Reading for Book Club: Going Public with a Private Pastime
I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’ve decided to join a book club. You’d think that wouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve been in a book club before. I read books that I certainly wouldn’t have read on my own or finished if I had the choice. It was fun, social, and intellectually stimulating. We alternated between fiction and non-fiction books, snacked on food that matched the book (White Castle burgers for Motherless Brooklyn!), and enjoyed great conversation.
But… I’ve been reading on my own now for about 3 years and I’ve deeply indulged. (Check my goodreads!) Never before had I the opportunity to read for pure pleasure. Well, maybe when I was in high school or younger but, at that time, pleasure reading was not one of my priorities.
Lately, I pick up whatever book I want to read, whenever I feel like reading it. I’m not reading to meet a deadline or to analyze the text in class. I’m not required to offer my opinion about the book or think critically about what happened. This is a solo activity. I can decide that I like a book because it gives me inexplicable butterflies or because the author totally tricked me for the first dozen pages or because it reads like a venerable masterpiece – song, theater, opera, poetry – even as it describes a nightmarish situation that could take place today. When I read alone, the only English major who could argue or fling around words like misogyny or existentialism would be me… and then I’d really be a pretentious asshole, wouldn’t I? A pretentious asshole who also talks to herself.
Don’t get me wrong, reading for pleasure has its downfalls. I formed bad habits: If a book was boring, I’d tossed it aside. I concluded that the world houses too many good books for me to waste time on crap. Oh, and that word good? Remember, it’s relative. Although I love True Blood, the Sookie Stackhouse series got thrown into my pile of crap. On the other hand, I devoured the Twilight series despite its cheesy characters and bad writing. (I know. Even I’m thinking, ‘WTF?! Get some taste, Girl!’)
Which is why I’m a bit nervous to meet this group of smart female scientists who invited/accepted me into their book club. We’re meeting on Sunday to discuss not one but three(!) books: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and Little Bee by Chris Cleave. While I’m excited to meet the other women, I’m not quite sure how to act or what I’m going to say.
Part of me feels like I have to come prepared, to add something, to show off my abilities to discuss books rather than simply devour the ones I like. Hell, to serve my purpose as the only English major in the group without coming across as completely obnoxious.
The other part of me wants to offer unsubstantiated opinions and describe one of the books as “eh” and leave it at that. I’m pretty sure if I was reading on my own it would’ve been thrown into the pile of crap. Not that it was bad. Just eh. And, like I said, if a book is take it or leave it, I’m willing to leave it and move on to the next take it.
Which attitude do you think is more socially acceptable? Do I come up with interesting points to dissect in the plot, ask thought-provoking questions, or ‘what if you were the character’ scenarios? Am I allowed to say a book was okay but nothing special and I’d rather talk about what television shows they’re watching this season? If you’re in a book club, tell me, what characterizes a good discussion? What do you expect from your book club cohorts, the other readers?
After all this, I’m sad to admit that I have in fact started brainstorming questions that I can bring up depending on the mood. I’ve got some softballs, some questions I’d be interested in discussing, and some questions that I feel are mandatory (e.g., the ones that resemble those on the publisher’s list of suggested discussion topics).
If you have read any of these books, I’d love it, love it, love it, if you’d e-mail me with topics or questions. We could either discuss them over e-mail (you and I) or I’ll bring it up on Sunday and let you know how it went. Also, I’m happy to send you the questions about which I’ve been thinking. They’re nothing if not a good starting point.
No matter what…promise you’ll wish me luck.