Several months ago, I formed a book group. I thought there was a need for one in my neighborhood and I really wanted to make sure I was making time to read beyond what I need to read for professional and educational reasons.
I decided to organize the group on Meetup, a social network I’ve long been a member of, although not always the most active participant. The group meets once a month, and we have a pretty democratic process for picking books. At our meeting, someone may suggest a theme for next month (we’ve done “Classics I Can’t Believe I Never Read!” and “Pulitzer Prize Winners” thus far), but mostly we just leave it open. Nominations are done on a discussion board, with the first five nominated books being put up for a vote.
The group is six months old, and membership is usually around 52-57 people. We have about 12 regulars who come to discussions, nominate books, and vote, a couple who rotate in and out, and there’s always last minute cancellations. Family obligations or an unexpected deadline at work take priority after all! After running the group for a couple of months, I noticed some people joined, and then never visited the site again. My guess is they were “aspirational” joins, so I’ve implemented a policy that anyone who hasn’t been active in two months is removed from the group, with an invitation to rejoin when he or she has time in their life to participate.
I’d love to figure out a way to get the rest of the members more involved. I set up the group so any member can suggest alternate dates and times since we can never accommodate everyone’s schedule, nor would a large group be conducive to a discussion, but so far no one has been interested in organizing another date (and I’m not interested in organizing more than one a month).
Our last discussion was about an entirely new genre for me and one I was very excited about exploring: graphic novels. Blankets by Craig Thompson is an autobiographical coming of age story, exploring being an outsider, loss of faith, and youthful passion. I though it perfectly captured in visual and narrative form what falling in love for the first time felt like. I was especially pleased with this discussion, because the book was nominated by someone very passionate about graphic novels, and everyone in the group who hadn’t read one before expressed gratitude for being introduced to the form. Moments like those really make the organizing work – and some of the hassles – of running the group really worth it. It felt good to be part of that!
Our next read is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ll admit I cringed a bit when this book was nominated, although I didn’t express that at all (criticism of nominations is not allowed!). I read the book when I was in college (not part of a class), and didn’t like it. But, a big part of a book group is listening to how other people relate to a piece of work and learning from that, and it’s also been a long time so I think I’ll probably read the book differently today than my younger self did.
Is anyone else a member of a book group? If so, I’d love to hear what you think works to get members involved.
Earlier: Kama on Don’t Make Me Think!