Book Group Breakup

July 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 8 Comments

This is a bit of a scandalous post.  I feel assured that it’s safe to write, though, because only one person in my book group reads my blog.

What do you do when the people in your group are divided in their reading tastes?

Our group seems to be split into what I’ll call literary and contemporary readers.  It’s a pretty firm split.  When we pick more challenging material, suddenly a large number of the group doesn’t show up for the meeting.  Yet when we’ve chosen things that were more appealing to that part of the group, the other part has found them a bit, well, pedestrian.

It seems like this is an impediment to the marriage of true minds.

What’s frustrating is that this is a really nice group.  Everyone seems to like everyone else, we put on an amazing potluck, and we laugh a lot.  As far as spending a pleasant evening hanging out with a group of girlfriends, it’s great.  It just seems like maybe a book group isn’t the right venue.

The question is, how do we approach this?  We’re actually meeting tonight to choose books for the next several months.  Not everyone will be able to attend for various reasons.  It’s a little fraught, because somebody is going to be disappointed no matter what gets picked.  Do we choose something that the literary crowd will find boring, for the good of the group?  Or do we pick something challenging that the contemporary readers won’t bother to finish, or show up to discuss?  To me it doesn’t seem so much like a matter of being judgmental on the other side as just somewhat incompatible.

What do you think?  Are we on a sure path to disaster and hurt feelings?  If the more literary crowd drifts away or reforms as a different group, will the contemporary crowd continue to meet?  Is it possible to announce a formal split without resentment?  Or should we count on an inevitable scattering of energy and figure a core group will remain a couple of years down the road?  We’ve been together about a year and a half now.  Advice?  Opinions?

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8 Comments »

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  1. Okay, I’ve only been in a book group for about 3 months now, so I’m hardly an expert….but I’m a big believer that in any kind of relationship—and that’s what a book group is, a series of relationships—communication is key. So I think you should bring it up with your group.

    Perhaps talking about the divide will help you get some clarity or get you to see things in a new way. Maybe you’ll agree that everyone will read every book and not skip out on the ones they find less appealing, or perhaps you’ll decide to split into different groups for book discussion and still get together to hang out and discuss non-bookish things.

    Who knows. But a discussion is definitely in order.

  2. Hard desicion.
    I’ve only just joined a book group, so can’t offer any real advice, but have there been any books both groups have enjoyed?
    There must be some books which work on both levels – a good story for everyone, but some deeper levels for the literary crowd to dig through.
    How about The Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid? I can’t think of any more at the moment, but I’m sure there are a lot which will make both groups happy.

    Good luck!

  3. This has been an issue in every book group I have ever been in. I’ve slogged through some really ‘pedestrian’ books for the love of the group. While I would relish a group focused on an almost classroom-like discussion of classics and soon-to-be classics, I ultimately decided it was worth the off-months for the overall benefits of the group.

    Also, my new book group has a normal selection of the month that everyone reads, and an ‘optional’ classics selection (this month it’s Lolita) that is primarily discussed online in our Goodreads group. Maybe something like that would work for your group.

    • I have no good suggestions (my first thought was that you are two different groups already, you just haven’t divided yet) but I love Jessica’s idea of an optional classics selection discussed online.

  4. Say, that is a good idea!

    I think we’ve given up on “classics” per se. But I am pretty confident that our picks from last night will generate successful discussions. Fingers crossed!

  5. I have frequently disliked my book club books but the group is more important to me than the reading, so I slog through the ones I’m not into. But I am lucky that nobody cares if you didn’t finish the book – as long as you brought a bottle of wine and at least one funny story to tell instead.

  6. Where are those literary books with commercial appeal I’m always reading about? That’s what you need!

  7. I am in two bookgroups and I lead a third at work. The one at work is a genre group, the two I attend outside of work are a traditional and a sci-fi/fantasy. I read whatever I want on my own. I joined the two groups to read outside my comfort zone and that seems to be a common sentiment from the other members I’ve talked to in the past about this same topic. My group at work have varied in their levels of interest in the topics we read about but they say to me time and time again how much they enjoy experiencing these books that they would never have chosen for themselves. I’ll be hardlined and say that if someone only likes to read a certain way, they should find a group that caters to that interest. One of my other coworkers moderates a Great Books discussion group and none of them attend my group…and I’m completely okay with that 🙂


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