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Book clubs, now…

I know that they’re all the rage, I know that no library worth its salt can go without one, I know that they are enough of a phenomenon to have made it to women’s fiction and movies, and I know, more to the point, that lots of people enjoy them immensely.

And knowing all of this, and loving to read, and loving book discussions… what can I say? I can’t bring myself to like the idea of a book club. Or rather, perhaps I like the idea in theory – because, really: like-minded people meeting to discuss books over tea and biscuits… what’s not to like? But still, I’m sure the practice is not for me.

Well, we all have heard stories of book clubs dominated by one or two strong personalities, where everyone else is either lost in awed admiration or quenched by general disapproval when disagreeing… But this is far from the norm, and book clubs are thick enough on the ground these days that, should worse come to worst,  it should be easy to change to a more congenial one.

No, it’s just that, even under the best conditions, I don’t much like the idea itself: the monthly book, the discussion… I find it would be a lovely thing for young readers, a way for them to stretch their reading muscles, to widen their horizons, to develop an individual taste and a critical mind.

At my age, though, I’d hope to know what I like and why, to have a reasonably wide sort of curiosity, to know how to discuss my likes and dislikes… And yes, perhaps I could do with some adventures outside of my comfort zone – but the fact is, my time for leisure reading is sorely limited these days, so I balk at the notion of using even part of it on reading and discussing books I don’t like. And knowing my own, admittedly rather peculiar, tastes…

It also hardly helps to see books advertised as “perfect book club choice”, and/or complete with lists of book club questions… Small things, if you like – but I can’t help seeing them as symptoms of a kind of “guided reading” mindset… and I shudder away.

My bad, I’m sure – and perhaps my view of the matter is coloured by the sad experience of my failed attempt at a not-quite-book-club.  I’ll just say that a friend of mine joined a book club about a year ago. She says that she loves it – but, from what I can tell, she disliked a not inconsiderable proportion of her club’s choices. Some books left her cold, some were a chore to finish, one or two she even dropped – and she didn’t even always enjoy the discussions. I don’t know, perhaps my friend picked the wrong club for her, but it all just sounds a little too much like In Pain Thou Shalt Read for my taste.

And perhaps I’m just not much of a social reader. Perhaps all my distrust simply hides a terror of being dragged out of my comfort zone. At any event, I think I’ll stick to my solitary reading, thank you very much, and discuss to my heart’s content books of my choice, with people of my choice, and in circumstances of my choice.

What about you, o Readers? How do you like book clubs?