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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Fuselier

In Praise of Book Clubs

Do you find yourself needing to rant or rave about your most recent read and usually end up choosing the closest victim who is ignorant of said book?

My next door neighbor— a retired nurse who dotes on my children— hosts a book club for some ladies in the neighborhood. But, it’s not a real book club, I was quickly informed. “We don’t actually read anything. It’s just for drinking and chatting.”  Two of the participants were chatting with me and my husband on the sidewalk. Ah, southern hospitality. A do-nothing club in the guise of pursuit of literature. I loved it. 


And yet, I knew that as much as I can laugh at the pretend book club and enjoy conversation over drinks, I would miss having a book to discuss.

But this is a new development for me. I had never really been a part of a book club, but I did have my preconceived notions concerning them: stiff social interaction where one would be forced to read a book I’d probably hate. I am very picky about what I give my reading time to, and to have someone else dictate that made me uncomfortable. And of course, my introverted self would balk at any kind of new social engagement.


But that kind of thinking changed when I joined a book club for Catholic moms, and to be perfectly honest, I was a little worried I wouldn’t like it. Would it be kitschy? Would people over spiritualize things? Would we be sitting in a lot of silence? I was friends with some of the women, and still for some reason, I was apprehensive about it. Would this just be one of those things where I went because as a mom I’m “supposed to do something for myself” and my other mom friends were doing it? Would I have to drag myself here every month?


After our first meeting, I found that none of these baseless fears were realized. It was fun. Yes, there were cocktails. But I had somehow forgotten that I love talking about books. To the point that sometimes I wonder if I domineer the conversation. After every monthly meeting, I come home, and I’m so grateful for the conversation, for the creative drink of choice from our lovely host, for the group of women who find time to read amid their busy lives.


Yes, I don’t get to decide what we’re reading, but my taste is narrow and sometimes I hate that. My TBR list is so long, I am often paralyzed by too many choices. It’s a relief to be told, “This is the book we’re reading this month.” Yes, Ma’am. I read it, and even if I don’t like it, I get to bring that to the meeting! And far from being saccharine and over-spiritualizing things, I found that my fellow participants also struggled with the writings of the very holy saint and his writings. They too are bothered by the flat female characters. They also say, “I didn’t get this,” and I have a relief of solidarity.

Our meetings are filled with C.S. Lewis’ “You too?”

moments of friendship.

Discussing books reminds us that you’re no longer alone. For the most part, people read by themselves, keep their thoughts about the book to themselves. Yeah, you might post a goodreads review, and some people have whole channel devoted to book reviews, but those are not a discussion. In our book club, the book is carried on in our conversation. I don’t just close the cover, add it to my list of books I’ve read that year and move on. I get to dissect it, to prod further into what the author may have intended, and be challenged by others' opinions.


What beautiful opinions they are, sometimes so counter to my own. I believe the subjectivity of our tastes is a good challenge for us. It’s so easy for me to see a book as not good, or not making sense or confusing story telling, but the very thing that I didn’t like might be what someone else loved. Or the character I adored is one someone else hated. The clash of tastes always leaves me baffled and sometimes somewhat frustrated. But I believe this is a very healthy kind of friction. Even people who have the same worldview as me, who are in the same state of life, who are my friends, even they can have wildly different opinions than me. How much more generous do I need to be toward those who are in a completely separate camp than me?


I don’t mean that we should accept relativity. This is not about what truths we accept, but how we treat those who think differently than us. Our culture today is quick to divide people into the “us and them.” It says that someone who holds beliefs at odds with us can have no redeeming qualities, that there is no room for common ground. 


But in book club, being confronted with my friends’ opinions about books (What do you mean, you didn’t like Mattie Ross?!) helps to remind me to give others grace. God made us all wonderfully unique, and it’s enough to drive each other crazy. But it’s also what makes for engaging conversation. It’s what allows someone to explain the more obscure parts of a book I didn’t quite get. It’s what makes me shut my mouth when maybe I’m conflating a subjective truth with an objective one. I love book clubs, because it teaches me that just because I didn’t like the book, doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.


After all, who am I, and why is my opinion better than someone else’s?


So when we are talking about actual truth, it’s important to attempt to try to see the view point from the other person’s eyes. It’s not accepting a falsehood, but instead is an exercise in empathy. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “What do you mean, you don’t see it that way? That’s the way it is.” Whether the “it” is truth about the world, life, or moral issues, it is important to remember that we aren’t robots analyzing things with a bias free approach. We are shaped by our environment, wounded by our past, hopeful for a certain future. If we can differ wildly whether or not we like a made up character, how much more might we balk at the immovability of an objective truth? Some will be able to conform to it more easily than others due to innumerable factors. Treat others with grace.

I cannot recommend enough to find time to read and to join a book club. It can be as lowkey as you want.


Over here at Inkwells and Anvils, we’re hosting several different ones. We’re doing official book clubs, unofficial book clubs. We’re asking questions, relishing in our favorite lines, poking at things that maybe could have been better. We’re writers doing the most basic exercise of our craft: reading. We’re reading together. And there’s always room for more participants.



 

I think one of the most intimidating things for people joining book clubs is “Where will I find time to read a book?” So, some practical tips:


  • First, just read as much of it as you can before each meeting. Even that little bit is worth it.  I will, however, readily admit that I am not the best person to be giving out that advice because I refuse to show up without having read the book. I am a completionist. I do not want spoilers. I will experience it all myself. So if you’re like me and you need to read the whole book or nothing, try to break it up. There are ways to find time to read here and there, you may just have to sacrifice scrolling on your chosen social media app. (Oh, calling myself out here😬) Even reading the 10-15 minutes before bed can get you far. I like to break down how many pages there are and calculate how many pages I need to read each day in order to finish on time. This has helped break it into manageable pieces. 

  • Second, audio books are amazing. This is how I read most of my books now. It does cause some difficulty for discussions because I often want to reference a certain part and that’s not possible with an audio book. But often I’ll bring a physical copy or borrow someone else’s.

  • Third, utilize the library and friends if buying a new book every month is expensive. Depending on the availability of the book, I usually get the book from my library, either a physical copy or on Libby, which may be an audio book or an e-book. You can also ask friends and family members to borrow the book. There are a book of the month that I have needed to purchase because they are more obscure, but finding them elsewhere has helped keep my book budget down.


Still not sure if you should join a book club? Take this quick quiz to find out!


  1. Have you ever read a book and thought, “Wow, I’m not smart enough to understand this.”? 

  2. Do you want to broaden the genre of books you read? 

  3. Do you find yourself needing to rant or rave about your most recent read and usually end up choosing the closest victim who is ignorant of said book?

  4. Do you want to make friends or strengthen your friendships?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should join a book club.


 

[Note from Catherine, Discord Server Overlady:

Join our Discord Server to become part of our next Official Book Club where we read Piranesi together, led by none other than Grace! This book club begins on June 1st. https://www.inkwellsandanvils.com/general-8 ]

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