Recently, I joined a book club. The local listings on Meetup afforded several options for book clubs in my area. I wasn’t anticipating actually meeting in person during these times of Covid, so I suppose I could have joined a club that wasn’t close by, but I decided to stay local. Here’s the description for the book club I selected:
This group is for people interested in discussing books about challenging topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to the environment and the economy. And in the best of book club traditions, it’s mostly about getting to know our neighbors and making new friends.
We read a book a month and meet online for an hour to discuss the book and share our own stories around the book’s themes.
Part of the impetus for this decision came from outreach I have been doing to book clubs throughout the country requesting that they consider my novel as a club selection and offering to participate with their club members to discuss my novel. I realized that it might be helpful to get a feel on how a club operates with respect to selecting books and engaging in discussion. Fortunately, the club I joined has an excellent moderator who does a great job in facilitating discussion that uses topics and situations in the book to allow members a chance to share not only their thoughts, but their own experiences.
I realize that clubs are going to differ in how their meetings are conducted and the quality of the discussion will both be determined by the book and the participants. Something I didn’t realize is how stale my reading selections had become. I’ve written both a science fiction novel and a thriller and have tended towards reading books from those genres. I also have written a couple of self-help health books but have no interest in reading that genre. I also enjoy books that deal with consciousness and spirituality, but these are not light reading material. The club selections have forced me to read titles I have not only never heard of, but they are books in different genres and are nothing I would normally even consider.
The first book I read, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis gave me a fascinating perspective and insight into the culture and politics of a slice of America that I knew little about apart from pejorative stereotypes. Not only was it well written, but I found it entertaining at times and quite educational.
The next book, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family represents a type of writing I have regularly been exposed to in articles but have not read in book-length in a long time–narrative journalism. Quoting from the book listing, it details: “The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.”
This second selection reminded me of watching a documentary instead of a drama, but it isn’t dry at all. In fact, the story had additional relevance for me since the genetics of schizophrenia, discussed in this book, was a topic I researched heavily when writing my science fiction novel in which one of the main characters suffered from this disorder. It turns out that the author began his research the same year my book was published.
I never would have considered reading either one of these nonfiction titles, but both provided excellent reads and an opportunity to participate in excellent discussion. I don’t consider myself to be well read, and I have a pile of books just waiting, but I may decide not to read many of them. There is a limited amount of time to read. Now that I have sampled some different types of books, my palate has changed. New tastes in literature beckon to be sampled. I’ve been subsisting on the same literary diet and had simply forgotten how enjoyable it is to try something new and the importance of keeping it fresh.
I tend to be an introvert and I don’t go out much, especially during this epidemic. Now that I’ve gone clubbing, I’ve met some interesting people, read some interesting books, and developed a better understanding of book clubs and of myself.