I have been in several Book Clubs in my life, some face to face and some online. I enjoy reading – see this post about ‘Reading for Pleasure’ – and I enjoy recommending books to others, and responding to others’ recommendations. As many of those who follow me (on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook) are still working in the field of education, I have started writing blog posts recommending a few novels I have recently read and enjoyed just before the longer school holidays, when I anticipate many of my contacts may have more time to read and relax. These posts appeared just before Christmas 2022, and before Easter 2023. I’ll shortly be writing another ‘recommendations’ post and publishing it in the run up to the summer holidays.
But, before that, I’ve been thinking about Book Clubs, and reflecting on some of the books I and fellow Book Club members have found particularly interesting to discuss. A good discussion isn’t always dependent on how much we actually enjoyed the book – though if you recommend a book for Book Club discussion you hope the other members of the group won’t all hate it! Discussions can be particularly energising and lively if there is a range of responses to the book choice. There need to be elements of the book about which readers have strong reactions – and often a range of views (about the book, and about the issues it raises, and the themes it explores) can lead to stimulating debate. How much empathy do we feel for the characters? How believable is the narrative? How satisfying is the ending? And how well-written do we consider the book to be?
The face-to-face Book Club I’m currently a member of is a brilliant group of ten interesting women whose company and conversation (and book choices) I really enjoy. We meet every six weeks or so, and have read and discussed an eclectic collection of books (usually fiction, though occasionally a non-fiction text is selected). We even discussed a selection of love poems alongside Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ a few years ago – and several of the group brought along favourite love poems of their own to add to the mix. We like to discuss classics from time to time, and the group has relished getting to grips with Zola’s ‘Germinale’, Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’, Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’ and Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, among others. (Interestingly, around the time we read ‘Middlemarch’, I read a newspaper article entitled: ‘If you want to kill your Book Club, choose ‘Middlemarch’… We’re clearly made of sterner stuff.)
Our tastes are wide-ranging, and we choose some recently published, and occasionally award-winning, titles too. I love the fact that the Book Club choices sometimes introduce me to new authors, and other selections lead to my rereading books which I have read before – sometimes 40+ years before, which is an interesting experience.
At the end of every meeting we rate the books we have chosen – marks out of 10 for ‘pleased to have read’, ‘enjoyed’ (and those two categories aren’t the same) and ‘learnt from’. We often reflect that the ‘learnt from’ score has risen as a result of the discussion itself. We learn from listening to one another. Before Christmas every year we have an extended Book Club discussion where we invite partners, too, and the partners choose the book for that meeting. This is always an interesting, and slightly different, dynamic!
When I wrote my three short novels, which were published in one volume in the spring of 2022, I hoped they might be especially suitable for Book Club discussion. Each is relatively short (between 55,000 and 60,000 words) which means, I hope, that those who prefer a more concise read will find them appealing, and the chances of everyone in the Book Club having got to the end of the novel chosen can make for a more productive discussion. At the end of the book I included questions on each of the three novels (but warned that readers shouldn’t read the questions until they had finished the book – spoiler alert…) Some Book Clubs find questions helpful – though I appreciate some don’t! Some Book Club members like to read reviews of the book they have chosen before they meet to discuss it. I am proud of the reviews of my three novels – see here if you’re interested.
Recently, three different contacts have told me that they are going to recommend my book for their Book Club in the coming months – something I feel very grateful for! I am very pleased to have sold over 200 copies in the last year, but I know that if sales of the novels are to continue, I need people who don’t know me to buy them, read them, recommend them. Book Clubs are one way in which this might happen.
I am recommending to those who are choosing my book for their Book Club that they either select the one novel they think their fellow members will find most interesting to discuss, or that they ask some of the members to read the opening of each, and then decide together which to focus on by voting on which of the three they felt most keen to continue reading. Discussing all three in one Book Club session might be overwhelming, I think.
I am also delighted that Kiran Sati, who runs the online #WomenEd Book Club on Twitter, has agreed to host a discussion of one of my novels in August 2023. I have suggested ‘#OneWord’ might be the right choice for this, as there is a link to #WomenEd, and the novel focusses on women’s friendships and families, choices and challenges. The #WomenEd Book Club discussion will happen on Sunday 6th August. If you use Twitter and would like to tune into this, follow Kiran on @WomenedBookclub for details nearer the time.
The blog header picture I’ve used here shows a number of contemporary novels which Book Clubs I am involved with have found interesting to discuss in recent years. See whether any might be of interest to you and your Book Club? And enjoy reading and discussing them!
Thank you for reading this post.