Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Choosing book club books

The dilemma is that you don't want to waste everyone's time with a lousy book, but that means you have to pick something somebody has read and loved or rely on reviews or word of mouth. For instance, in my new book club, the first book we read was Monsoon, which I recommended solely on the strength of other things I'd read by Robert Kaplan, so it was chancy.

Our choice for the second month was The Art of Fielding, which has gotten a lot of hype and become a big book club favorite. I put it down after just a few pages. I found the style stilted and false, the characters uninteresting, and I also discovered that even though I like watching baseball on occasion I have no interest in reading about it. (The last time I enjoyed reading a book about sports, I think, was when I read hockey books in high school.) When I checked with Andrea, who read it for one of her book groups, she agreed that she found it underwhelming. She encouraged me to attend the meeting anyway and explain why I didn't like it.

The choice for the third month, made at at our second meeting by the eight people who attended, was The Panda's Thumb. One guy had read it and liked it, and since it has been sitting on my shelf for literally decades, I went along with it. However, the fourth book, fiction this time, was again a book club favorite, The Garden of the Evening Mists -- in fact Andrea had already bought it for one of her groups. She was surprised that we picked something something so book clubby and chick litty. Me, too. It follows somehow from Monsoon, and looks like it could be interesting. We'll see.

I take Andrea's point that you should go to the meeting and discuss even when you don't like the book, but let's face it, you're not going to keep going if it happens very often. I can't complain, because I have three of the four books at home and I borrowed Fielding, so I'm not out of pocket. Having put it down, I read Past Caring (which I had suggested to the group but no one seemed interested), and now Trace of Smoke.

We'll see how it goes; I don't see any way around the dilemma. Andrea's group has at times picked a theme -- African writers, or non-white-men writers, or books about oppressors who end up suffering more from their oppression, or an epic when they skip a month in the summer. Over nearly 20 years, Andrea has as a result an impressive shelf-full of books. But her newer book group has fallen into the bestseller/book club trap, reading the same thing everyone else is reading because that's what everyone is talking about.

I suppose the best defense against it, in the end, is a good offense (pardon the sports metaphor!). I think I will continue to suggest books I have on my shelf that I have been wanting to read and just see how it goes.

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