Thursday, 17 June 2010

My book club

I've been running the monthly Babington book club for a couple of years now and even though I try, I can never predict the number of people who turn up on the night. We can be so many that we have to relocate from the relatively cosy study to the larger library, or then just one or two show up.

I've racked my brain about why this is and have come up with a list of factors:

1. Babington House is isolated, and even though there's an active membership, they often live a driving distance away. This can make it more difficult to get yourself going on a, say, dark November night. On the other hand, the membership is a good resource and therefore can provide numbers for a club like this. Plus you couldn't ask for a better venue.

2. Traditional book clubs are often run by a group of friends in their own homes. If you're committed to going out to some-one's home, you are more likely to make the effort. Because people know each other, they go to have a chat not just about books but about themselves. Conversely, if you want to meet new people and make friends, there couldn't be a better place than a book club. And this is exactly what's happened to me.

3. To have to read a book to attend smacks of school. Many people think that you have to do your homework to attend. Of course this is not the case, and I actively encourage people to come and talk about books even if they haven't had time to read that particular one. Still, just the word 'book club' can put some people off.

4. Choice of book. My largest numbers were on a night when we read Stieg Larssson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The fact that the film had also just been shown in the House cinema did, I'm sure, contribute to the numbers, still the book choice I think is crucial. On the other hand, the regulars tell me that the reason they enjoy the Babington book club is that the books we read (that I choose) they'd never pick up and this is the reason they come to my book club. Double-edged sword, this issue.

I would love my book club to be so oversubscribed that we'd always have to relocate to the large library and to that end I'm considering how to improve it.

I could change the name to 'Book salon'. This is what a lot of book friendly clubs are called. They are not book clubs as such, though, and often don't have a monthly book to read, but have events instead. I know a few writers  who would love to come and talk about their books at Babington. A local book shop might be interested in coming and talking about books to my group. They might go as far as sponsoring an event. Then there are agents, publishers, writer's consultants, lawyers who love nothing more than to have a captive audience readers and (prospective) writers. We could go as far setting up our own mini Babington House literature festival. Now there's something to aim for?

So as you may have guessed, I'd like to canvas opinion from you, my lovely readers and followers: do you go to a book club? And if so, why? Do you think a book salon formula would work better? Or do you think I'm mad and flogging a dead horse? (Don't answer that one)


Rose said...

I don't go to a book club no but I would love to and really have tried. Lots of them in London start at 6pm which I can't understand as most people who do media hours do 10-6 or 10-7. Anyway I can't make the ones at the southbank, in Brixton, at bookshops I like etc. So i think a good time is essential- though I imagine as you are at Babbington that isn't an issue (how lovely by the way).

The other thing is perhaps the frequency- shameful though it is in a really busy week I don't get through a whole book. I'm out most nights and too tired when I get in for more than about 10 pages. So perhaps every 2 weeks or monthly is better- the quick/ time happy readers can read your book and their own and teh slower/ more time strapped could just read the one.

I do think you are right though it's all about book choice and matching up things that appeal to a wide range with not being too obvious.

You sound like you have some fabulous ideas though- good luck with it all

KarenG said...

Yes I go to a book club sporadically. Usually I don't care for the books that are reviewed. I go to be social and for the yummy desserts :) It's held in various members' homes. I love the idea of a book salon. It sounds way cooler than book club. said...

So funny you should write about this, because I've thought a lot about joining a book club recently.

I've always loved reading, and every time I finish an amazing book I wish I could "prolong" it by discussing it with someone. Plus I imagine a book club would be a great way to get introduced to new books while meeting new people.

To me the choice of book is the most important and I think my ideal book club would be a small, intimate and monthly one that focused on multi-layered books, that are open to interpretations.

Are you going to start something up in London? xx Mette

Wildernesschic said...

I have recently joined a book club and really enjoy it. We are a group of mums from school, we meet at each others houses, and enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea, this week it was Pimms with scones, jam and cream.. wonderful sat outside in the evening sun.
I enjoy it as it introduces me to books that I normally may not have read.
But we also catch up on life xx

westendmum said...

Babington House - how marvelous, library definitely.
Do they serve alcohol?
Although I've never actually belonged to a book club (I'm on my second book in as many years, since Erbie was born) several of my friends have. They quite often tie the discussions in with eating and well to be honest half of them tell me they get a little tipsy on bookclub night! Not wanting to tar everyone with the same brush but us english do sometimes need a little tongue loosener.
WEM xx

Amy said...

It's the fear factor that puts me off. That I won't know what I'm talking about, or that the people might not be my cup of tea.

Perhaps an open evening is needed, or maybe at a weekend as a one off to allow people to come and have a look and see what it's all about with no commitment? A guest speaker might be a great way of doing this.

KClowlife said...

Well, at my book club I'm the token male participant. That doesn't bother me much but there are months when the book choice is something that is heavily based in relationship building an nurturing. And I joined the book club because I do want to be pushed beyond what I normally read and think about. But there are some months when I just am not up to reading a book I dislike only to go and say things that will sound stupidly male.

2 months ago we read Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson and 20% of the book club was me getting my ass kicked for being a stupid judgmental man who didn't think the woman, who clearly was a hoarder with mental problems, could raise children by herself. I didn't bother to tell the people criticizing me that since I'm a hoarder with mental issues I'm quite capable of commenting on the situation even if I have a penis.

To be clear, it was a joint book club meeting between our club and another club. And just my presence was enough to kind of spark up a fight between the 2 clubs a little bit. All our regulars know me well enough to not jump my butt about that stuff. But in essence I felt that I was holding the discussion back just by being present.

As for showing up when you haven't read the book. I don't show up when I didn't read or at least speed read the book. I just think it shows a lack of respect for other club members to weigh in on things when you're uninformed. But our club does actively ask people to come even if they didn't read the book. If I read the book, and don't like it, I will definitely show up to talk about that. Sometimes the different experiences of the group will help me find things I missed and give me a reason to re-read and enjoy a book the second time.

Helena Halme said...

Rose, the time is crucial, I think starting at six is crazy, even in the country! My book club is monthly and even that is too frequent, so we often skip a month. I can't imagine to have one weekly?

KarenG - Yummy desserts; sounds like your club knows how it's done.

Mette, I am starting a club up in NW3 in September, I'd love it if you came along! Email me & I'll let you know the details.

Wildernesschic, your clubs sounds perfect!

Westnedmum, Babington House is also a hotel so they do food & drink's the having to drive home that gets in the way!

Amy, I think you've hit the nail on the head. This is why I'm considering a new way of doing the book club as salon with speakers etc. Only thing is that then it won't be the kind of book club that we all know and love.

Kclownlife, it does seem as if the book club is singularly a female affair, doesn't it? I have had a few male members (not in the rude way) turn up, but they often just come along that once and then not for months again. I try to vary the books a lot and use husband as a kind of a 'male book thermometer', but the men just don't seem to be interested. Dunno...

Thank you all so much for contributing, this has been really useful to me! xx said...

Hi Helena,
That sounds great! I would love to come along and will send you an email. xx

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