Book clubs: friends, wine, Kettle Chips, book banter, Doritos, book banter, Thai Sweet Chill Sensations… What’s not to love? Well of course I love the actual get-together itself, but here’s why I won’t be committing to one anytime soon.
1. I’m a slow reader.
I always have a book on the go. It usually takes me a month to read a novel if I’m enjoying it, but if I’m not loving it, it could take me six or seven weeks. As I usually read two to three books on holiday, that bumps up my yearly average to about 14. So when I have to complete a book every five to six weeks for a book club, I feel like I’m racing against the clock. And if I’m not enjoying that book, it feels like homework. It’s all very well having a fun and fizz-fuelled book club night, but if the weeks spent reading in between aren’t such fun, is it worth it?
2. I usually don’t enjoy other people’s choices.
I get given/lent books every year by friends and relatives who are sometimes keen to discuss those books, and so I feel obliged to read them. A few years ago, Uncle Bill lent me Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour and said he’d be interested to know what I thought. When I eventually got round to reading it, I found it slow and, while beautifully written, could’ve easily given up on it at any point. But I ploughed on as A) I wanted to please Uncle Bill, and B) Barbara Kingsolver was a well-respected author and I should probably educate myself by reading one of her books. The next time I saw Uncle Bill, we talked about everything BUT Flight Behaviour. Another year passed by, and it finally came up in conversation. I told him I’d struggled with it. “So what did you think of it then?” I asked him, expecting a torrent of wild enthusiasm. Uncle Bill pulled a face. “Naah. Didn’t get on with it either.” Seriously? Two months’ precious reading time. TWO MONTHS!
On the other hand, sometimes someone hands me a real gem that I otherwise might never have discovered, such as Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, which turned out to be one of the best books I’d read in years. But this is rare. 50% of the time, I plod through these lent/given books feeling little genuine enjoyment. So if other people’s book club choices are added to my already tall “obligated reading” pile, that leaves very little time to read anything of my own choosing.
Over the course of a year, I like to read a domestic noir or two, some magic realism, something funny and witty, a gripping true story, a story from a different culture, some YA, some wisdom-enhancing non-fiction, and something historical. I find some book clubs are a bit too high-brow for my tastes and some are so eclectic that hopes of expanding my reading repertoire soon turn to thoughts of how I can inoffensively A) drop out of the group or B) keep attending without reading the books.
3. I suffer from Obsessive Book Finishing Disorder.
Why not just give up on a book if I’m not enjoying it? Easier said than done. There’s always the chance it’ll get better and then I’ll have missed out on an awesome ending. I once yawned my way through Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, but just as I was contemplating ditching it, it started to pick up about two-thirds of the way through, and the ending was in your face. I was glad to have persevered.
But it’s a gamble (particularly with literary books, which I’m generally not a fan of). Having loved All The Light We Cannot See, I rushed out to get another book by the same author: About Grace. The blurb sounded great and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. But this was a polar-opposite reading experience for me. The story moved so slowly that I stopped caring about any of the characters. It was the first time I’d ever skipped entire pages in order to get to the end. (Which, again, took TWO MONTHS!) This was not long after I’d staggered through Flight Behaviour, so not only was my effort v pleasure ratio completely unacceptable, but my book tally for the year was a pitiful nine.
But back to book clubs. I was invited to one recently because I was reading the same book as my friend’s book group – Eleonor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. It was a lovely evening, the crisps were flowing. I’d enjoyed the book. There were different opinions about it – things I hadn’t considered, hence an interesting discussion with nice, interesting women, fizz, and most importantly, crisps. I was welcome to come again. But the next book choice on their list just didn’t seem my cup of tea, so I resisted the temptation and declined.
Would I join another book club again? Only if we don’t all have to read the same sodding book. Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. And besides, I really need to avoid situations where I’m faced with overflowing bowls of crisps.