At my completely non-bookish day job, my colleagues and I were talking about books, reading and how fabulous the printed word could be. One of my colleagues, J, told us that she belonged to a book club. Now the first thought that popped into my head was pretty much “Desperate Housewives read a book and talk about it over Martinis for the 5 minutes that they aren’t gossiping about their neighbours/friends/colleagues/celebrities. Unfortunately for J, that’s near enough what it is like in her club. She’s really not that kind of girl, she doesn’t really like the genre of the books they suggest, but she reads them anyway because she is the dedicated bookish type and because you never know when a book will come along that you absolutely love, but don’t know why. (J loves Wuthering Heights. I’ll never understand that. As far as I could tell, nobody is ever happy in that story, ever!) Of course when it is J’s turn to choose a book, they all complain about her choices because it isn’t their ‘thing’. Expand your mind ladies, J does it for you!
Another colleague, K, and I suggested that J form a book club with people who at least like similar stuff. If you like horror and paranormal thrillers, a book club full of chick lit/romance lovers is probably going to be hard work. This idea was pounced upon and became a bit of a work thing. J, K, and I have similar taste in books. J sent out an email to the rest of our team, looking to see if anyone else was interested in joining our freshly made Book Club. For some reason, J’s email was assumed to be a joke. None of us can work out why; Book Club is a very serious matter, don’t you know? After repeating many times that Book Club is real, we gave up trying to convincing the others and started looking for books. J and I started looking up the Top 100 books etc., compiling lists, making spreadsheets… K brought us back to earth with “There’s a lot of stuff on your lists we probably won’t enjoy reading. We all like Paranormal, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, why don’t we read more of those kinds of books instead?”
Oops! In all the excitement, J and I had forgotten that we were making a book club based on our bookish tastes. Thank you K for bringing us back down to earth. I’m glad one of us didn’t get carried away with ‘Top 100’ and ‘Books you must read before you die’ lists. Of course then we reached the ‘fun’ part. How do you pick a book that we would all want to read, but none of us have read already?
K and I have read The Name Of The Wind but J has not. J and K have read Enders Game, but I have not. We very quickly had new individual lists for reading (Lets call that Reason 1) but couldn’t think of a book to read that none of us had already just gone and read. In the end, I googled “top ten fantasy authors”. Amazon came back with a top 10 most popular authors list, and lists of their books. Number 3 on that list is Brandon Sanderson. We have picked his novel The Way of Kings as our first book club book.
So, from my story about making a book club, we have Reason 1: You get a great list of books recommended to you by other bookish types before you even start looking at books to read with the others. This is great for me because I read pretty fast. Our book club meets every 2 months at the moment because J can’t bring herself to leave her other club. I could read most books within a week so my shiny new list of books to read will help to occupy me between times.
Onwards now to Reason 2: You get to know people better and/or meet new people. I already know J and K as they are colleagues, but I don’t know them well. Until a week or so ago, I worked on a different team. Talking about book club (Rule 1 of Book Club, never talk about Book Club. Shhh don’t tell anyone!) has helped me to settle into my new team because it gives me something to talk about with J and K besides work. For you, it might be that you’ve moved to a new town and you are looking to meet some people. It could just be that your friends and family aren’t as bookish as you and you just want to meet some people that you can talk to about books.
Book clubs generally work by each member choosing a book that everyone reads, then the next time they meet, they talk about it. This leads me on to Reason 3: You will read different kinds of books. Now, going back to J’s experiences, it’s not always fun to read loads of books in a genre that you don’t like, so I would recommend finding or creating a club with people with a similar taste in literature, but even then, you will find yourself reading and, most probably, enjoying books you may not have even considered reading otherwise. I’m a lover of all things paranormal and mythological but usually the books I favour are based on earth. I have just finished reading The Shining by Stephen King. I should have read that a long time ago, but that is a classic example of what I enjoy. J and K are more Sci-Fi and fantasy lovers. I have read a fair few Trudi Canavan Novels in my time, I love them, so fantasy is great for me too, but I will no doubt end up reading more novels based in fictional places, on fictional planets or other planes of existence. I am looking forward to that. My personal reading list is full of the classics because of the creative writing course I am studying, so some fantasy will balance me off nicely.
Bringing me nicely on to Reason 4: If you are a writer, reading can only help you get better at your craft. When I was very new to the writing scene, I have read up lots of tips on how to improve your writing. One of the most prolific pieces of advice out there, is to read. Read your genre, Read outside your genre. Read something. Read it again. Basically read everything you can get your grubby paws on. Even the milk carton. With a book club, you not only get a plethora of different books to read and share, but you also get feedback on the story from other people’s perspective. This is invaluable to a writer. You are giving and hearing other feedback as readers, to someone’s piece of writing. This will help you to understand your own readers and how different people will interpret your writing in different ways, like you and your Book Club buddies will with the books you read. You will also notice the building blocks for a story, the techniques writers use in storytelling, how every author has their own unique ‘voice’. Do you remember English Lit classes at school? Pulling apart a book and looking at all the different aspects of a story, it’s composition, and how it all fit together to reach the conclusion at the end? Book Clubs encourage you to do this. I will often read books and not notice any of that, because I was lost in the great storytelling. Discussing the books and the storyline with others encourages your to see past the story to find all those little building blocks, all those things that will make your writing even more ‘amaze-balls’ than it already is.
And finally, on to Reason 5: Its fun! Everyone has stressful elements in their lives. Be it work, family, writers block; its a natural part of life to deal with these things, but sometimes you just need to relax and unwind. Often I do that by myself with a good book, but now, once every couple of months, I get to go to the pub at lunch (I tried for happy hour after work but was out-voted) and have a chat and a giggle about a subject that I am passionate about. Sure, it will help my writing, but for me that is more of a fantastic side affect of spending some time with some like-minded readers having a chat and a giggle about a book (possibly amongst other things). The only thing I would recommend is to be aware that it is, first and foremost, a book club, so keep the gossiping to a minimum/save it till after you’ve talked about the book. If you want to spend more time with your Book Club people talking non bookish things, you could always suggest a few drinks in a pub somewhere after, or arrange a book club night out. It doesn’t have to be serious, but Book Club should be about the books.
Do you belong to a book club? If you do, what are the good and bad parts of your book club? If you don’t, have you ever considered joining or creating one? Do you actively avoid joining one? If so, why? I’d love to hear from you.