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December 9, 2010

I love my book club.

I didn’t sum up our latest meeting of The Vicious Circle, because I only caught an hour of it. A few weeks before, we’d realized that my husband would have to work late the night of our meeting, which had brought forth much distress at our house: I love my book club, and my husband knows how much I love it. So we came up with a compromise that suited everybody (except my husband who’d have to come home from an extended work day to put the baby to bed, but alas, he is a kind man): I’d book an autoshare car and dash out the door the instant he came in, and then drive like a law-abiding demon out to the west end where I could join The Vicious Circle for the last hour or so of our meeting. These are the lengths I go to, and if you were a member, you would understand.

I love my book club. I feel the need to voice this after reading “I broke up with my book club” in the Globe and Mail today, and after reading “Behind Enemy Lines: My life in an all-woman’s book club” in CNQ (though I feel the latter would have been better titled “I don’t like women, or most people, and I am smarter than you”). I understand why book clubs are derrided– I used to run them down myself. I was always an annoyingly obstinate independent reader (which is the reason I have still not read A Complicated Kindness), and the idea of being told what to read and then discussing said reading with a group of stupid people never held much appeal to me.

And then one day last winter, a group of distinctly non-stupid people asked me to join their brand new book club, and though my instinct was to run for hills, it was the kind of honour one couldn’t turn down. Some of these people were survivors of bad book clubs, and were determined to forge something different with this new experience. They’d chosen members carefully, each of us passionate about reading and connected to the literary life in various capacities: we have authors among us, of picture books, abridged classics and short stories; an illustrator; most of us blog about books; a lot of us work in publishing, in publicity; one of us is a journalist. Though we are bookish, we are various, and that none of us would be considered a casual reader is probably the one thing we all have in common.

We capped ourselves, because the survivors had learned that book clubs fall to pieces once there are too many to focus on one conversation. We picked our books casually, choosing from a pile of paperbacks we brought to the first meeting, and we’ve read all novels so far, contemporary or less-so. We do enjoy visiting one another’s houses, and snooping through nooks, and crannies, and bookshelves. Wine and cheese is popular, and so is dessert. We’re fond of gossip, and our name isn’t just clever– it’s apt. As the evening grows later, the talk gets louder, and more and more inappropriate.

But the best thing about book club is that we talk about books. Our conversations, our various points of view, approaches, and backgrounds all opening up new avenues in the works we’d never have found whilst reading alone. We challenge one another, ask questions, disagree and shout a lot. No one shuts down discussion: if you don’t like the book, let’s talk about why. We show up most excited for the meetings at which we’ve loved the books, but it’s true that the talk is always best at the meetings where we’ve hated it. There was one meeting where a blah book hadn’t elicited very much response, and admittedly that one time we did focus mostly on the guacamole. But it must be said that the guacamole was really very good.

So the problem is not book clubs, the problem is YOUR book club. The problem is that you’re doing it wrong. Maybe you shouldn’t be in a book club at all? (Book clubs should be the endeavour of choice for those who read already, not those who merely wish they did.) My book clubs exists as living proof that the institution itself is not to blame.

7 thoughts on “I love my book club.”

  1. Rebecca says:

    “Book clubs should be the endeavour of choice for those who read already, not those who merely wish they did.”

    That is, so often, exactly what the problem is. I do not like to hang out with people for whom my great pleasure–reading–is medicine they are trying to gag down. I am in an awesome bookclub now, too–so worth the struggle!

  2. Heidi says:

    This is the book club of dreams. Intensely envious.

  3. “So the problem is not book clubs, the problem is YOUR book club. The problem is that you’re doing it wrong.”

    Wow. THAT’S not judgmental in the slightest.

    1. Kerry says:

      Of course it’s judgmental. As is saying book clubs in general are rubbish just because yours sucks. The only difference is that I’m right 😉

  4. patricia says:

    You are dead-on right, Kerry! Boy did I find that Facts & Arguments piece annoying.

    So pleased to be considered a non-stupid person. Though at times that description is debatable, especially if I’ve consumed too much wine or guacamole…

  5. Melwyk says:

    Great post, and great bookclub to celebrate 🙂 I’m so glad that there is a bookclub out there that WORKS. Being readers to begin with seems like the key.

    I wish I hadn’t read the two links you included though…they have made me sad.

  6. Julie says:

    I’m so honoured to be a part of it!

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