Book Clubs: Love 'em or avoid 'em?
Or something in between?
I’ve been thinking a lot about book clubs lately.
(Full disclosure, which you likely already know: I run two book clubs, and yes, I’ll tell you about one of them here and extend an invitation. I’ll also share what we’ve been reading, so please do read on.)
My thoughts have ranged over:
What makes book clubs work and what doesn’t always serve?
The importance of group dynamics and how they shift, as members grow and change, come and go.
What are the essential ingredient(s)?
What does a club really offer its members?
I come back again and again to the fact that, once again, it’s not necessarily / always about the books.
When I moved back to Canada from Latin America in the early two thousands, I settled in Toronto. It was the biggest city I’d ever lived in and wanted to meet people, so I looked for a book club. One that was seeking new members received a huge number of responses, and the organizer kindly arranged an intro get-together for the overflow in case we wanted to form our own.
We met a restaurant, sat at a big round table by the window, and all introduced ourselves. When Sandy said she was a translator, I was thrilled: that made two of us! Lana was from Serbia and her blunt nature immediately intrigued: this woman would share nothing but an honest opinion. Larissa, newly arrived from Russia, with two young children, cried: she was so happy, so relieved to finally be having an adult conversation with other women.
About ten of us agreed to continue and met monthly for a couple of years. We always talked about the book, always knew we could say what we really felt, never all had the same opinions and were always respected. We also shared something of our lives that the book brought up in and for us. The book was not an abstract, distant object to be dissected but a fulcrum point around which we could have an experience and share it with others.
THIS is what I love most. In a book club, it’s about all of our stories. It’s about you, and me, and us together as a community. It’s about reading and exploring, sharing and listening, discovering and growing.
This is what I attempt to foster, allow, create in Wayfarers Book Club. It’s what members say they appreciate most. They don’t always like the book. But because it’s not all about the book, that’s OK. We always get something out of it.
Book clubs definitely aren’t for everyone, and there are all kinds, run in very different ways.
Many these days are celebrity led, so in a way you get to connect with the stars: Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jimmy Fallon, Barack Obama!
Some never meet, so you can be your full introverted self. (I might run a book club, but my introverted self feels the appeal in that. :)
Some are very structured, follow a certain format and even contain presentations on the structure of or themes in the book; while others are wild and free, with the talk more likely to turn towards chitchat.
Some read only certain genres. Others vary. Some are coordinated and led. With others, everyone involved selects the titles.
So, book clubs…
What’s your flavor?
Do you love ’em or avoid ’em?
Share in a comment, or hit reply and let me know?
It’s nigh impossible to give everyone what they want —nor would I want to because then no one is truly served— but if you’re willing to go one step further, which aspects of Wayfarers compel or repel you?
World lit - you get to go places you may have never been, yet even armchair travel can be uncomfortable
Online - it allows for us to be international, but yup, once a month you’re on Zoom again
Small - we get actual time to share and be heard, and so it’s hard to hide
Subscription - monthly, affordable (and no one turned away on account of money), although a commitment can be daunting and any price can call its value into question
(And if it sounds good as is, join us for June? You’d be so welcome.)
I can’t wait to hear from you.
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
What we’re reading / will be reading in Wayfarers and the World Lit Collective…
The Passenger, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, translated by Philip Boehm - Written by a German Jew in a feverish few weeks, soon after Kristallnacht in 1938, this book is prescient and astonishingly complex despite its short length and simple structure. Our narrator, Otto Silbermann, goes from successful businessman to persecuted Jew overnight and takes train after train, trying to process his situation and outrun his fate. The story behind the story, of this almost-lost novel and the author’s life in transit before his own tragic end makes this novel even more stunning.
Home Reading Service, by Fabio Morábito, translated by Curtis Bauer - I’m still processing what I think of this slim novel set in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where the narrator is given community service for a driving offence, in which he is to read to disabled or otherwise underprivileged members of society in their homes. There’s a pinch of humor, an undercurrent of poetry, a heap of detachment, and ultimately a bit of tragedy with a relatively happy ending for the protagonist. It’s a wholly atypical classic, brought to us by two award-winning poets.
What are you reading, in your book club and/or on your own?