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How Do You Know When a Book Club Isn't Right for You?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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So you’ve finally come to a decision and decided to join a reading group. You’ve checked out your local library, asked around friends, looked at community notice boards and checked online – and come up with a list of book clubs open to new members. Maybe you’re now wondering how to choose the right one? Or perhaps you have already joined a reading club and attended a few meetings yet somehow still feel slightly unsettled and are wondering if this book club is right for you?

Here are a few things to think about to ensure that you have joined a reading group you will enjoy and benefit from:

Check out the book list…

At the end of the day, book clubs are all about the books they are reading. It can influence everything from the content and style of discussions to the type of members joining. So it is vitally important that you are happy with the booklist your reading group as chosen. Naturally, there may be a few titles which may be unfamiliar to you or from a genre that you don’t normally read – and it is good to be open-minded enough to try new things and broaden your reading horizons – after all, that is one of the reasons for joining a book club! But if the book club is very focused on a particular genre which you don’t enjoy or constantly chooses titles focused on particular themes which you lack interest in, then this may not be the best reading group for you. After all, you don’t want to be spending your time between meetings desperately trying to read a book you find boring and you will struggle to contribute to a discussion on a book you have no interest in.

Serious study or social gossip?

Books clubs can very hugely in nature and style. Some can take their discussions very seriously, analysing the books with an almost academic approach whereas others are really little more than social clubs in disguise, with meetings more an excuse to catch up on gossip than to discuss any themes, imagery or characterisation. There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach for those that are happy with them but it can be very frustrating for you if you’re keen to analyse a novel’s plot points while your fellow members just want to analyse their daughter’s new boyfriend! Or if you’re looking forward to a relaxed chat on Sunday evening only to find fellow members obsessively arguing about the significance of the author’s use of semi-colons throughout the novel! In most cases, you’ll be able to determine the “culture” of the book club from attending one or two meetings and it might be best to politely make your excuses early on and leave the group to look for another one more suited to your tastes, rather than struggling on, frustrated, through several meetings.

Look out for reading group bullies!

Sometimes a book club may have the right booklist and style of meetings but simply not have the right mix of people to complement your own personality. This especially applies if you are naturally shy and introverted – and you join a reading group which is dominated by a particularly loud and confident member who tends to speak through most of the discussion and impose their ideas upon others. Naturally, all groups will have certain members that are quieter and certain members that are happier to speak their mind – and it is the responsibility of a good moderator or book club leader to make sure that all members have equal opportunity to be heard – but sometimes, one member can dominate group discussions to the point of almost becoming a bully. This is probably not an ideal reading group for anyone to join but it can be particularly unsuitable for those who have shy or quiet personalities.

You could possibly avoid these pitfalls by asking several probing questions of the book club leader or existing members before committing to joining the group, so you can get an idea of the way the reading group operates, what kinds of books they read and maybe even a flavour of the personalities of the different members. Ultimately, however, it is difficult to judge unless you attend some meetings and experience things for yourself.

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