It's been ages since I belonged to a book club. The last one I was in endured about five years and dissolved before I started this job, which is probably a good thing for me, since this job is sort of a one-person book club. (Assign book to myself. Read it. Write up assessment. Assign another book.)
As I recall, I both loved the book club and chafed at it. I loved getting together with friends on a regular basis; we usually met at a bar and grill near the old Star Tribune building, and the waitress got to know us, putting in the order for our BLTs and beers the minute she saw us walking through the door. (Which meant we could never order anything other than BLTs and beer.)
But I also chafed at having assigned reading and deadlines; it felt like homework (which, of course, it was).
The women of the book club were smart, lively and talky; we spent a lot of time catching up, chatting about life and work and kids, which alienated at least one of the members to the point where she quit and moved to Alaska. (Although it's possible she was going to move to Alaska anyway.)
Eventually, we instituted a rule: Only the first 15 minutes could be spent catching up, and the rest of the time we had to talk about the book. And then we broke that rule repeatedly.
We always did get around to discussing the book, though it was sometimes not entirely satisfying. Sometimes not everyone had read the book. Sometimes people loved the book but couldn't articulate why, or disliked the book but couldn't explain what its problems were.
So why am I thinking about starting another book club?
I think the idea took root after a casual conversation with one of my editors; she was cleaning her house while we talked, getting ready to host "one of" her book clubs. How many does she belong to? Two, she said; maybe three.
And I amazed myself by thinking: That sounds like fun! (But it might be that everything this particular editor does sounds like fun.)
Back when my book club was still going, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the tyranny of book groups. It was a fun-to-read litany of gripes and complaints; one person noted that three women in his book club were "the meanest women I have ever met." They were, he said, sarcastic and vicious and they mocked people who didn't understand that month's book and who threatened to punish anyone who hadn't done the reading.
My book club was nothing like that. It was slightly disheveled and casual and cheerful and we easily got off track in the discussions. One woman said she'd joined in order to force herself to read fiction, though I think she never did read any of the fiction selections.
And so I dither. Should I start a book club, maybe inviting a few neighbors? It would be fun to talk about books with folks other than just myself. Yet I can imagine persuading people to join and then going right back to those resentful feelings of homework that I had the last time.
I can also imagine having a good time reading and discussing books that I might not otherwise get to.
One thing that a year-plus of pandemic isolation has taught me is that isolation is not good for the soul, not even for hermit souls like me. And so I'm thinking. I'm thinking.
What about you? What have been your experiences with book clubs? Great, or frustrating, or something in between? How do you keep them fresh? How do you keep from killing each other?
Write me at email@example.com and I'll include your thoughts in a follow-up column. Please include your name and city.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune's senior editor for books.