Monday, May 18, 2015

The Case for Multiple Book Clubs

Hello. My name is Kenya and I hoard book clubs. [Hello, Kenya!] 
“Hoard” is obviously the wrong word, which suggests that I am trying to keep all the book clubs to myself, even when they are no longer useful to me, like so many candy wrappers, like I can’t get to my kitchen door without stepping over the book clubs in the way. That would be ridiculous... not about books, but about book groups!

The way I see it is: Books are my main hobby. Sporty people (I believe they are called athletes) and fisherman enjoy hanging out with others who share their interests. There are sports channels and fishing tackle stores and people in camo looking at dead fish, etc. Well, I also like to spend time with people who enjoy my favorite past time. I’m assuming things here, obviously; I don’t know any fisherman and very few athletes.  

Plus, when I moved to Rochester, I did so without knowing many people here. Hubbo works from home and is completely imbedded in the geekdom of the comic book industry and my kiddos are getting older (aka: less needy). I needed a way to meet and play with new friends of my own. Enter, book clubs! 
My plan was to try a few and really settle into one. But I realized that book clubs are kind of like people, or a church. Or a favorite Target store. They each have a personality and a culture. No single one can provide every single thing you need. So, right now I have four.  

My Friends (Sometimes we only barely remember what we are there for): My primary book group meets every 6 weeks or so. It was my idea to start it, but I didn’t really have anyone to invite (being pretty friendless) so it’s me, my friend, Meredith, and now 4 other people of varying degrees of separation from my friend. This is the club that typifies my idea of a friend’s book club: we all know each other fairly well, an average of two people actually read the book, we talk about it for no longer than 15 minutes, there’s at least three bottles of wine, and, more recently, it could be considered the Crimes against Humanity game club. Let me digress to warn you against introducing this game to a group of people that already has any other purpose. Anyway, we pick mostly light- reading fiction. Our most recent book, Landline by Rainbow Rowell was a favorite. I think only one person didn’t finish it! It’s considered YA by some, but is an excellent book about looking back on your life and figuring out how you may be missing out on the wonder of you relationship. We generally get a little loud and make fun of each other at least half the time.

My Library (Great at reading/ structure but not a lot of silliness): My “Library” book group is a discussion group organized by the local mortuary. Ha! No, seriously, it’s organized through the library. There are many libraries in my county and I basically attended the two that were conveniently timed and kept going back to the one I liked best (it was a smaller group). The average age of the participants is probably about 55 and I’ve never seen another person of color at a meeting. Everyone is super nice but a little mystified by the plight of any non- suburban characters. I like this book club largely, but not only, because of the structure. We are there to talk about the book. It’s also somewhat informal; we digress and get tangential but the majority of the time is spent on the book or making connections to other books. A recent favorite from this group was The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. This book sparked some discussion about the history of mental institutions and families.  If you're in Monroe County and want to find a library book discussion group: click here. Barnes and Noble and some other books stores also have them. Check websites!

My Brains (The intellectuals):  My third group is for local Young Professionals. I qualify, by their definition, for about 2.5 more years, but I’m not planning to tell them that I’m getting close to being shoved out on the block of ice into the wilderness. This group is organized by a local group called Writers and Books. All of the participants are writers, avid readers, educators, or some combination. They teach words, breathe words, and use words like “trope” when we’re discussing books. Of course, by the end of each discussion, we’ve started googling the authors and making judgments about how closely their work resembles their real lives. And their hair. We always judge their hair. This group is intellectual and juvenile, all at the same time. The participants are idealistic and energetic. Members get together outside of book club for other local events. It’s also the only group where men regularly attend. Last month we read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore, a favorite book of one of the group members. Great discussion. And everyone brings food inspired by the book!  

My Diversity (#WeNeedDiverseBooks and book clubs): I’m the least connected to the fourth group, called Ebony Voices. I attended a book discussion event for The Snow Child as part of the “If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book” project in 2014. A woman made several remarks about fantasy novels during the discussion that rubbed me the wrong way and I was ready to snub her so she could feel my righteous indignation. But after the discussion was over, she approached me (“I’ve never seen you here before.”) and invited me to her own “friend” book group. The group has been together, in iterations, for about 25 years. The participants are all professional women and read only books by authors of color. I’ve only been to a few meetings because the schedule isn’t ideal but the discussions we have in this group are unlike any I can have elsewhere, rich in history, shared experience, and spiritualism.  Who Asked You by Terry McMillan was a well- received book and reminded us all that there’s more than one side to every story.  

Of course, you’re wondering how I keep up with the assigned reading. It would be easier if they weren’t almost always scheduled the same week of the month. Truly, sometimes I read everything and sometimes I don’t. Last week, I hadn’t read the book for the Library group but went to enjoy being with the group and hearing about the book, anyway. 

So, tell me, what do you get out of your book discussion groups? Maybe I can come sometime?

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