As part of my getting to know my new neighbourhood I decided to join a book club. I had shied away from joining one in the past, although my reasons probably weren’t that solid, except to me. Most groups I’d heard of could bring any book they happened to be reading and chat about it. I was after a group that read and discussed one book per month, who actually read the book and were able to discuss why, or why not it held appeal for them, and how they viewed the writing style etc.
My first port of call was the library, who gave me the name of the local book clubs’ convenor, who gave me the contacts of several groups in my area. I sent out an email introducing myself and saying what kind of group I was interested in. One group replied saying that they had spaces available and would I like to meet with a couple of members before the monthly get-together. I guessed that they wished to ‘vet’ me for suitability, for want of a better word, although the purpose was never fully explained. I was left wondering after meeting these people, as to whether or not I ‘fitted’ the unnamed criteria. I knew I was the right vintage. I read books. Wrote. I didn’t know quite what to think, when I learned that the group was quite large, had been together for years and they were ‘a rowdy bunch’. I can’t recall being asked any questions at all. I went along to one meeting and found their description accurate. Then, just as I was dithering about joining the group, contact was made by another.
I was asked to join them for their next meet-up, most conveniently at a bar, a short walk from home. I liked the idea of sipping a glass of wine, during bookish discussions. No worry here, of having to prepare cartloads of goodies, or supplying bottles of wine (as some book clubs do, meeting up in each other’s homes). This group was part of the library initiative – a wonderful idea: for a small annual fee, a box of books would be collated each month by the librarians, picked up by a group member and passed on to all at the monthly meeting. After reading, the books would be returned to the library and so the process would continue. It was the variety of reading which interested me right from the start (I’ve been to three meetings thus far). A series of essays by a writer on writing, a thriller set in the Vatican, a memoir, and this month more essays.
Our group are mixed in age, some are retired, some not. Some are avid readers, others not. Our occupations, past and present, include a physiotherapist, a teacher in prisons, a yoga teacher, a children’s book seller, an office worker in a private hospital, a nursing lecturer, and myself, a writer and illustrator. Our other interests are just as varied, from training dogs for the differently abled, to hiking, craftwork, gardening, film and photography.
I really like that we’re such a diverse group. We all prefer reading quite different books from one another. One loves fantasy, a few non-fiction, others fiction. Last month we had Jenny Diski’s memoir In Gratitude, to read. We all agreed this was a book none of us would normally have chosen to read although we all were pleased we had. I was intrigued to find out more. While we sipped our wine, or tea, we opened the Memoir Discussion Questions, which had been included by the library with the books. This I had never come across before and welcomed the opportunity for our thoughts to be shared.
There were seven questions in a list, but more in actuality. The questions did make you think. For instance, What do you think motivated the author to share his or her life story? How did you respond to the author’s voice?…Were there any instances in which you felt the author was not being truthful? How did you react to these sections? … What is the author’s most admirable quality? Is it someone you would want to know or have known? … Were you glad you read this book? Do you want to read more works from this author? The answers were as diverse as the questions, not unsurprising given the diversity of readers. We all enjoyed the discussion. It was lively, erudite and interesting.
You may be thinking, why would anyone wish to read books chosen by others? The answer is, that I also read my own picks. In fact, I am finishing off the book club’s offering in record time, sixteen essays about Michelle Obama, The meaning of Michelle, because Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut is demanding my attention. I should just have time to finish it before next month’s meeting. And then there’s a new biography of Katherine Mansfield on the pile beside my bed, plus the next book coming from the library.