Thursday, April 15, 2004

On Book Groups

It was book group night last night so no post. I was busy. My Bookman, tinLizzy and her gal, and I were going to meet at a new cafe in Minneapolis called Wilde Roast. None of us had been there before but it looks like a nifty place and, well, there was the literary connection. We noticed at the last minute that the cafe had jazz night last night, so we had to make a quick change of plans and ended up at a favorite and cozy place, Anodyne Cafe. It wasn't that busy so we got to sit on the couches. Woo-hoo! We discussed Wicked by Gregory Maguire, which I have already mentioned here. It was generally agreed that the book had much potential but none of the interesting bits went anywhere. All of us agreed the ending was anticlimactic and didn't match the rest of the book. So much for the Wicked Witch of the West. Our next book is Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. None of us have read her before. Since I suggested the book, I hope she lives up up to her reputation of being a phenomenal short story writer. We didn't set a date to meet next, we never do. We always aim for a month but often go over that time frame to make sure everyone has been able to finish. A kind and flexible group are we. The benefit of such a plan is that we all have finished the book and there is no night before cramming. The down side is that sometimes it could be months until we meet and the book becomes a fuzzy memory. But that's okay because it's always pleasant to get together with friends. When I lived in the burbs, I used to go every month to a book group at the public library. None of us knew each other outside of the group and we always met the first Wednesday of the month with a break in December. The group size ranged from 5-10 depending on the book and what month it was and what the weather was (fewer people in the summer and on snowy winter nights, fewer people if the book was obscure or "hard"). When we met there was frequently a few people who had not finished the book. They would come anyway and that was fine, but these people tended to be the ones who hogged the conversation. And to top that off, the rest of the group believed niceness was important and tip-toed around the ending of the book so as not to give away what happens for the people who hadn't finished. The end result was an hour's discussion on the first half of the book. When everyone had finished the book and it had a mixed review from the group we sometimes talked until we were kicked out by the librarian. That was rare, but when it happened it was magical. My sister used to belong to a book group that was highly organized. They had a reading list put together for the entire year and met twice each month. They had a meeting leader who had prepared background information about the reading and the author and who had also prepared questions to facilitate discussion. The leader rotated each meeting so no one got the power and no one got stuck with all the extra work. They also had a rule, if you didn't finish the book you were welcome to go to the meeting but you weren't allowed to talk. I went to one of her groups once when I was visiting her. I had finished the reading and was prepared for discussion. It was lively and intense, too much like school for my taste. I suppose every group has its own dynamics. I am pleased with my current one where discussion is casual and the conversation meanders. We are a group of friends who have read the same book and we do what friends do, talk.