Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Join a Book Club!



Yes, I know we all have ridiculously full schedules. We're working, we have deadlines, family obligations, volunteer obligations, not to mention maintaining our physical and mental health and well being. Well, file this suggestion under that last, often over-looked chore--maintaining your wellness.

We have lots of digital pathways open to us that allow us to dip in, on our own schedule, from the convenience of our own kitchen table or sofa, to online book reading communities. Like this blog! And look, here you are reading about reading! So easy! There's also Goodreads, as well as a huge number of blogs/vlogs and book review sites and communities for every genre and interest--too much to shake a stick at.

And yet, reading books is a communal experience. As the famous line from "The Dead Poets Society" goes: "We read to know we are not alone." So while all of the above digital communities are invaluable in enriching the reading (and writing) experience, I want to make a plea right here and now for the importance and irreplaceable value of meeting with other fans of reading, face-to-face, on a regular basis.

I belong to a book group that I started about a year ago by posting a message to my neighborhood listserve describing the kind of books I'd like to read and the timing (one book and one meeting per month), and now get to be a part of a regular meeting of ten like-minded readers from all walks of life and generations. We meet at a nearby restaurant that is neither cool nor trendy--so there's always a table large enough for us available. And the restaurant has a fine offering of table- (and wallet-) friendly wines and a full bar if something more adventurous is called for. No one has to cook or clean up, so all we do is sit and discuss the book we've all just read.

As a writer, this regular window into readers' minds, with people I have grown to know well and whose opinions I value, cannot be replaced. I get to hear their impressions of different styles of writing, how different characters strike them, the little things that they liked or didn't like about a story. This is great information. They all know that I'm a writer, and that I'm listening closely to their impressions. They don't mind at all. I have *not* suggested my book to the group, partly because we don't read books in the genre that I write, historical fantasy, and partly because that would just be weird and self-serving. But I do rely on my experience as a writer to add to the conversation in the group--the challenges of constructing character, the temptation to rely on easy plot ploys to get oneself out of the corner one has written oneself into--that sort of thing.

As a reader, I get so much more out of the reading experience by discussing the books with these folks. They bring up interpretations and connections that I sometimes missed entirely. They help me to see the layers of meaning, because different layers stood out to them than registered for me. They remind me that story-telling is essentially a communal experience, down through the many ages and cultures of humans. After a year, our little group has gelled. We are extremely informal. We are reading books I wouldn't have picked on my own (also great and necessary for a writer!). My appreciation for the craft of story-telling continues to grow.

So...if you aren't already in a book club, consider starting one. It's easy, free, and takes only a tiny bit of your time to manage. You get to decide what you want to read and the schedule, and then ask if there's anyone out there who would like to form a club with you. But more importantly, it connects you to books and story-telling in a communal way that can't be duplicated through any online platform or forum.

Are you already in a book club? I'd love to hear about it! How did your book club get started? How long has your club been reading together? What do you read? How are your meetings run? Tell me in the comments below!

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