I have to make an admission: I joined a book club last year but have skipped three of the past four meetings.
For some background, I moved to a new city two years ago on my own. Faced with the daunting task of making new friends, I brainstormed what kinds of social groups I could join. Because I’m a voracious reader, I searched MeetUp.com for local reading groups. My hope was that it would be a natural fit to do what I love (read books!) with the added bonus of meeting new people. I was further encouraged when my searches turned up a local women’s group that meets monthly to explore books written by and for queer ladies. I felt like this book club had been tailored exactly to my needs!
I was optimistic upon joining, especially because I liked the first book I read from the group’s queue (Stray City by Chelsey Johnson, if you’re curious) and observed that past selections ranged from a variety of genres. When the next month’s pick was revealed, however, my disappointment was palpable. (Do you ever read a book’s summary and just know you won’t like it?) Although I’m a proponent for exploring new books, I could not pick this one up again after I was through with Chapter 2. So, with very little knowledge of the book and only an elementary understanding of the plot, I decided to skip the corresponding club meeting.
The following month I had a similarly unenthusiastic response to the book selection (a biography this time). But, because I was determined to give the book a fair chance, I kept reading. This time I only made it through Chapter 5. And, again, I RSVPed “no” to the club’s discussion meeting for the month. At that point I had a reality check that I was no longer in control of what books I read, but dependent upon the interests of the group at-large. I began to reconsider my participation.
Normally, I’m in control of my reading list. Sometimes I marathon read every book by a single author in a few weeks, or exclusively read memoirs for half a year. Whatever sparks my interest, I get to read! In a book club, however, diplomatic consensus is crucial.
The group I joined has been successful for many years because members vote for each month’s pick among three or four book options. I recognize the importance of this commitment to order, but grew to resent it. Relinquishing control over my own book list came to feel like an unfair sacrifice. My intention for joining the book group was to meet other people and, with some luck, make new friends. Unfortunately my distaste for all the books led me to skip the meetings, defeating access to the social element of the group.
Reading has always been my favorite hobby, and it’s a lonely one. Now I have learned that its inherent solitude is exactly what attracts me to it, particularly because it’s one of the only areas in my life in which I do not need to compromise.
I’m not wholly departing my book group; I plan to keep apprised of their picks and dive back in if I’m interested. And, wiser with insight that a book club is not the beneficial social outlet that I hoped it would be, I’ve brainstormed some other literary ways to meet potential friends. I have started to attend events at my local library (which, as a bonus, are almost always free) and RSVP for author readings at bookstores in my city. These outlets align with my love for literature but has very little influence on my book choices. Plus, the greatest part is that the people I meet in a library or bookstore are just as likely to be bibliophiles as the women I met in the book club. I just won’t let them decide what I ought to read next.