Sunday, 31 January 2016

On Reading for Book Clubs

I've always wanted to be part of a book club.  Meeting with like-minded people over a drink or two to gabble about a book sounded ideal.  The reality has been...disappointing.

During the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I've felt a renewed vigour for reading and have been excited about it again.  I've rifled through my collection of books and been full of enthusiasm for the older books among my stash, the quirkier classics and the darker literary fiction.  I've started to get into graphic novels and tried out comics.  The more I've read, the more excited I've been about talking about reading.

Until a week ago.

My book club's next "meeting" is on Thursday.  The chosen book is The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop.  I wasn't overwhelmed with glee at the choice, not necessarily being swayed by endorsements by Woman and Home magazine, The Sun and The Daily Mail.  A colleague had finished it early and offered to lend it to me, though, so I figured I'd give it a try.  And just like that, my enthusiasm for reading fled.  I've watched episodes of Blacklist and The X Files in the evenings.  I've messed about on apps on my phone.  I've scribbled in my journal.  I've done all sorts of things but read.  I've read a few pages here and there and I haven't liked what I've read.  The writing is haphazard, awkward and clunky.  Characters stand next to each other gazing at their reflections in mirrors and give physical descriptions.  The descriptions of buildings and settings are saccharine and feel flimsy.  For a book written by a woman, the male characters are surprisingly sexist and I'm not sure if that's a character trait or how Hislop writes men.  Either way, reading about a man telling his wife that she's beautiful and that's the main thing so stop interfering in men's business is just plain annoying.  So I stopped reading it.  I chose my love of reading over my love of being in a book club.

It might get better.  It might be gripping historical fiction and I might just be missing out on something great.  It  might just be that I'm not in the mood for it at the moment.  I'm not sticking around to find out.  It turns out that one of the most important things about being in a book club is finding readers who have similar tastes to you, otherwise it becomes a chore.  I was reminded about this old post about why reading shouldn't be something that's hard work; it should be the opposite.  So I guess that this post is part musing and part resignation?  I'm going to stick on the book club's email list for a little while longer to see where they go but I'm no longer going to pretend to myself that I'll read whatever they pick just so that I can be in a book club.  

When I joined the book club, the first read I made it to a meeting about was Bossypants by Tina Fey.  That was followed by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.  So far,so good.  I missed a few meetings then because of work but the choices were solid - The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.  I read a short story horror collection by Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts, which was definitely not within my comfort zone and wasn't necessarily my thing but was at least interesting to discuss.  Recently, though, my interest is waning.  The club went through a run of lengthy non-fiction books that weren't on topics that I was interested in.  An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, which sounded far too much like self-help for me.  H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which doesn't really appeal to me because I'm actually quite frightened of birds.  The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson, which I was never going to read because there was no chance I was financially supporting Boris Johnson in any way.  The books I've suggested have never been 'chosen'.

If one of the books I read every month is going to be for a book club, they need to be books that I actually want to read.  Not necessarily ones that I would have chosen for myself but ones that intrigue me or that it seems as though there's something I'll take from it other than just the opportunity to discuss it with someone else.  I'm disappointed that being in this book club hasn't necessarily turned out how I wanted but I'm excited about reading again and I'm going to keep it that way!

I'd be interested to hear whether I'm just contrary and not made for a book club or whether anybody else has had similar experiences?  Any tips on how to keep engaged with a book club that isn't going in the direction you thought it would?

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