Thursday, 19 November 2009

Reading Matter

This is a day early as we are going away tomorrow early for the weekend. This week I wanted to think about reading.

I joined a reading group several years ago but didn't go to many meetings because I didn't like the type of books they were reading. I understand that it does us all good to expand our reading knowledge, and go outside our comfort zones (etc), but on the other hand there are so many books in this world that I will never have time to read, why waste time on those I don't enjoy?

So I had a phase when I didn't go. Then last summer I started attending and found a different lot of people. The choice of books is a democratic one – we all get a list and tick what we want and the shortlist is given to the library who inform us when a set of 10 or 12 books are available (see, we don't have to pay for our books either!).

The group are all women (unsurprisingly) - two physiotherapists, one of whom decided she was feeling stale in her job, was allowed to take 3 months off and bicycled round Britain, never having been on a bike before. One is the MD of our local radio station, one works in a library, one at a university, one's a social worker, one a teacher, one a mum with young children – so a wide mixture.

Obviously the one thing we all have in common is the love of a good book, and I find it fascinating to hear other people's reactions to books. It certainly makes me see things I never would have understood before. One of us is just finishing her OU MA in English Literature so she always has fascinating insights.

Last time we met we discussed the works of Daphne du Maurier – we'd been given a mixed box so everyone read something different. Being a great DduM fan, I was able to bore them rigid with my views and help them see some of her work differently. We realised that she hated men called Dick (there are many of these in her work, as in real life) from which we deduced that she probably didn't have many good experiences with men. The lovely pirate in Frenchman's Creek is probably the exception to the rule, and then of course she couldn't be with him anyway.

So my question is – do you belong to a book group and if so, how does it affect your writing?


Leatherdykeuk said...

I've often thought I should join such a group but then my socialphobia kicks in and I don't. Sorry.

CC Devine said...

I've had a mixed experience with book groups. One was a circle of extremely clever clog MBAs who were all quite a bit older than I and had all studied together. Frankly, I felt intimidated. They all seemed very authorative in their opinions and I felt had little to contribute mostly because I didn't like the book - a non-fiction bestseller that didn't float my boat.

So I learnt that I wanted to be part of a book club that democratically chose each month's fiction book which led me into my second foray into the world of book groups with friends. Whilst we had a convival evening (translation: got sloshed and gossiped), we had a limited discussion of the book and half the group hadn't even read it.

I still have the sneaking feeling that I'm missing out on something that could be great, in the meantime I'm sticking to solo reading and getting stuck into the rewrite.

JJ Beattie said...

Fantastic post, Flowerpot. I love and adore my book club.

About five years ago I had what I called 'a reading crisis.' I'd been a reader all my life and had never failed to find material to engage me. Suddenly I found I couldn't find anything I wanted to read. I was bored by the stuff I'd been reading and nothing else appeared to do it for me. I didn't know what to do. I got recommendations, searched friends' shelves... to no avail.

Then I found out I was moving to Bangkok... Honestly, my reading material was the least of my worries, so I stopped judging myself and started reading books that were pure entertainment while I worried about moving my family 6000 miles away. I didn't want to have to think, or work things out, I just wanted to be entertained. I read this type of thing during the preparations and the actual move.

Once I got to Bangkok I looked around for a book group. I joined two. One of them I stayed at for a few months only; the other one I'm still a member of.

It's revolutionised my reading. I read so much more widely than I did. While I agree that life's short and there are too many good books out there to waste your time reading one you don't like, I strongly believe that I'd become a creature of habit in my reading patterns. Picking the same stuff over and over had made me sluggish in my reading.

Book club has 'made' me read things I would NEVER have picked up myself. I've fallen in love with books my prejudice would have prevented me from contemplating. (Flowers for Algernon, The Red Tent are two that spring instantly to mind.) I've found the book I wished I'd written (Bel Canto) and I think I may have found some beta readers.

I believe it's like a critique group, though. You have to find the right one. You've got to decide how seriously you and your group want it to be. We do talk about the book and I don't want a winefest, but it's fine if that's the same outlook as the other members. I didn't like my first one, but I love the one I'm involved with now.

Debs said...

Interesting post.

I've never joined a reading group, I'm not sure why, but probably because I'd only want to read what interests me at the time.

I can see how they would be useful and could probably do with joining one.

HelenMHunt said...

I'm not a member of a book club, and at the moment would find it difficult to find the time.

The thing that has totally revolutionised my reading habits though, is starting to review books and therefore being sent books directly from publishers that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen myself. This has picked up considerably since I became co-editor of Bookersatz.

These days I rarely choose what I read and I hardly ever buy books, I just pick up the next one from the (huge) pile awaiting review.

One of the huge advatages of this is that I have ended up reading some absolutely fantastic books that I might not even had heard of otherwise. In particular this year, One Apple Tasted by Josa Young, and Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown.

This will definitely stop me getting stuck in a reading rut!

Rowan Coleman said...

Love you post! I am not a member of a book club for two reasons, like Rachel I really sturggle to want to meet a lot of new people. But also, and I know a lot of writers thinkin this is wrong, I can't read another persons book while I am writing one. I just can't/ So reading for me is a treasured treat between writes, a solitary and almost secret one. On the other hand I think seeing how other people read a book must be so interesting and useful as a writer.

Graeme K Talboys said...


We are quite isolated here and apart from my GP I've not come across anyone interested in reading. Plus, once I have a book I am expected to read, I find I lose interest in it. Perverse, or what?

ChrisH said...

Interesting comments, JJ's so enthusiastic it's almost made me want to join a book group. The main problem for me is living out in the sticks, everyone lives so far apart that it's quite an effort to go out, especially after dark. Tragic eh?!

Anonymous said...

I wish you hadn't put in a spoiler for Frenchman's Creek. I've been meaning to read that book for ages and now it's ruined.

Annieye said...

I've never been a member of a book club and I don't know if I'd enjoy it. To me, reading is like writing - quite a personal, solitary pastime.

I remember having some quite interesting discussions with my English Lit teacher at college, though.

sheepish said...

Sorry to be late but yesterday was a bit busy. I have never belonged to a book club but have considered starting one here, but at the moment I seem to have too much else to do. Like JJ I think it would be good to widen my range. I have recently met someone who runs a secondhand bookstall[english] where you can borrow books and this has given me access to lots more books which is great. Maybe I will discuss a book club with her.
An interesting topic.

Fia said...

I think the idea of a club for writers to discuss other writers' books would be interesting.
Really I'm with Graeme and Annie on this one.

liz fenwick said...

I'm not in a book club now when i was it didn't really impact my writing because the choice of books was so far from my normal that it just broadened my reading. The one thing it did give me though was a little insight into the mind of readers as they were all women like myself...who I write for so by being a group with them I saw a bit of what they were looking for..........


Liane Spicer said...

Never belonged to one, and never wanted to. Sounds like the right one might be fun, though.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Great post flowerpot - I belong to a lovely book group which is more of an excuse for a girls night out with a quick discussion of the book on the side :) As Liz pointed out as a writer it's really interesting seeing what people choose, why they like things. We only meet every couple of months as everyone is busy working/with kids so it's not too onerous and we all look forward to it. Also everyone has v different taste so it pushes you to read books you wouldn't normally pick up.

Lane said...

Sorry to be so ridiculously late.
I've never belonged to a book club. I think I prefer reading books to talking about them. Plus, there's only so much time in a day.

I like to hear about book groups though and which books they recommend.

Captain Black said...

I'm not a member of a reading group, as such, but belonging to internet based groups like Novel Racers and Wannabe a Writer have certainly widened my reading horizons.

Sticking to what you know you like is a mistake, in my opinion. Of course nobody wants to waste time reading books they don't like, but what about the ones you don't know whether you like or not? Surely there are millions of them out there and perhaps a reading group could help you filter through more of the ones for you.

Also, reading and writing only in a single genre is also a mistake (imo). For one thing, your stereotyping of the genres unfamiliar to you will remain just that. Who thought I'd ever read books with pink covers!