Book Groups as Imagined by Great Authors

Sam Burt

Staff Writer

Sam is a tutor and copywriter living in east London. He divides his time between trying to get kids to do what they’re told, and doing the same with words. A book a week keeps him happy and (fairly) sane. Working towards a career in publishing (and That Novel) also helps. He writes for the Guardian, Huffington Post and OpenDemocracy, and recently won 2nd prize in a Writer's Magazine story contest.

Many authors visit book groups to meet their readers. A great author, though, will of course set up her own group, and then use it to impose her unique artistic vision upon her readers.


Book club book ends.


I was lucky enough to have discovered some descriptions of book groups run by famous authors. I share them with you here in the hope that you will go on to make discoveries of your own.

Ernest Hemingway

Part drinking society, part book club. Drinking is mandatory, in fact. Discussion tends to focus on how we each injured ourselves while reading that month’s book. Lacerating paper cuts to both eyes is common, as is walking absent-mindedly off piers into shark-infested waters. In accordance with the iceberg theory, please limit any comments to bursts of five words or less. Arm-wrestling contest to choose the next book.

Haruki Murakami

Humans and cats are equally welcome and unwelcome. We mostly discuss what we thought of the shadow cast by the book while we were reading it. Sometimes we choose random words from randomly selected pages and discuss what these might reveal to us about obscure historical battles.

Virginia Woolf

All discussion takes place through interwoven interior monologues. In this manner, we often find that everyone else agrees with us. Our usual meeting place is The Lighthouse pub (subject to inevitable last-minute changes).

Franz Kafka

We usually meet inside your house when we feel like it. Each month’s book is decided retrospectively at the start of the next meeting. We reserve the right to expel members (and non-members) who fail to attend meetings or read the books. If you wish to appeal, please follow our simple procedure.

Doris Lessing

There are five separate groups which meet on different days to discuss different aspects of the book. Each group has a specific dress code – please check this and colour-coordinate appropriately. The alternative to order is chaos, and we do not care for chaos.

Gustave Flaubert

We only discuss the opening line of the book. Members typically make an opening statement, and then spend the rest of the meeting repeating and perfecting it. A list of the sentences we’ve previously read is available on our website.

Jack Kerouac

We meet in the dream crash underground of the fresh infinite glorious. Usually outdoors. Though we may not discuss the book, or meet at all. Scrolls are where it’s at. Don’t be a nark.

Arundhati Roy

Members chose their own books. We encourage you to talk over each other, or whisper your thoughts to yourself in a corner, or use the book as a starting-point for your life story (and that of your great-grandparents). We usually meet in Starbucks (bring your own spray-paint and banners).

James Baldwin

Meet in Giovanni’s room. We always choose The Fire next time (sorry).