Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Trouble with Book Groups

Firstly, hands up everybody who every time they see those words “The trouble with” immediately thinks of “The trouble with tribbles”. Yes, I see you out there – fellow baby boomers who remember the cutest problem that Captain Kirk and his intrepid crew ever faced on Star Trek. Ah, now my mind is filled with images of those troublesome invaders. They really were cute, those tribbles, weren’t they? I wonder if the guys who made Gremlins were a little inspired by those snuggly little critters.
Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart
But this post is not about tribbles but about those troublesome book groups which we (mainly women) gravitate to. A few years ago a good friend wanted to set up an internet book group under the umbrella of a huge reading-related site and she asked if I would join her in establishing and moderating the group. While I had a few reservations, I did think it would be fun and so I agreed. And it was fun, really great fun. She was already pretty active on the net (I wasn’t) and had many friends from whom to recruit a core of members. 

We had determined that our group should be a private one and that it would be kept small and friendly. It worked beautifully. We were able to trawl through the profiles of friends of friends, or simply seek out members of the umbrella group with a similar taste in books and send out invitations for them to join our happy band. Within a short time we indeed had a lovely, lively little bunch of people – never more than 30 – who viewed the group more as a few friends getting together for a chat than an impersonal club with all the seemingly inherent nastiness and one-upmanship that seems to be the norm with so many online groups.

Over the years we have shared in the joy of births and marriages, supported each other through redundancies and financial hard times, reached out with heartfelt virtual hands of compassion over family deaths, and laughed at the silly things in life. We have indeed become so much more than a book group: we are friends. But at the core of that friendship is a love of books and reading. And at the core of that love of books and reading is a desire to share authors and titles. And at the core of sharing authors and titles is the “monthly group read”. Ah, therein lies the trouble.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart
Now, I have boxes of books both read (and loved, thus kept) and unread stacked high in the garage, and I have floor to ceiling book shelves filled with titles which I bought because of a desire to read them. And I have, as do most people, limited reading time in the day. The days of reading till 3:00 am are long past, and I am not interested in spending time on books which are in my hands only out of a sense of obligation rather than personal choice. I love my Gerald Seymour’s, I love my John le Carré’s, I love my Martin Cruz Smith’s, I love my books about European or Australian history, I love my books of the life of the ex-pat in France. Those are the books I really want to devote my reading time to, but I find myself, month after month either buying or borrowing a book which I end up discarding after 30 or so pages. Wow, that’s 30 pages of enjoyable reading I’ve missed out on. That’s 30 pages of reading time lost forever.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it, with a book group, surrendering your personal choice for that of the group. Even books recommended to me by close friends and family sometimes have me scratching my head and saying, “How the hell did they think I would like this rubbish”, and so book recommendations can often scare the hell out of me. Oh, I have indeed been led to some wonderful books through the monthly read – The Elegance of the Hedgehog being an absolute stand out and taking its place in my top ten of all time – but, for me at least, there have sadly been more misses than hits. And thus I decided this week to pass the baton of moderator on to somebody more devoted to the cause and more faithful to the ideal of the group read. 

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

 You see, that’s another trouble with book groups – now I feel so guilty.

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