Book group reading

Book groups are an odd thing. It takes a long time to get a group together that has the right synergy, where all members of the group can use the same language to discuss, yet also bring their own perspectives.

I’ve been in the same book group for about 9 years now. There have been lots of changes over the years and only three of the original members are still in the group. We started with four women in their forties, and four women in their eighties. Sadly, none of the four older women are still able to participate. Two have died, one moved across country where her family could care for her, and the fourth decided that it was too much for her to do because of limited eyesight and limited mobility. So, we’ve had a lot of attrition. We’ve had some people who only show up for one or two months and then move on. Others who say that they will join us, but never do. Sometimes I think it is because of the books that we read. Or don’t read.

Now here is where I’m going to sound very complaining. I do not want to read “uplifting” spiritual autobiographies, especially when they espouse a theological perspective that I don’t agree with and one that states — flat out — that I am not only wrong, but doomed. I find nothing to discuss, although plenty to argue about. Yet, I won’t argue because I don’t much see the point. Now, should we have decided to read a theologian and then discussed his arguments, I would be okay with that. But don’t ask me again to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and then fawn over it without looking critically at Lewis’ allegory.

I don’t want to read self-help books. I can use help, but I doubt that I’ll find it in a book unless it is the The Guide to Plumbing for the Inept. We read “The Happiness Project” last year. I couldn’t find much to say about it other than once the author began a blog along about Month Four of her project, the book seemed to rely heavily on excerpts from the blog. I could have just read it online. I would have been happier — and with a few more dollars in my pocket.

I won’t stand for romance novels. I cannot convince some of my fellow members that Debbie Macomber and Judy Piccoult fit into this category, even if some of their books are not romance per se. I don’t buy this type of book and I’ve given up the ruse of acting like I’m going to read it by checking it out from the library.

I made to pretense to reading Glen Beck’s Christmas story, either. It was not an option, though I showed up for that month’s meeting, as we always go out to dinner in December.

I am willing to read suggested works from the library’s “classic books” list, but the problem is frequently that I’ve read most of what the others have not. I didn’t like Pilgrim’s Progress or The Scarlet Letter three decades ago when I was an English Lit major and while I might be more appreciative of them now, I don’t really care to re-read them. The librarians also seem to not have noticed that there has been good literature written in the last 70 years. Listing an outdated list of great literature by dead white guys seems pretty lame to me. Reading many of those works does to.

When I’ve had an opportunity to choose a book, I’ve been known to spook the others with my choices. I don’t know if some in the group have forgiven me yet for choosing Anna Karenina. One of the group said about that book: “I knew it was going to be sad as it came to the end, but I didn’t see that train coming”. I didn’t score points by thinking that this was one of the funniest things I had ever heard. She has probably forgotten that, but I don’t think that I will.

Why then, you might ask, do I stay in this group? Because every month I met with five other extraordinary women, ranging in age from 29 to 72, who come from very different backgrounds and we all love to read, despite having differences of opinion as to what is worthwhile to read. I may be a literary snob in my reading choices, but I have been surprised sometime, and I like that possibility.

This month, we are reading Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I had never read the book before, and although I was familiar with the title and knew that it had been made into a movie years ago, I knew little about it. I have only read about 30 pages so far and I’m not sure that I’ve been ‘caught’ by the book yet, which is to say that I could put it down. Or so I was thinking until I reached the end of chapter two. Francie, the heroine of the book, loves to read.

Francie held the books close and hurried home, resisting the temptation to sit on the first stoop she came to, to start reading….The story of Francois Villon was more wonderful each time she read it. Sometimes she worried for fear the book would be lost in the library and she’d never be able to read it again. She had once started copying the book in a two-cent notebook. She wanted to own a book so badly and she had thought the copying would do it. But the penciled sheets did not seem like nor smell like the library book so she had given it up, consoling herself with the vow that when she grew up, she would work hard, save money and buy every single book that she liked.

I think I just fell in love with 11-year old Francie and will keep reading.


3 responses to “Book group reading

  1. I agree that finding a good book group is very hard. The mystery group I’m in now is working extraordinarily well, and I think that’s partly because we have a set focus. We all knew what we were getting into — that we wouldn’t be reading self-help or romance or science fiction, or whatever. But our personalities also work together well. I can see why you stuck with yours, even with all those disappointing choices. It’s great when a book group gets you to read something you love that you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

  2. ‘“uplifting” spiritual autobiographies’ Kill me now.

    I’ve often thought I’d like to join a book group and there have been a couple of friends who’ve asked me to join theirs. Unfortunately, I was black-balled on both occasions for being male and potentially a domineering, motor-mouthed, control freak (guilty as charged, I suppose).

    Mostly what’s put me off has been the idea that I’d have to read books I wouldn’t like.

    Glen Beck’s Christmas story? Seriously

    • Gabriel, your comments made me laugh! It is interesting how most book groups are female. I think that is unfortunate. When my book group was comprised of 4 women in their 40’s and 4 in their 80’s, it produced great interactions because of our various life experiences. I think the same would be true with different genders. Several years ago I was in a book group at a church — no “uplifting” spiritual bios! — and it attracted a wide cross-section of people which made for interesting discussions. A few of us, though, couldn’t convince the group to read Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I also failed to get them to read Blake or Donne.