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Thoughts on bookclubs

I started being in a bookclub back in 1998 or so, when I was at a law firm. The group was mostly other filing clerks and legal assistants, and while it was friendly, it still had a cliquey feel and I didn't feel like I was a part of it. After about 6 months, the stress of the company breaking in three caused the bookclub to take a hiatus, but I'd become bored of the dull memoir/touching books the group tended to choose ("Angela's Ashes" being typical) and the flat conversation (all about the plot and personal response and nothing about the actual literary qualities of the books).

A year or so later I started a book club with one of my former coworkers. We agreed on a manifesto (6 classics, 4 modern books of literary merit, 1 non-fiction, 1 science fiction for the summer when we would have a barbeque), found a few other people that liked what we wanted to do, and proceeded to have a bookclub for about two years, when the increasing hostility of two of the members of the book club led me to stop organizing meetings and let it go on its way. Still, I read some great books during those two years, like Cortazar's Hopscotch and The Sound and the Fury, and I knew damned well that the motivation of the club deadline is what kept me going.

Last year I managed to attend a bookclub about twice (maybe just once?) and got as my gift the treasure of having read Madame Bovary, not to mention the pleasure of talking to other people about books again. I have friends who do wind up reading the same books, but since we often read them in series (since we will share a book with each other - The End of Mr Y comes to mind) - we usually can't talk about them in depth. Once again, my membership in this bookclub ended due to the hostility of the other members (one of them isn't talking to me anymore, and I can't imagine dropping in again just to face that!), but my desire to "up my game" and read books of lasting value continues.

Now I see books on my shelf - Master and Margarita, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Don Quixote - that I know I want on my life list but haven't been able to motivate myself to read - well, that's not entirely true, as I made it through three classics last year - and I want even more to have people to talk about them with. Tonight I meet to see if I can reach that special detente with two other people. Perhaps I should just assume that book clubs have a fixed life and then get my enjoyment out of the time I'm in this new one, but mostly, I can't wait to pick up a really great book and have someone to talk to about it. It's not true that no one enjoys Proust in a vacuum, but, like Proust himself, there is so much enjoyment to be found if you can share your reading with others.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2010 10:04 am (UTC)
I do little informal book club things with friends of mine that share my interests... it's rarely "by June 30th, "The Tale of Genji"," but often we will feel variously guilty depending on who's ahead, and the people behind will race to catch up. I've been meaning to read "The Master and Margarita", though, so if you want someone to read that with I'm game.
Jan. 14th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
I adore "The Master and Margarita." There's a lot of back and forth over the translations. I've read two different version, the first in the 1970s (Glenny, I think) and the other one done in the 1990s. I also heard there's a grphic novel version coming out.
Jan. 14th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Looking forward to our plotting! (realises bad pun too late!)

I can't remember if I told you why I read the classics now. I always hated them growing up and preferrred scifi or fantasty (cause I thought they had stronger women characters). But then I read the 4 classic chinese novels and loved them so much I thought maybe I'd give the classics from my own country another shot and found that I really enjoyed them, especially from the historical perspective!
Jan. 14th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)
I thought I hated literature growing up too, because everything we were taught in school and/or was shoved down my throat by my mother trying to make me well-read was simply awful. The UW didn't help much either. When I struck out on my own (mostly with french lit) it was like a whole new world opened up which I had been searching for for ages.
Jan. 14th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
I was thinking about book clubs the other day, and I am entirely torn between 'OMG book club squee!' and 'I spend three days a week already discussing literature with other people, for god's sake...' [grin]
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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