Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to relate to.

I’ve never had a mind for history or math — facts and figures just don’t stick in my head. But I love reading about past cultures, so it’s not that I’m allergic to classics. Now that I’m free from my studies, I’d just rather read contemporary books most of the time.

book club smallThat’s why one of my best friends and I have started our own book club. We might be close, but we have vastly different tastes. I’m terrified she’s going to force me to read a Nicholas Sparks book, but that’s OK because she’s going to have to give the stuff I like a chance, too, in equal amounts. We both get to read exactly what we want, but we have to be willing to expand our repertoire a little.

I can feel a lot more genuine, too, talking about a book that was written in the last few decades while sitting in a coffee shop or bakery than I can pretending to identify with people who faced a lot worse than we’re used to, with a fraction of the conveniences. We can relate to characters, but we can’t say with honesty that we really relate to the times — not in most cases, even if we’re going through similar situations today. The conditions are different, and so is the world.

For those who don’t have local book clubs to join, plenty of online clubs do exist. Sony just launched a virtual book club for Sony Reader users, where they can chat with the author at the end of the month. But the Sony Reader Store picks the books, which doesn’t give members any control over how they spend that chunk of their time (and money). Is this agreeable to you, or should clubs offer more freedom?

Are you part of a book club? What do you think is a good set-up for them so everyone is happy? Do you like classic or contemporary books more, and why? Either is OK! :)

10 thoughts on “Book clubs: good and bad, virtual and local

  1. The reality of book clubs to me is: I wouldn’t read the books I didn’t pick. I loved talking about books in class too but when it comes down to it, I would only read some of them because I HAD to suffer through them. I have become the kind of person that says, “Nah,” and puts a book down within the first 5%. It’s not about money, it’s about time–why waste my free time on a book I don’t like? I have weird phases when it comes to books, sometimes I want classics, other times contemporary, so trying to fit someone else’s schedule would be horrible.

    Luckily for me, I have classrooms full of little minions to force books on and discuss!

    1. Same here, Melanie — I’m short enough on time as it is. I’m excited to start the book club with my friend because 1) once a month is light enough on my schedule and 2) it’s a small enough group with just the two of us that I’ll get to try out other books, feel more engaged with them through discussion, and go back to reading what I want every other time.

      Sometimes I get an urge to read a classic, but mostly, I’ve grown out of it. Of course, the word “classic” is flexible — I’ve always been happy to read literature set in, for example, the 20th and sometimes the 19th century than stuff set much earlier. It just depends what you have a preference for when it comes to classics and reading, I guess! Everybody’s different.

      1. I count classics as books entered into “canon” I guess. I do stick with speculative fiction a lot, though. And a small group wouldn’t be too, too bad. When I hear book club, I always think of like old boring women, haha.

  2. A very thought-provoking post! I am in the process joining a YA book club actually, and while I believe that the members do vote on what books to read, I think those that are voted on are already pre-selected. And if you’re not part of the majority then you’re out of luck and still reading something perhaps you don’t want to. I do think book clubs are important, however, because they give us the chance to take the highly personal activity of reading and be able to share thoughts, concerns, and questions with others. Not that I have anything against just reading a book by myself and engaging in some self-reflection, but it’s always nice to be able to hear/read others’ thoughts as well and engage in some discussion. In terms of genre, I don’t think any would bother me really. Being part of a book club will not stop me from also reading other personal books, and I count it as a good thing if the club is discussing something I may have overlooked otherwise. (Though ideally it would be nice to also discuss books and genres that I know I’ll love with other people as well.)

    1. Well said, Amanda! That’s why picking a book club has been such a hard decision for me — I love the idea of them, but I just don’t want to have to settle.

      So making my own club might just work out. :)

  3. I’d have a problem with a book club, I’m sure of it. I, too, put a lot of books down in the first few chapters because I just don’t like them. I’m sure that wouldn’t go over too well in a book club. And god forbid someone wanted me to read a Nicholas Sparks book! Yikes! At the same time, I do love talking about books I’ve read on the blogs, Twitter and sometimes among friends. I’m with you Stephanie, I’m not a huge fan of the classics either. Contemporary is usually the way I go.

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for admitting you’re not a big fan of classics, either! I think some people are afraid to, honestly, although it’s perfectly understandable that there are people out there who really do feel and think passionately about them. That’s fine! Some of the classics are among my favorite books.

      But yuck, I know! Nicholas Sparks, right? :D Haha. It’s good to have choice — I just want a book club that reflects that instead of a few people having all the control. Maybe smaller is better in that case. I’m gonna find out soon enough!

  4. I am also more into contemporary authors and books than classics. I will read one every now and then but it’s more the exception than the rule. It’s fascinating to read a book written decades before we were born and still admire it’s relevance today or writing(Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird) but yeah i do prefer books i can relate to more.

    As for book clubs i am not into the idea as i am a not group kind of of guy but i would love it if every now and then 2-3 friends read the same book at the same time. This can allow us to talk about it like in a book club, but with people i know. This rarely happens however and by the time i read a book a friend has read he will have forgotten about it.

    1. You should coordinate with a couple friends, Costas! It’s definitely a fun idea — to get together with a very small group, read, and discuss.

      Classics are great for that reason — they hold power even today, or at least the really good ones do. :)

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