Have you ever started a new reading or book group? What was your experience? We have found it challenging, so I give you our story and ask for your comments and advice.
Established readers of this blog will know I moved to Devon just over a year ago. I had got the number of unpacked boxes down to 100, so I met with my daughter to discuss establishing a reading group in the area. I missed talking about books with friends and wanted to meet bookish people and to read books recommended by others.
- We faced a number of questions:
- How to get people to join us?
- Where to meet?
- How frequently?
- At what time of day?
- What books should we read?
- How would we choose the books?
Initial practical arrangements
My daughter knows more people in the area than me because she has lived here for several years. And she was now engaging with other mothers at the school and pre-school gates. She approached various people and suggested meeting once a month, in each other’s homes, at 7.30. The host would provide refreshments but not a meal. We decided on the dates of the first two meetings.
From the start all members were busy women, and it has proved difficult to establish the right practical arrangements. After a few sessions of changing the date and time and meeting place Anna suggested we set the dates and books ahead and keep to it even if people’s commitments changed. By that time we had enough members to see us through times when readers were busy elsewhere.
Choice of books
We wanted our first books to signal the seriousness of our reading. Doris Lessing had recently died and she won the Nobel prize for Literature. We began with The Grass is Singing. For me it was a re-read and my goodness I had forgotten but was soon reminded the searing sterility of the marriage at the heart of the novel, and the connections Doris Lessing made between the oppression of women and of the Rhodesian native black population.
The second book was meant to be a contrast: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. Our discussion about it showed that the group enjoyed up-to-date writing and could be critical. Our third book was Persuasion by Jane Austen.
Having read our three nominated books, the choice became dependant upon all members. We were, in the words of one member, ‘very polite’ about making suggestions for future reads. It quickly emerged that the group wanted variation: modern and older classics, lighter (but not too light) fiction, including translated fiction, as well as non-fiction and poetry. But nothing very long. When I asked group members last month about their observations for this blog most of their comments referred to the choice of books.
Another decision we reflected on was whether to have a closed group or not. We know of groups that have fixed membership, new members only being inducted when people leave. One reason for this is that the group’s books are supplied by the library in fixed numbers. We decided to remain open, and so far haven’t used the library to supply our books.
Benefits of the group
Why would busy people join a reading group, especially when they are frequently unable to finish the book before the meeting? One reason is that having the book group allows them to prioritise reading, gives them a little more incentive to find time and space for the reading.
Here’s a list of books we have read so far:
- The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
- The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
- A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
- Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
- If only it were true by Marc Levy
And here are our plans for reading in the next few months:
- Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley (a collection of poems, from which we will choose and say something about our choices).
- The Bear by Claire Cameron
- A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
And in December we will have a Christmas feast and plan for next year.
It is very hard to establish a reading group. We keep going even if only two of us turn up, and so far that has worked. We have to recognise the busy-ness of our members. We have had a good discussions even with only two people.
What books would you recommend for a reading group such as ours as it approaches its second year? How do you choose?
What difficulties have you experienced with a book or reading group?
Some on-line resources for reading groups
The Reading Agency supports Reading Groups for Everyone.
A site that offers lots of resources for organising a reading group is The Reading Club
A Book Club Blog: Book Club Girl
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