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! :)