I’ve been running a book group since 2008 and although some people have come and gone, many of the founding members are still with us. All members have the opportunity to choose which books we read and the person choosing, hosts the evening. It’s a simple but effective way to go about things. Over the years we have become familiar with each others’ tastes and although I wouldn’t consider our group high-brow or particularly literary, many of the books we choose are likely to have come from the Man Booker or Orange prize lists.
Our members say that one of the benefits of belonging to a group like ours is that they get to read titles which in the normal run of things, they wouldn’t read. Some of the group love crime novels but in all eight years we have been running, I think we have had two novels that would fit that genre. We aren’t the kind of group that sits down with a glass of wine and generally forgets to talk about the book, as many groups do. Mostly we take it quite seriously and score the book in question with marks out of ten. Then each person gets a chance to say what they thought of the book individually. Afterwards the discussion is thrown open. Occasionally the ‘host’ for the evening will bring along reading group questions downloaded from the internet but usually we just allow the conversation to take us where it leads us. Often we end up talking about plays or films we have seen but on the whole, the book is the star of the evening.
Now I have been asked by our local Literary Festival organiser to lead a group of people who are slightly older, perhaps a little isolated, as a way of making friends and socialising. The book chosen for the first meeting is a very easy read and this is important since we have no way of knowing the reading tastes of our members. I am hoping to use a similar formula with this new group as I have done with my established group – I am hoping the members will offer suggestions of books to read and discuss.
One thing I didn’t mention about my established group was that for the first year or so one of our members was male (he took himself off to write books and has since published his first non-fiction book about a WWI soldier). When he departed we became an all female group and I admit that I do miss some of his book choices. This leads me to wonder if the new group will be all female and if not, will there be difficulties in members reading what others have chosen for them, especially if there is a male or female bias in the plot?
Having attended/run many groups as part of my psychology training, I am fascinated to see how this new group will come together and gel. Hopefully there will be give and take. Hopefully some real friendships will come out of the group and the experience will be an enriching one for all concerned. Reading is a solitary occupation, as is writing. However, to share in the enjoyment (or otherwise) of a book is an experience that has the potential for bringing people of different lifestyles, ages and preferences together. If they are isolated, lonely or just wanting something different to do for an hour or so a month… well, so much the better.