How does your book group work?

June 4, 2012

A good book group is a thing of beauty and I was lucky enough to be found by what I consider to be one of the coolest book groups in the Bay area.

Back in the summer of 2010, I was looking to start a book group. I posted a note on Craigslist and in return got a note from the founder of this decade-old group that met mostly on the Peninsula. After asking me a few questions, including what I liked to read, he invited me to come to a meeting and try it out.

I loved it and have been part of the group ever since.

It’s a group of tech professionals (retired and current) ranging from their 30s to their 60s, men and women. Everyone’s super-smart and well-read, which makes for lively discussions. One discussion* was so lively that the hostess’ young daughter asked her mother why we were all yelling. Of course, we weren’t yelling: just having a “passionate discussion.”

Here’s how it works: We rotate hosting and take turns offering three books — usually literary fiction– up for a vote. The book with the most votes is selected. If it’s your book, you facilitate the discussion.

A few things that are different about this particular group:

The books are significant and discussion-worthy. No chick-lit or self-help, thank God. I love me a piece of chick lit, but it’s like candy–light, frothy and a confection for days when you’re not in the mood to pay that much attention and just don’t want the substance of a weighty tome.

We actually read the books and discuss them. We do not discuss the state of our relationships, our jobs or our children. We discuss the book. I know, novel idea, right? (pun intended).

There are men in this group. The founder is a man and it’s about a 50-50 gender split. Men sometimes have a whole different take on a character, a plot, an author. Love that.

I enjoy the group’s diversity and appreciate our differences. There’s none of that gossipy mean-girl crap that can crop up in some groups made up of all women. It’s all about the book and how each of us sees it, and no one’s afraid to say. Or to laugh. 

We also rate the book individually at the end of the meeting on a scale from 1-10. The rankings are usually my favorite part of meetings, because, combined with the discussion, they reveal a little bit about how the reader thinks.

Sometimes, the books are darker than I’d normally read and take me way out of my comfort level. There’s good and bad to that. I’ve been exposed to some literature I wouldn’t otherwise have read. On the other hand, I do get tired of topics like genocide and abduction, which this past year seemed to dominate the choices. There’s so much bad news today, spending a bunch of hours reading a fictionalized account of the crap we see on the news can seem like a piling on. But it’ll be my turn to choose for the July meeting and I’ve already collected a bunch of titles from which to choose my three suggestions. No one will get abducted. Or killed.

Our May selection was By Blood by Ellen Ullman. Could not put it down. Next up? Little Big Man

Oh, and a few months ago an author agreed to Skype with us, and we got to ask him all sorts of questions. It was GREAT.

 Would love to know if you have a book group and how it works.

Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility, my pick. The group rated it highly and discussion was way fun. We loved our call with Amor, too. He was generous with his time.

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