Book Club Blues

Book Club Blues—leaving the club

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 11:19

bcblues-leavingYou're unhappy with your book club...and another one beckons. What do you do?

I'm not enjoying my book club anymore. Let's just say we have different styles. I like the women; in fact, some have become friends. But there's another group that's asked me to join them, and I think I would be a lot happier in that group. How do I get out of the first club—without hurting feelings?
Wanting out of a book club isn't uncommon—there are plenty of legitimate reasons. But leaving one club for another...? It's like a divorce.

Unlike marriage, though, you didn't take a lifelong vow. So if your expectations aren't being met, and another group might be a better fit, then make move. It won't be easy, but there are ways to limit the fallout—not eliminate it, just minimize it.

Tell a white lie. Maybe the meetings no longer fit your schedule: work, child care, travel. Or perhaps you're finding it increasingly hard to do the reading—though that excuse falls apart if and when your current club learns you've joined another one.

Honesty is best, of course. Seek out the members you consider friends—they've probably got an inkling, right? But whatever you say, even to them, do NOT denigrate the group. Even good friends are not always discreet. And, besides, it's still their club—they're not leaving.

The safest track is to say you haven't found the books personally appealing. Maybe they're too long or too difficult. Or maybe just the opposite: you like books that delve into controversial or philosophical ideas. The reasons are up to you. Just don't talk about wanting "better written" books or resenting the "poorly written" ones the group has selected. That's a no-no.

If it's not the books but certain individuals, or the discussions themselves, you're in more dangerous territory. The best explanation is that you don't feel the group is a "good fit" for you—and try to leave it at that. Do not, under any circumstance, single out specific members.

How to say good-bye? On that your friends can advise you. Most certainly you need to inform the club—not simply drop off the map without a word. Perhaps a hand written letter to the club president, or at the very least, a phone call. Or send an email to all the members. You could even attend the last meeting and say your good-bye at the very end, thanking everyone for the good times and friendships.

Should you mention joining another club? I think so—most likely they'll find out. So be honest. However members feel about your leaving, they'll respect your integrity.

Whichever path you take...and however you explain your will be tough. Feelings are bound to be hurt. But the manner in which you say your good-byes can make all the difference.


Book Club Blues—leading the discussion

Thursday, 26 July 2012 10:37

bcblues-leading1It's your turn to lead the book discussion. Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it might...

When we lead a book discussion in our group, we're supposed to do a full-blown presentation—author bio, book reviews, cultural objects relating to the book, and then coming up with good questions. When it's my turn, I get so anxious I lose sleep. I'm wondering if it's really worth all the trouble and anxiety.

The writer
isn't alone—most members will tell you that the most stressful part of a book club is leading the discussion. But why?! Why make it so hard?

There are other ways to hold discussions that take the onus off a leader. In fact, you don't even need a leader. One of the clubs I belonged to never had one. And our discussions were terrific.

Try these ideas for getting out of the Leader Trap:
  1. Use Discussion Questions (on LitLovers or publisher and author sites). Sometimes the questions read like a pop-quiz, but pick out one or two...just to get an idea of a direction. Even better...use LitLovers Generic Questions...they're broader but very helpful.
  2. Give everyone an index card to jot down (anonymously) one thing about the book they'd like to talk about. It might be a character, something not understood, or a particularly funny or insightful passage. Pass the cards back to one person who will use them to kick off a discussion. Or throw them, face down, in a pile and have people take turns drawing from the pile to read a question.
  3. Simply open up the floor to anyone who wants to say something about the book. Someone will always get the ball rolling...and others will always pick it up and toss it down the field.

So there's no need to fall into the Leader Trap—there are lots of ways to avoid anxiety and misery when it comes to holding a discussion. Explore a few, see how they work for you...and adapt them to fit your group.


Book Club Blues—when no one likes the books

Friday, 13 January 2012 11:55

bcblues-noonelikes1A cry for help—this one from a reader on our Facebook page. Its a fairly common book club problem. Recognize it?

I'm leading the discussion at my next book club—for a book I chose. But I found out most of the members didn't care for it. In fact, the organizer of my group hated it so much she wouldn't read or finish it. Kind of difficult to have discussion. Any advice would help.

Oops. It's your turn to lead the discussion...and no one likes the book. Even worse...YOU chose the book. What to do?

Start with the obvious—why don't members like the book? It can be as rewarding to explore the reasons you don't like a book as the reasons you do. And don't let people get away with "I just couldn't get into it" or "it was boring." The point is to be expansive, to engage in a give-and-take of ideas.

You disliked the book because of its...

Too wordy or difficult? Too clunky or awkward? Too overwrought? Too pompous?

Too slow getting off the ground? Too contrived? Too predictable? Too little plot (a character- or idea-driven novel).

Too undeveloped or one-dimensional? (No emotional or psychological depth) Too perfect? (Irritating or lack believability.) Too unlikeable? (Stubborn or immature...arrogant, selfish, or petty...even villainous, like Humboldt Humboldt in Lolita)

Too unfocused. Too much back and forth between time frames? Too much shifting between characters and points-of-view? Too many unrelated subplots? If not handled well, shifts can be confusing or interrupt the narrative flow.

Do the ideas, philosophy, worldview of the author or characters disturb you, go up against your own values? Maybe there are no ideas—the book is shallow, unchallenging, and offers no ideas worth thinking about.


A good discussion, whether it's a book you love or hate, helps clarify what types of works you prefer. Most important, though, good discussions often change minds. Who might decide you like the book after all.

Be sure to see our READ-THINK-TALK chart. It's a handy guide for helping you think about a book while you read.


Book Club Blues—food fight

Friday, 01 July 2011 09:30

bcblues-foodfight2Is food a competitive sport in your book club? It's strange, but we finally got all of our LitFood recipes back up on the New & Improved website...when I got this email:

Our group meets at each others' homes, and whoever hosts serves dinner. It was fun at first. But now the meals are so elaborate that it's like a competition. I feel I'm being judged, and I dread when it's my turn to host.

Not good. But not uncommon either. In a NY Times article on book clubs a couple of years ago, this very complaint turned up. Food should be part of the fun—not the focus. Besides, lots of people who love to read..don't love to cook. So here's something you might try:

Talk about the issue other members feel the way you do?

If so, make the meal a joint venture, everyone contributing. Those who really love to cook could bring the main dish. My feeling is that hosting is already a lot of work—getting the house ready and laying out glasses, silverware, say nothing of the post-meeting clean-up.

If others don't feel as you do, ask to be let off the hook. Suggest a compromise: you could host more often if others bring the food...or you could take care of wine or hors d'oeuvres for a couple of meetings. (Those things you can buy.)

If no compromise is forthcoming? You gotta go girl. Find yourself a new club, one with a more casual, easy-going hosting style.


Book Club Blues—best friends

Thursday, 29 April 2010 14:59

bcblues-bestfriend1Do best friends and book clubs mix? What happens if you and your best friend can never seem to agree on the types of books your want to read.

Here’s a good question from the mailbag:

My best friend and I started a book club together. But it turns out that she just wants to read light romances. The rest of us like variety—bios, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy—and novels a little more challenging. Any suggestions?

There are a number of ways you can go about this, depending on everyone’s willingness…or not…to compromise.

  1. Rotate monthly so each person gets to select a book. That way your friend gets to choose a romance once, say, every 6 or 8 months.
  2. Appeal to her sense of fairness if she’s unwilling to compromise—remind her (nicely, right?) that she’s in the minority.
  3. Offer to help her start another club if all else fails, a club based on romantic fiction. You can even come up with a  clever name…like Kiss & Tell Book Club...or Love'm or Leave'm Book Club. 

The best solution is to avoid the issue from the get-go. If you’re going to start a book club, first determine the kind of books you like to read. Then find like-minded readers. (Oh, sure…now I tell you.) It turns out that like-minded readers aren’t necessarily best friends. Love to read your thoughts!


Book Club Blues—straying from the book

Monday, 07 December 2009 15:07

bcblues-straying2Here's a query from the mailbag—from a reader who has a fairly common book club issue.

What do you do with members who stray from the book and talk about…well, whatever comes to mind? We have a couple of members, one in particular, who can't stay focused on the discussion.

This is not an unusual problem for a good many book clubs. A fair amount of socializing is expected...and desireable...but not when it gets in the way of a potentially rich book discussion. Here are some approaches:

1. Delineate social time from book discussion time.

  • Set a strict time limit for socializing—say, 45-60 minutes. Then….ring a bell… make an announcement…clear away food dishes…move to a different room.

2. Keep it light-hearted

  • Turn it into a game. Whoever talks off topic gets a token—a poker chip, a pebble, a raw potato, a burnt candle nub…whatever. The person with the most tokens at the end of the meeting—or year—wins a booby prize.

3. Survey member expectations

  • Discuss among yourselves what you want out of your club—more social interaction or book discussion. If members are divided, then perhaps you need separate clubs. It should be done without rancor or hurt feelings. Everyone has different expectations. It’s life.

Other ideas? We’d love to hear from you.


Book Club Blues—members who dominate

Sunday, 01 November 2009 15:19

bcblues-dominating1Here's a query that showed up in my mailbox recently. It's a common problem for a lot of book clubs—The Dominator.

How do you handle a member who tends to dominate the book discussion? We have someone who hogs the conversation. Worse, she always feels free to interrupt others.

This is by far the toughest problem facing any book club...and one with no easy solution. Still, here are a few approaches to try:

1. Use a special token. Pass an object—a branch, painted stone, or small pillow, say—around the room. ONLY the member who holds the token may talk. Those who aren’t holding the token cannot interrupt. You could even limit the number of times a person can hold the token. (I personally don’t like the token method, but groups who use it say it works.)

2. Limit comment time. Use a timer to restrict comments. No one should talk more than two (2) minutes for openers—and certainly no more than one (1) minute to comment on someone else’s ideas. The goal for all is to learn to talk succinctly so that there’s time for everyone to voice an opinion.

3. Take charge of the discussion. The leader can interject with comments like, “Great, Bill. Thanks. But let’s give others a chance” or “Can we hear from someone else?” or “What do the rest of you think” or “Mary, you haven’t said anything.” It takes an active, fairly skilled, leader to move the discussion from one person to another, without letting a single individual dominate. It’s not easy.

4. When all else fails…be direct.

• Initiate a one-on-one conversation, either face-to-face or phone—never, never email. Choose someone who has diplomatic skill.

• What to say? Assure the person that he/she is a valued member of the club, but some feel they don’t get to have their ideas heard...or that while the group appreciates the person’s insights, there’s a tendency to over-do. Ask him or her to give others a chance...or not to interject so frequently...or to limit the length of his/her comments.

• The worst case scenario is to ask the offending member to leave the group. This is painful, but for the sake of the overall group it may be necessary. If the problem isn’t resolved, members may start dropping out and finding other groups. Suggest—kindly—that the member move on.

Is this a problem in your club? Any suggestions?


Book Club Blues—members who don’t read the book

Friday, 23 October 2009 15:40

bcblues-dontread2I get some interesting emails—many are about problems a lot of book clubs face. Here’s one I got recently:

What do you do with members who haven’t read the book…but who still love to talk and talk as if they have? Should clubs have rules that say if you haven't read the book, you can't come to the meeting?

Set some guidelines at the outset
At the beginning of every book discussion, the host or discussion leader should ask if all members can agree to the following propositions:

• It is realistic—not everyone can read every book; we all have busy lives. Therefore, non-readers should always feel welcome to attend.

• As a matter of fairness—those who have read the book should get first dibs on talking about it.

•As a matter of courtesy—it’s incumbent on non-readers to LISTEN and comment briefly or rarely.

Any other ideas? Here’s the spot to share them.


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