You would think someone who writes books and loves words would always have been active in book clubs. It took a move cross-country for me to finally join one.
Part of the reason I finally took action is convenience; I now live in a large community where many people are retired, and while being around people with time on their hands when I’m working full-time has been difficult, I knew there would be several book clubs nearby. I also needed a new place to interact socially and decided it was time to focus some free time on getting to know readers better.
What I didn’t expect when I joined was how much I would enjoy it. I sat myself down on my new back porch with a glass of wine (my favorite way to mull over the whys of life) after the wonderful last meeting of the club and analyzed the situation. Here’s what I came up with:
I needed to share. You know that feeling you get when your mind wanders into the pages of a good book and gets lost completely in the story only to come crashing into a wall as you reach the end and are forced back to the real world of laundry, cat litter, dust bunnies, work stresses? You still feel the abruptness and disappointment when you finish a good book selected for a club; however, you get the relief of knowing other people have been lost inside that same fictional world for a short while, and you can look forward to sharing your experience together at the next meeting.
The club I joined was not a “club” at all before the first meeting. Someone put out a call on the local Nextdoor newsletter to start a new organization and ten “hungry” women answered the call. I could tell at that very first meeting that these ladies were craving what I was: an expansion of what they read and an audience for their thoughts about the story. As a brand-new group, we set our own rules, determined our own direction as far as what to read and left room for flexibility. I also lucked out and got a group of fun women who had no expectations of formalness and no pre-determined level of intellectual conversation that was “acceptable.” No one dominated the conversation, and no one had determined beforehand what being in a book club required.
Our members are a mixed bag. We come from different parts of the U.S. with different career backgrounds and levels of wealth. While we are mostly white bread and mostly older women, we have one youngster who brings fresh ideas, several members who have lived all over the U.S. and both conservative and more progressive thinkers. We are also getting to know gradually how different our upbringings were as we explain why we think about plot direction and characters the way we do.
I’m getting a better grasp of what’s behind how readers get to certain points in their analysis of a story. There have been several “surprises” from my own readers over the years about how they think: People expressing shock at who ended up being the villain when I thought it was too obvious; readers who loved one book over another when I thought I knew which of our plots was strongest. The conclusion I’m drawing from being part of a group of people coming at the book as a reader is this: how you react to what’s happening in the books; why you choose certain types of books as favorites; why you react emotionally to events in the book has to do with the lighting system your own life experiences provided you.
I’ve also come to this conclusion: Belonging to a club is fun because it lets you look over the shoulders of your new friends to see a book in a new light.—Genilee Swope Parente