Category Archives: Book Club

Genre Wars

bookstore_sections-550x411“What? Our book club is reading non-fiction this week? I’m skipping it until we get back to fiction. I don’t care if the book won a bunch of awards. If it really happened, I’m out.” -Nicky L.

I have several friends/acquaintances who have an aversion to non-fiction, for some reason believing like in the old days that it’s going to be sleep-inducing, as boring as watching paint dry. But I’ve found that non-fiction has changed throughout the years, so much so that those long-term fiction-only readers need to take notice. The key is finding those non-fiction books that talk about someTHING, rather than the ones that talk about someBODY.

I myself enjoy biographies and autobiographies, but only when their subjects are people I already find interesting. Case in point, I really enjoyed Decision Points because it described in detail the decisions made by former president George W. Bush, and it had really cool pictures. It wasn’t just a telling of his life story, instead being a chronicling of important events told from the “other side,” meaning from his perspective. I much prefer those kinds of stories to the ones that just go through a history of the person themselves.

Books like Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, are fascinating journeys into history in a way that defies the standard non-fiction definition. That’s because writes like Hillenbrand focus on the narrative just as much as on the facts. It’s how she tells the story just as much as it’s the fascinating story itself that sells it to readers and will make just about any hater of non-fiction reconsider. That’s the glory of any story told well, isn’t it, that it ushers its reader in and amazes that reader enough to keep interest, isn’t it? Well, non-fiction now has the power to do that just as much as fiction.

“Drama has the ability to show the true power of words, because we get to see those words walking and talking with passion and fire on stages across the world. That’s real magic.” -Theodicus

My wife, a librarian, asked me the other day to recommend a play for a book club that routinely reads novels from month to month. They want to branch out and try a play to mix things up, but they also want one that lends itself to discussion. I told her I think she should go with a play that has an accompanying visual that is available because a play was meant to be seen and not just read. When I was teaching ninth grade English and we would get to Romeo & Juliet I would always have the students act out the play for just this reason as well.

The-Glass-Menagerie-imagePlays, just like non-fiction books, get a bad rap from people who enjoy novels, but they too have changed over the years, from the dry nature of some Greek and Roman plays to the more modern plays by such masters as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. In fact, I suggested The Glass Menagerie by Williams, and A View From the Bridge from Miller as two plays that the book club would be able to digest and discuss after both reading and watching them. These plays have complex characters that are three-dimensional, and so can be identified with by just about anybody. They also don’t have happy endings, in my opinion, so they beg the questions about “why not?”

Genre wars are interesting to watch. I know people on all ends of the spectrum, from the diehard biography-only types, to the fiction worshippers, to those who have to have a mix of reading materials and genres to feed their obsession for reading and absorbing anything they can get their hands on. But the one thing we have in common is a love of reading, and that’s a wonderful thing, whether or not we decide to branch out and check out other genres. I still find it fun, though, to try and convince others to give something else a chance.

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Club Mentality

book-club-booksDid you know that most book clubs fail either because members can’t always agree on the books to read, or they get upset that they don’t like every book chosen for the club to read? I honestly think it’s because people are individuals, and reading is such an individual pursuit that they can’t truly wrap their brains around reading “with” others. So, they look for any excuse to stop reading with the club, eventually dropping out altogether and depriving themselves of what could have ultimately been a fulfilling experience.

Here are four thoughts to consider once you’ve joined (or started) a book club:

  1. Keep an open mind, no matter which books are chosen
  2. Mark book club dates on your calendar and follow up
  3. Find a “book buddy” in the club in order to share thoughts
  4. Don’t get discouraged by any lack of discussion

Remember, these are people just like you, with lives and other things they have to take care of, and reading for the book club is just a part of that. Some months are easier to find time than others, and some books are more accessible for readers. Think about why the vast majority of books are chosen for book clubs, and how those books are generally the same. It’s because they lend themselves pretty well to reading in a set amount of time, and then they lend themselves to good discussion.

the-light-between-oceans-378x581These are the top 5 book club selections right now:

  1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
  2. Light Between Oceans, by H.D. Stedman
  3. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  4. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty
  5. Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes

Now, maybe you’ve found an eclectic book club that reads a wide variety of literature, that eschews these popular titles in favor of lesser known works or books that are older. Or maybe your group takes popular titles from a year ago and reads them now that they’re not as popular with book clubs. And those types of groups are fine, too. That’s the point. No two book clubs are the same, so maybe you do your research before joining (or starting) one.

I started a book club over a year ago, and it’s online only. We don’t meet physically, but perhaps we will someday. What I love about the medium is that we are from all over the place, so we get so many different perspectives, even related to individual cultures. What I love most about book clubs is the sheer choice available. Sometimes in book clubs we read books we never would have picked up ourselves.

But the truth is in the research. Any book club worth its salt does extensive research before deciding on the books to read, on the length of time members will have to read each book, and also on the optimal number of members to have in each group. If the research has been done correctly, and the club has been adequately advertized, there should be a good mix of readers involved. The key is for each member to keep an open mind, though, as I mentioned earlier. Without that, you really don’t have a book club, but instead individual people who pick and choose which books they want to read and which they will in essence skip.

Perspective is everything. Once you’ve found (or founded) a book club that fits you, and you’ve made sure you’re open-minded to its selections, you’re all set. And happy reading!

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