Book Club Confessions: A Reluctant Leader's Open Letter
February 16 2016

I have never belonged to a book club; nor have I ever had a desire to belong to a book club. I had this fuzzy idea that books clubs were either a bunch of gossipy women and beach reads, or a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals pretending to read esoteric and obscure works. I’m not sure how I got this idea, because I was an English major. I spent the requisite number of hours sitting around talking about books and ideas and loving every minute of it. Somehow, though, I thought book clubs were a waste of time. I thought—although I never would have admitted it—that I was too good for a book club.

Fast forward to fall of 2013, when I came to work at the Oxford Exchange, and suddenly, the Book Club was one of my duties. Honestly, it was the only one that intimidated me. The Book Club was already successful, and I didn’t want to mess it up. Also, I still wasn’t convinced I cared about what anyone else had to say about the books, or that I wanted to read the same books they wanted to read.

Now, I love Book Club. It isn’t similar to other book clubs—I’ve seen lists for creating the perfect book club and almost nothing applies to us. My list for the perfect Book Club numbers is really simple:

  1. Provide the opportunity for like-minded people to gather.
  2. Let those like-minded people work the rest of it out.

 

We are a like-minded bunch, although we rarely agree. We simply love the chance to read and discuss and stretch ourselves. We have all finished (or almost finished) the book every month, and we are open to discussion. We can get spirited and occasionally heated. We have discovered that the most boring book clubs are the ones in which everyone agrees. That happened to us once—it was miraculous and yet so very dull. (The book was REALLY good by the way, but how many ways can you say, “The language was beautiful; the author is fascinating; I really liked it”?) I have been reminded that people are so smart and can be so passionate. We walk out still talking, not about who said what, but about what was said.

We read one book a month. This means we miss out on some great books that are simply too big to finish on time. However, we constantly stay fresh and (hopefully) interesting. We deliberately try to avoid reading the same type of book from month to month. A little zig-zag keeps us engaged. At times, it gives us all the chance to read something we are comfortable with, and at others, we get the opportunity to read something we would never choose on our own.

I sometimes refer to the Oxford Exchange Book Club as “my book club,” but it isn’t mine. The members make the club. They stimulate me and they stimulate each other. They have enthusiasm for every month and they are a constant surprise. I sometimes remark at the end that I feel as if none of us read the same book—we have so many different takes and so many trains of thought. Strangely, you can have a dozen points of view of the same book and they can all be valid.

I stress often over finding the right book for Book Club. I feel obligated to choose a book worthy of such a great group. We won’t all like the same thing, but I hope to find a book we can all appreciate and respect.   The right book for our group won’t be the right book for some other groups, but that’s okay. Books are great that way—there’s something for everyone.

Because of Book Club, I read books I would never read. I now know that I kind of like magical realism. I have learned to be patient with characters I don’t like and authors who repel me. Some of the best stuff I’ve read has come from this point of view. Almost three weeks since the last book club, I am still thinking about what I read and what was said; I am still dissecting and refining what I thought.

In the end, I’m no longer a reluctant book club leader. I am now an enthusiastic book club facilitator. We start every book club the same way: “Who wants to start? What did you think?” From that point, I just get to sit back, listen, learn, and enjoy.

 

Tracy Bailey

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