Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon: Book Clubbing

sundaysalonAfter enjoying deep blue Spanish skies and temperatures in the high twenties for the last two weeks, I expected to start shivering the minute we landed back in the UK on Wednesday. I also expected to find the trees at our house were well on their way to the autumn show of colours. But what’s this – warmth and sunshine? And the grass is still growing and most leaves are still on the branches. It means I can delay getting the sweaters out of the cupboard for a few weeks yet I hope.

What I can’t delay is getting prepared for the book club meeting in a few weeks where I am leading the discussion on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m not sure how the club members are going to react to this book because I saw a few wrinkled brows when I said it was by an author from Nigeria. So I want to make sure I go equipped with good discussion points.

Which brings me to a question about your experience with book clubs and what the expectations are for the person whose choice of book you are reading. This is my first book club ever (not for want of trying but that’s a very long story) and I didn’t know what to expect. For the first two months it seemed the person who had nominated the book took the lead in discussion and had come prepared with talking points. One woman, who used to work in publishing, had clearly spent a lot of time thinking and researching her chosen title. I used that as my model when it came to my first choice (Margaret Attwood’s Possession) and found interviews in which Attwood talked about the book from which I read extracts.

But since then we’ve also had a few months where the club member hasn’t done any preparation. They didn’t even seem prepared to introduce the book, explaining why they chose it for example. When gently pushed, all they could say was “i thought it would be fun to read”.

It was left to the rest of the club members to throw a comment or discussion point into the ring otherwise we would have had an incredibly short meeting.

What happens with your groups – do people come with questions prepared in advance? is there an expectation that if it’s your selection, that you will kick off the discussion? Do you do any research outside of reading the book?  Do you have any tips to share on how I can make sure we don’t have long silences or people end up having side conversations about why the school bus was late that morning….



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

18 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Book Clubbing

  • Can’t really help you on this one. All my book groups have been rather informal free-for-alls. My sister was in a formal one once that actually had rules and the person who chose the book was responsible for leading the discussion and doing extra research to facilitate a 90 minute meeting. If you failed your duties the rest of the group made it known they were not pleased. I went to one of her meetings once and it was a really good group.

  • Carol S

    PS We read Americanah at the beginning of the year, we all had different reactions to it and so opinions were altered and enriched by the discussion. It’s good! And we all found more about her and about blogging.
    As we’re older and fairly well travelled in various ways our experience definitely adds to our choices and talks. When I was a younger woman I couldn’t find enough people to make a book group so I especially value ours. And it is fascinating to find out how our age and experience affects choice and reading When we read Steppenwolff, my take on it was very cynical: been there, done that, thought that, let’s move on; but the really older women who were too busy working and doing their duty while I was young turned out to be enthralled by it and it’s ideas, possibilities. Great eh?.
    (If anyone is interested or would find it useful, I could let them have a list of the books we’ve read.)

  • The book group I’m in is semi-informal. We each take it in turns to speak about the book and then have a discussion about various points, often leading to a more general discussion about issues raised in the book. But it doesn’t always work like that! Sometimes we find there is not much to say about the book – especially if we all liked it. It’s better if there is some disagreement!

    We choose books by consensus, usually after one person has suggested a book. There is no leader. Some people do say why they suggested a book and have prepared notes about it and/or the author. Others don’t. Some have questions prepared, others don’t

    It works well. This is the third group I’ve belonged to – house moves meant I had to find new a group – and it’s the best. The others both had group leaders who tended to dominate the discussion. We met in the local village hall, taking it in turns to bring refreshments – wine and nibbles and once a year we have a meal and watch a film of a book – this year it was The Prime of Miss Jean Bodie.

    I like belonging to a group – it introduces me to books I may never have thought of reading and it means I can actually meet other book lovers.

  • Hi Karen, I miss commenting here so I’ll do my best.

    Do people come with questions … -> The leader, yes. The members, some of them. But usually they are addressed during the discussion. If not, they are either asked to the group or forgotten.

    Is there an expectation … -> We have a different selection process. Let me share how we go about it. The leader selects a theme, nominates three books, describes each book briefly, tells us his or her choice, and the members vote. I guess

    Do you do any research outside … -> Yes. I think this is part of the leader’s responsibility. This will give everyone additional info and insight regarding the book.

    Do you have any tips … -> Prepare some icebreaker activities or questions that are relevant to the book. When we discussed The Book Thief, we were asked to bring a book for a book swap. I haven’t read Americanah yet so I wouldn’t know what to suggest. Or maybe you can ask if they are aware that it’s an NBCC winner and if they have read other NBCC-winning novels.

    Most important thing is to have fun. Usually, the discussion will flow by itself if you throw a question and make follow-throughs from that. 🙂

  • I’ve never been a book club member so I’m no help here, but I wanted to thank you for commenting on my blog and wish you well with your club.

  • The book club I belonged to (lost it in a friendship divorce) wasn’t very formal at all. Equal parts discussion (usually led by the book club leader) and chit chat jumping off of some thing that came out of the book discussion. I kind of like the structure of your group – the person who introduced it speaking on it and setting the tone, it has the makings of a more meaningful discussion, though I wouldn’t over prepare (it’s supposed to be fun after all); maybe prepare some questions to jump start the discussion and fill those inevitable lulls without making it seem too much like school. I haven’t read Americannah yet (and how tired am I of saying that), and only caught part of Half of a Yellow Sun on TV the other night, but absolutely adored The Thing Around Her Neck. Which reminds me, I gave Purple Hibiscus to my niece years ago; I should check to see if she ever finished it…and steal it back if she hasn’t.

  • Carol S

    The book club I’ve been part of for a few years is a bit more organised and also supportive of newcomers. The person who has chosen the book introduces it, speaks for roughly 10 minutes (though we’ve never needed to time it or thought of doing so), then we all take turns to give our take on the novel. Then we react to each other’s opinions. It can get lively. We take turns to host it in our homes and the host provides drinks and snacks ie cake. If it matches the book all the better.
    I agree that being challenged to read something one wouldn’t have chosen can be great but sometimes dreadful – one author I happen to detest brought on a migraine. I didn’t get to that session.
    We tend to choose serious stuff thank goodness.
    Incidentally did you mean AS Byatt and Possession?

  • I’ve never been in a book club not enough time to read books chosen by others that I may not like shame I would love to discuss books more face to face with people

  • I have never been to a book club partly because I’d struggle reading something that I really didn’t want to but if I did I would want some sort of structure to the discussion, even if it is why the person chose the book followed by good/bad points etc.

    • We have had some books that I wasn’t particularly interested in but still read since there was always a chance I could be surprised. it doesn’t always work that way of course – Guernsey Potato Pie & Literary Society was one that I never enjoyed but it made at least for a lively discussion since there were some people who really loved it.

  • My book club doesn’t really have a discussion leader but I sometimes think it would be really helpful. Meetings last for about an hour and a half and at least half of that time is general chitchat, not the book itself. That’s fine for longer-term members but can leave newcomers a bit left out. I really like the idea of the person who suggested the book taking lead with a few prepared discussion points/questions. I might suggest it to my group, even!

    • i could see that being fine if most people know each other – if they live in the same village for example – but you’re right that for newcomers or strangers it is a bit exclusive feeling

  • readerbuzz

    Our group is very informal. We meet for an hour. If it is a good discussion, we talk about the book for about thirty minutes, quite spontaneously. We always discuss the upcoming book (how to obtain it, overview, etc.) and we always eat something related to the book.

    Here’s my Sunday Salon.

    • we have our conversations fuelled by coffee or wine and crisps. i like the idea of a finding something linked to the book. just have to make sure it’s not Herman Koch’s The Dinner since the cover of my photo shows a big fat lobster. I don’t think our kitchen (we meet in the bookshop) is quite up to that challenge

  • Nordie

    I’ve never been in a group that is formal enough to have “proper” questions etc., though I think there are quire a few tools in books and online to help people should they so desire to go this route.

    I was the nominal owner of one book group (who were really formed to go out drinking and we spent several months pretending to be proper and occasionally actually had a “BOOK OF THE MONTH”). Questions were along the lines of “who liked it, who didnt, why did you like it or not?” That generally lead more or less successfully to a discussion (often ending with “whose round is it?”)

    So whose the leader of the group (unwritten or otherwise) – who set it up? What was the point of the group in the first place? Did they want high brow or did they just want a way of meeting others?

    Perhaps it’s a matter of mismatched expectations – is there a list of rules,however informal, and does everyone know what they look like?.

    • he book club that masquerades as a drinking group is funny. you can sound oh so erudite when you tell your family that you’re off to a book club meeting. mind you if you trip over the step when come back that might give the game away


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