At a Christmas party this year, I sat down next to a friend and shoved a bruschetta crostini in my mouth at the exact moment she asked me what I was reading those days. I excused myself from the question so that I could stuff my face, and she obliged by telling me what she was reading: Outlander, for a book club she belongs to, and The Invention of Wings, which had made her think about race and America and history in new ways.
This is why I love reading. As my friend told me about her feelings after reading The Invention of Wings, I took in her enthusiasm. The book had clearly stayed with her. And while she said she was enjoying the book she was reading for book club, she had much more to say about the book she chose for herself.
She and I used to belong to another book club, a gathering of squadron wives. I attended a few meetings, but then I dropped out. I admitted to her that I have a hard time with book clubs. I work for a book magazine; I need to be able to read what I want. That’s the justification I gave. It felt lazy and a little petulant, even as I said it. Wah! I want to read what I want to read!
But as we chatted, I told her that what I really wanted from a book club was what I believe the true aim of a book club is: I wanted to be in a book club where everyone just got together and talked about the book they were reading at the time, or the most recent one they had read, or the one that had made the biggest impact on them. My friend nodded. And this was the conception of the Any Book Book Club.
Book clubs are predicated on the formula that someone chooses a book, the whole club reads it together, and then everyone discusses it. In this way, the whole group is exposed to a new book, and everyone engages with it, and then the cycle repeats. But the Any Book Book Club takes away the “reading together” aspect. Instead, we replace it with independent reading, followed by sharing our books together.
Have you noticed the particular gusto with which someone will tell you about the last book that got them really excited? Or made them cry? Or made them stay up past their bedtime to finish it? No offense to the traditional book club structure, but that’s the book I want to know about.
We’ve had two meetings now. The first was polite – we were each getting to know new people in the group, each gaining our footing, feeling each other out. We took turns, went around the circle twice, and each shared two books that we had recently or were currently reading.
Our second meeting, however, is when the gloves came off. We had developed a level of comfort with one another, and we all had become sure of our common bond: books. It might seem like it would be hard to have a discussion about books that not everyone had read, but since our group is full of active, eclectic readers, we’ve all read something that can add to the discussion. As we moved our discussion over the terrain of pop psychology – covering everything from NurtureShock, to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, to Daring Greatly, we all had something to add, whether we had read the books or not. We trekked on to fiction, to histories of women. We talked in unison, we added new books to the discussion, we munched on cake while we recounted related TED talks, articles, or personal anecdotes.
I think the thing that I love so much about the Any Book Book Club structure is that it feels a bit like how Book Riot feels. Writers and readers come together and share their reading lives – their new discoveries and old favorites – and we share them and discuss them, and our to-be-read lists grow. The process repeats. The pages turn. And our particular passions and preferences fuel the conversation as new books get tossed into the pile of our discussion. It feels like cracking a book club code, and it feels like winning.