For the longest time I avoided book clubs. I had a bad attitude about them. I mean, with hardly any time to read for fun, why would I let someone else pick the books for me? What about my ever-growing list of books I wanted to read? I saw book clubs as a deterrent to finishing my own reading list, but then I got a little lonely. Suddenly, book clubs became a way to spend an evening with a group of interesting and intelligent people, talking about so much more than books. I was hooked, but I took it slow.
The passive participant
It’s in my nature to get my opinion heard. Especially when the conversation is about books, I want to make sure my feelings are in the mix. However, I also have a tendency to come off a little aggressive when I’m passionate. I didn’t want to turn anyone off at my very first book club meeting. I only knew two people after all among this group of women, so I kept quiet. I tossed in an opinion here and there until I felt comfortable blurting out how much I didn’t like the book. Nobody knew what I did for a living at this point; I was just someone who loved to read. It turned out to be a a really nice experience.
A good book club, where you actually talk about the book, happens because someone volunteers to facilitate the conversation. That usually means they come to book club with questions to ask to stimulate conversation. As the passive participant, I watched others take on this role. I had flashbacks to my dreams of being a college professor, asking questions just like these in front of a classroom. It wasn’t long before I let it “slip” I was a writer. It wasn’t long after that I got asked to facilitate the conversation. I agreed.
Custom or copied questions
Becoming the facilitator of my book club put me in a unique position. I could take my role in two directions — 1. I could search online for other book clubs who’d read our books, and use their questions. 2. I could read the book, take notes, and write my own. Initially, I 100 percent wrote my own questions. Carrying around a reporter’s notebook with my book/Kindle, I would jot down notes and thoughts that would eventually become discussion questions. It was a great exercise as a writer to evaluate someone else’s writing, to really think about what words meant. I parlayed this exercise into my professional life. It was practice thinking outside the box and helped my creativity thrive with more formal projects.
As life got busier, I will admit that I began merging my own questions with some from other book clubs, or even those reading guides in the back of certain books. I usually made each question my own, but it was nice to get inspiration from other places so I could spend more time enjoying reading the book. Even with this hybrid approach, I’m still sharpening my writing skills by analyzing the work of others.
From one to two
Today, I’m in two book clubs. Yes, the woman who thought she’d have no time to read one assigned book, now reads two. It helps each club meets every 6-8 weeks. It helps that the members all collaborate on books so I’m often reading something already on my list. I facilitate both book clubs, and proudly take out my questions at each meeting. I really like steering the conversation. I really like talking about books. And, I really love getting to think critically about someone else’s writing and then compare my thoughts with others. I will never pooh-pooh a book club again.