I joined my local reading group last spring and, despite my busy schedule, I’ve only missed one meeting in the time that I’ve been going. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect at the outset, but I suppose it doesn’t differ very much from any other group in any other town in the UK.
We are mostly women and mostly over forty, but we have men and younger members, too, although we don’t have a young male member. We nominate books and then vote on them, and we read whatever wins the vote. Then we meet up and talk about what we’ve read.
There’s no requirement to actually read the book; it isn’t homework, and one of us rarely finishes anything, because one of us is fastidious about reading choices, and that's fair enough.
I tend to read through most books, not least because many of them are not reading choices that I would make for myself, and while I find fault with a lot of them, there have been one or two gems among them, too.
What’s fun, for me, about the group, is that we’re usually divided in our appreciation for a novel. As a rule, we fall into two camps, even though, and this might seem strange, it isn’t always the same people in those camps.
When one of us hates a book that another one of us loves, things really get going, and we can ramble on for an hour or more about the pros and cons of a read, and even get quite heated about it. I know I can.
We’ve had some fascinating conversations about love and life, art and morality, and I’ve met, and I hope made friends with, people that I would never have known under any other circumstances. Some of us are even talking about starting a pudding club, staying on after book club to eat pudding, since we meet in a pub restaurant; sounds like a plan to me.
Then there’s the downside.
When we all agree on a novel, when it’s universally like or universally disliked, we tend to have very little to say about it, and that’s OK, except, last night, I was really looking forward to book club because I loved, “Any Human Heart” by William Boyd, and I was looking forward to fighting my corner on the subject. I didn’t get the chance.
It would have been fine if everyone else had been as enthusiastic as I was, but they weren’t. Everyone else liked it well enough, thought it was fine, enjoyed it while they read it, but they weren’t blown away by it. They didn’t register the subtlety of the structure, the building of layers, the detailing of the minutiae, the deliberateness of the writing style.
All my enthusiasm went for nought, and I began to wish that someone in the room had hated the novel so that I could champion it.
Never mind. I suppose there’s always next time to look forward to... I wonder whether I’ll love or hate February's offering.