I’ve been interested in joining a real-life book club for a while, but trouble finding one and my own nervousness has gotten in my way.
For 2019, I decided to bite the bullet and took the plunge. I thought I’d share my experience for anyone else considering it, or for anyone who experiences social anxiety (or is just really shy) and wants a little information about what to expect. Obviously, where you live and luck is going to play an enormous part in this so YMMV.
Finding a Book Club.
I moved house about 11 months ago. In my old town, I’d never heard of a local bookclub. The library was really run-down and lacking, so it was never something I seriously looked into. I just watched other people jealously from the internet sidelines.
In November, I looked around for clubs to join in my new town. I was actually planning to join one at my local Waterstones — they had posters for both a SSF group and a Crime one — but when I looked into it a bit more the SSF group seems not to have taken off, and the January Crime book really didn’t appeal to me. I think I could easily have read a SFF book of someone else’s choosing every month, but I’m not so sure about crime.
Luckily, my new local library is really awesome! It’s got a great YA section (with a decent selection of marginalised authors too) and seems to really try and connect with the local community. I emailed in (no phone calls – yay!) to ask about the group. A librarian gave me the meeting details and set a copy of the month’s book aside for me to collect. I was completely willing to buy a bookclub book each month, but getting them through the library is a nice bonus.
How the Books Are Picked.
Two librarians run the group and select them. They seem to have a rough plan for the months ahead, with a variety of genres (but leaning more to literary, women’s and crime). While we were discussing books in general, they seemed really willing to see if they could source anything we, as a group, were specifically interested in. I’m okay with all of this since part of the reason for joining was to expand my reading.
The January book was The Lingering, which I was pretty ambivalent about, but the February book was The Language of Flowers which I would never have picked for myself and really enjoyed.
How My First Meeting Went.
I turned up about 10 minutes ahead of the start time. I didn’t want to hang around awkwardly early but also didn’t want to be the last one there and catch everyones’ attention.
The group consisted of about ten of us (plus two librarians) but there were a few people who hadn’t turned up that evening. It was a mix of ages from mid-twenties to sixties but leaned towards the forty-and-up range. Apart from one dude, it was all women. I think one of the no-shows is a guy too. Including myself, there were three newbies (the benefit of joining in January, I guess). We did go around the circle to introduce ourselves, but it wasn’t that awful “Tell us something interesting about yourself” thing. We just shared our favourite genres.
Chatting about the book was fairly relaxed. We discussed whether we enjoyed it, a little about the characters and mostly about the plot. We went off on a bit of a tangent to discuss some of the issues raised in the book — asylums and mental health care — then finished by talking about whether any of us had read anything similar lately — historical, creepy mystery — and what, if anything, else we were reading for the month. The discussion was interesting but nowhere near the level of analysis I see in the book reviews bloggers usually post. Nothing about pacing, characterisation, writing style or handling problematic themes.
I’m not saying this was a bad thing, but if you’re at all worried about bookclubs being high-brow, or not knowing enough to contribute, I definitely wouldn’t worry about that. If you’re part of the book community at all, you’ll be well-equipped to take part.
My group costs me £2 a month. That includes borrowing the book for the month and coffee or tea at the meeting. I had a really good time, although I was really nervous, and I think as I go to a few more, it’ll be something I really enjoy.
If you’re thinking about joining a local bookclub, or if you have any worries/ questions, feel free to comment or send me a message and I’ll answer anything I’ve missed.