Being in a bookclub
I’ve been thinking about book clubs and my old prejudices about them. Perhaps I always thought that they were a conduit for a group of women, usually moms, coming together for once a month, have a glass of wine, a natter and a social catchup. The other preconception around a book club that I used to have was probably like an Oxford seminar where there was a reading group of highly intellectual earnest types, perhaps something that Melvyn Bragg could host on the BBC.
Then a group of friends joined together and decided to start a book club. We wanted to do it because I suppose there was a common interest in books, a group of reasonably thoughtful friends who came together, looking to kind of connect in different ways. The pub and concerts were fine, but we wanted to maybe add a different layer and support each other as people who were maybe going through challenges or needed a little bit of extra support. We passed the word around a group of friends, all guys, which I thought challenged another preconception about being in a book club. When we all said yes and said we’ll explore it and see what it was like, we did offer to our significant others, but none of them turned up — they thought, nope, this is a lads book club, and we’re going to leave them to it. And the ladies have since been very disappointed for not joining for reasons that will become apparent.
When we met first, we probably kicked off the conversation maybe a little bit awkwardly but got into book review. A question that commonly starts the conversation is around why did you pick this book. Then we might think about themes, about characters, about the quality of writing, and some patterns emerged over the course of the club.
We’d meet once a month. The food was generally jellies crisps coffee and wine. Unusually there was no beer at the book clubs? We chit chatted for about half an hour and then spend about 90 minutes to two hours chatting about the book, sometimes getting pulled off into other areas of family or politics or or society or whatever else was was distracting us, but generally speaking, a couple of people could always be counted on to drag us back into the book or draw some sort of a link into how that connected to the tangential conversation we’d been having. Though all being wide readers, we started to explore books that had come from different geographies, that have different styles of authors and different versions. Then we started exploring the differences between how a translator might have perceived a book and how the original author might have received a book. It brought us to a new style of book. We pushed some people to put it to bring us to graphic novels, to bring us to sci fi, or documentary/nonfiction. So we read a huge range of books that were probably outside of all of our individual normal.
We tease one guy who hasn’t read a book that has been published after 1900, another chap that’s read all of the sci fi canon, and myself who would read a disproportionate number of business and nonfiction books to bring me back into some of the classics.
We score the book, not scientifically, but generally speaking on quality and enjoyment. And there’s been very few misses, maybe two books that we always have an in joke about that were pretty poor. But that’s two within a very large volume of books — most of whom have won Nobel/Booker etc.
We also explore a night out, so we might pick a play and that would lead us to going to see that theater show with a dinner beforehand — a very unusual activity for a group of six or seven guys.
We’ve brought new people into the group — started with six, we added a seventh who had to leave for work reasons and we’ve since added a new seventh and a new eighth person into the group, and they’ve been integrated in and kind of matched into the style and culture and conversation of the group
I’ve mentioned going on, and the number of books and the wide range. We’ve been doing this for over five years now. Over 60 books have been read, and has led to a fantastic collection of literature, of diversity and a learning and education for ourselves in terms of the books. That’s also 60 evenings, when six or seven guys have gathered together, to have coffee and wine and chat about a book, and about how we’re learning, and how it impacted upon us. We have touched on life and death, living and mortality and I’m not sure where else you would get that context for a group of Irish guys in their 40s. So my preconceptions about book clubs, talk shops for the girls drinking sessions or intellectual soirees in Oxford, or the BBC may still be true, but in our case, it’s an event, and an action that I’m very proud to be a committed, ongoing member of the People’s Book Club.