It’s Always Personal

It’s Always Personal

I could swear that during regular book discussions, some members go after each other with highly charged remarks – always about the book, but it still gets very heated and makes others uncomfortable. Should those involved take it personally and what should the bystanders do?  – Anonymous

Although some people come to the club looking for Shakespearean drama and others are still harboring memories of what happened two years ago, most of us look forward to our book clubs, imagining it as a sunny meadow, with perhaps a few fluffy clouds of controversy floating in an inevitable blue sky or starry, starry night.

If it sounds like a personal attack, it usually is one. In fact, it’s always personal. People value their clubs for the friendships they foster, but all is not blue sky every minute in every friendship either. There is room for disagreement, even sulking. But there is always room for renewal in both a friendship and in a book club.

For those sitting on the sidelines admiring the fireworks, don’t be afraid to step in. Encourage the move to a different topic and work towards changing the tone and the mood. If your book club is the well-oiled machine I know it is, there is never a shortage of fresh and pithy topics.

Hosting: Personal Best

I always look forward to seeing my book club, but hosting can become a competitive chore. No one says anything directly, but I feel that the club expects me to bake everything from scratch. I work full time and I have young children. How hard should we work on the food and drink portion of our program? – Laura

Not many of us have the staff of Downton Abbey for book club night, though I am putting in one request for Mr. Carson’s general service and one of Mrs. Patmore’s more successful puddings. Some of us feel that when it comes to book club hosting, if you are not baking, assembling, polishing and creating themes that also match seasonal center pieces, you are letting down the side. I have seen groups introduce the book selection segment of the club with a dessert table right out of Bridesmaids (though, sadly, no chocolate fountain).

For most of us, the important thing is to simply offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere where ideas are discussed without fear or favor. This is not to say you shouldn’t prepare for your club’s arrival to the best of your ability, beginning with some key questions: Where is everyone going to sit?  Are there enough chairs or perches of all descriptions? If it is customary in your club for your family to come in to say hello, does everyone know the schedule and what to expect?

Many clubs take the potluck approach and are very successful. But potluck is an inexact science. On a few occasions, I have seen a late arrival surveying the room, then rushing out on an emergency spirits run when he or she determines the supply will simply not get the club through the next two hours.

Spoilers Alerted

My biggest pet peeve is when people don’t read the book, and then insist that others in the group not “spoil the ending” by discussing it. If you’re going to be in a book club, you should finish the book, but, at a minimum, you shouldn’t let your failure restrict the discussion of those who have read the book. Your thoughts? – Washington, D.C.

Let me state that the founding truths about being in a book club include: 1. You read the book, and 2.You discuss all of its contents, including the ending. Those who couldn’t get to the book or the ending may listen in but may not protest the main event of the evening, the book discussion, leaving no page unturned.

Each of us has times when we can’t get to or finish the book but still want to attend the club. And most non-finishers admit they have not read or not finished the book and then proceed to their statements if the club allows — and we almost always give the green light. We are not monsters!

Being part of the group is the main thing, though it’s not the only thing. At your very next book club, have a real discussion about how you feel about those “don’t spoil the ending” insisters. It may not even have occurred to them that they are asking for a special privilege. Chances are, by the next club they will suddenly become well-read Elizabeth Bennets, with a ready quip for a random Bingley sister, their minds on fire with a pointed argument about the book – and its ending which they have made time to read and about which they have many opinions.


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