Monday, March 6, 2017

Welcome to Week Nine!

Well, we are officially more than halfway through the semester! Congratulations - hope this is proving to be a fun and useful class for everyone.

This week we should have fun. Learning to moderate a book group can be like walking a tightrope - you want to find works with enough meat to provide good discussions, but you have to get to know your group and try to find books that will appeal to all. At the same time, don't feel bad making people get out of their comfort zone - reading books they are unfamiliar with is half the reason a lot of people join book groups. I will share a few examples from the previous instructor's book club groups (she had such great examples, I couldn't not share!):

"I once choose a Tom Robbins book, Another Roadside Attraction, for a book group I ran that my at the time boyfriend's mother belonged to. I hadn't read it in ages, but I remembered thinking it was brilliant. In case you are unfamiliar with Tom Robbins, he is very descriptive and enjoys talking about anatomy and drug use. In this case, he spent pages describing one particular piece of female anatomy that is generally not discussed in polite society, and the whole time I was reading it my face was getting more and more red, thinking, "I told Mark's mother to read this!!! What is wrong with me???" In the end, she was offended but not by that - there was some serious blasphemy in the book that I, as a non-religious person, had not even noticed. She still let me marry her son."

"I had some incredibly young, passionate, and intelligent young ladies in one of my book groups. Reading Pride and Prejudice was a wake-up call that infuriated them. They insisted that the women were in a form of slavery and that they should have prostituted themselves rather than being sold like slaves because at least then they would get to choose their clients. While an interesting point, it completely dominated the discussion and offended some of the people who really loved Jane Austen. One of the men in the group said he didn't know why we were reading it because it was irrelevant now as there was no need for feminism. Chaos ensued."

"When we read The Poisonwood Bible a new member came. He had not read the book. He had however, traveled extensively in India. This was not shown to be relevant, despite his repeated attempts to make it seem so by interrupting our discussions with anecdotes starting with, "Well in India they...." It was infuriating and very difficult to moderate. We later made a rule that you had to have read the whole book to participate in the discussion, but only instituted it when he was there. Which was inexplicably often even though he never read the books."

These are just a few examples of issues that she ran into. No book club is perfect! Currently, I am in four book club groups myself (I can't say no!). They are as follows:
1. Rockin' Reads
     - We read a music memoir and then watch concert clips while we discuss the book. I run this at my library monthly, it is open to the public. (pageafterpage.org)
2. Reading Between the Wines
     - A book club that I started four years ago as an excuse to drink with my friends but quickly formed into a "mostly" serious group that was sponsored by Harper Collins for a year and a half (we got free books every month and skyped and live tweeted authors, it was THE BEST). It is by invite only and hosted by a different member very month. Liquor still plays a role but we have gotten much better about actually discussing the book.
3. Happy Booker's Book Club
     - The unofficial Franklin College ladies book club. Meets every six weeks at a different restaurant. Books are mainly New York Times Bestsellers, by invite only.
4. Stout Stories
     - I co-run this with one of my co-workers. We meet at a different brewery or winery every month and discuss a book. It's a library program open to those 21 and up. It's so popular that there are often many on the waitlist that can't come. We actually have MEN attend, which is the best thing ever. One month they outnumbered the ladies! We cap it at 20 participants. (pageafterpage.org)

If any of you have had enlightening experiences while leading or belonging to a book group, please share them in the comments.

Now I want to talk about some basic rules for book groups. First of all, if you are moderating, do not lead with your opinion of the quality of the book. Just like in readers' advisory, as a moderator you have a level of authority that will influence the opinions of your group. I also think that in a moderator-led group, there should generally be a rule that you need to have read the book to participate in discussions. Now, there are the less formal book clubs that are more of an excuse to socialize and drink wine where of course, there is a less formal structure. Moderator-led book clubs at a library though, are generally slightly more formal and attended by people who have a genuine interest in discussing the book, and the occasional person who just likes to talk too much.

Two big things to consider when choosing books for your group - length and accessibility. As great a book as it is, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, with over a thousand pages, is not a great pick for a book group that meets monthly. Of course, know your group. A group that reads exclusively historical fiction or epic fantasy is going to be more tolerant of long books than a group that reads literary or general fiction. Also, accessibility. Is the book brand new? That means there will be a waitlist at the library and it's only out in expensive hardcover. Is it out of print? How difficult the book is to get a hold of needs to be a consideration. If you have the power to purchase books for your club through the library of course, this is less of an issue.

Due by Sunday at 10:00pm:
Book Club Experience posted to your blog. Please be thorough! I want a blog post that is at least an equivalent to a page and a half to a two page paper. I will post the rubric and assignment on canvas shortly.

PS the syllabus has an article (Reads Well with Others) that can no longer be accessed in the databases. Please disregard that and just read the other one.

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