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I want to talk about book clubs. I’ve been involved with several over the years and have found them to be deeply rewarding—each in their own ways. There are a few dangerous pitfalls that book clubs have to strive to avoid, though. In no particular order, here they are:
1) The book club becomes a wine club
2) The book club becomes a whine club
3) Not everyone reads the book
4) One individual (who typically has not read the entire book) dominates discussion
5) The same person selects titles each month
I’m sure that there are several other fatal mistakes made by book clubs, and I’ve love to hear your experiences.
At their best, book clubs provide spaces for meaningful conversations that we don’t easily find in our lives. They carve out time to engage with art and with others. They expose us to different genres and authors that we might otherwise miss. The best book club discussions are those that make you revaluate your initial thoughts about a title. You might develop a deeper appreciation for the author’s skill or you might understand a character or scene in a new and different way. The quality of a discussion depends in large part on the title chosen. Plot-driven books—those that focus on action and events and less on character—make terrific plane or beach reading, but don’t always translate well into a book discussion. Titles that tackle issues and ideas—those that fill you with questions or even make you uncomfortable- are ideal for book clubs.
Each year, the website Reading Group Guides puts together a list of favorite book club titles. Some titles are new releases; others are older. Readers’ favorites from 2011 included Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Here are a few of my favorites from 2012 that I think would be excellent book club choices:
Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Round House by Louise Erdrich
Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie
Heading out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
The Newlyweds by Nell Fruedenberger
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
Why be Happy When You Could be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Are you in a book club? What book has resulted in the best discussion this year?