There's an adage that goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The same might be said for some book groups, who discover once-avid readers falling behind in the reading and either skipping meetings or coming unprepared (while eating the munchies and conversing about jobs or kids throughout the discussion).
So how do you keep busy members focused on the next book? Several area book group leaders shared their methods.
"I am very fortunate in that the members of my group really do
read the assigned pages," said Betsy Johnson of Holden's book group. "We
take our time working our way through books, however, allowing for
plenty of discussion along the way (no chit-chat; I allow time at the
beginning of our meetings for that)."
Being too busy is addressed by discussing how members want to
approach the reading. Some may want more time to read it, with
less-frequent meetings, while others meet more frequently or break the
discussion into parts. "I suspect that clubs which meet monthly and read
a book for each meeting do run into trouble, given the length of many
books and the demands on contemporary women's time. We meet weekly,"
Lancaster's Off-Track Bookies has at least a dozen members, so
leader Sue Billings believes preparation is key. "Have prepared
questions ready, to help the group stay focused on the book," she said,
"and make the book selections a shared responsibility."
Karen Silverthorn, who leads Thayer Memorial Library's adult
evening book group, also in Lancaster, echoes that philosophy. "Group
members want a say in what books are chosen to be read," she said.
"Hopefully, those less interested in particular ones will see that their
choices are part of our yearly list and so will give others' choices a
chance. They also like to plan ahead, not choose a new book each month.
Since some like fiction, while others not so much, we do fiction one
month and nonfiction or a biography the next."
Ann Young of Gardner's Heywood Library says one member mentioned
she belongs to a group that meets in someone's home. There, she has to
get the book on her own. It is sometimes a problem getting to a
bookstore or ordering online, she said. Members prefer the library
group, "because Heywood's librarians order the books for us and when we
return one book, we can pick up the next," one member said.
But there is no discouragement for nonreaders either. Young
adds: "Our group accepts members where they are. If they show up, they
are welcome whether or not they have read the book. Some people just do
not find it interesting, or do not have the time that month. We give
everyone a chance to speak, but some have more to say than others and
that is OK." Most members do at least try to read the book. "Because we
collaborate in coming up with the books for the year, most people buy
into the books we are reading," Young said. "I am not sure that if just
one or two people selected the books we would get the same results."
Members are also encouraged to speak out, regardless of their
opinion about the book. "One of our principles is to respect each person
and the opinion they voice, so that people are comfortable saying what
they think about a book — even if it is not in line with the majority."
Celine L. Livingston, coordinator of the New Earth Book Club in Shrewsbury, said she announces on the book club's website (www.meetup.com/newearth/)
that it is required to read the book to attend a meeting. "We take
turns to talk at the meetings, and each member gets a chance to reflect
on the book," she said. The group meets at Shrewsbury Public Library.
In Sutton, the Full Court Press (a group of moms affiliated with
a basketball program in Central Massachusetts and Rhode Island),
staggers meetings to allow more than a month between selections. "We
meet every six weeks (roughly), and we find that with that longer time
frame most people usually have time to read the books," said Brenda
Yates. "However, we really don't mind if people come to the meeting
without reading the book. In general, nine out of 10 people probably
have read all, or most, of the book. If someone has not read it, they
understand that we can't worry about spoiling the book by talking about
it if they haven't had a chance to read it.
"We also try not to pick books that are too long or intensive;
that helps increase the odds of people finishing the story. We often get
book recommendations from other book groups, so we know that the books
have been well received by other book groups, which also helps. For us,
the most important aspect of having a book group is the friendship and
social time that the meetings provide, so we encourage people to come
even if they haven't read the story. In short, we keep a low key,
relaxed outlook and that keeps it fun."
The Women's Issues Book Group of Worcester, sponsored by the
National Organization for Women, takes another approach, quipped Joan
Killough-Miller. "We give away spoilers to ruin the book for those who
haven't managed to finish it by the night of the meeting. And we make
them sit in the time-out chair."
OK, not really. But she says reading the book is not a big
problem within the group. "We're generally tolerant when someone had a
hard time getting their hands on the book or hasn't quite made it to the
end," she said. "Some of our people will read into the wee hours of the
morning, or stay in all weekend to finish the book by Monday night.
They're also good about sharing scarce copies. I've seen out-of-print
books be passed along three-four times in the course of a month."
She supplements the book choice with related material. For
instance, the March selection is "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a
World That Can't Stop Talking," by Susan Cain. The group refers members
to the author's website to listen to her TED talk and find links to
forums and other resources. They may even take the Quiet Quiz, says
Killough-Miller, "though you probably know whether you're an introvert
or an extrovert."
The Founding Fathers' Reading Group meets at the Northborough
Free Library the last Wednesday of every month, focusing on the Founding
Fathers and that period. Interested persons are welcome, says Barbara
O'Mara. Next meeting is Tuesday at 10 a.m. Members will discuss the
first half of Gordon Wood's Pulitzer-winning "The Radicalism of the
American Revolution." For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com.
Dudley's Crawford Library book group will discuss "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand at 6 p.m. March 6 in the library.
Lancaster's Off-Track Bookies has slated Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son" for its March 13 meeting.
Women's Issues Book Club, Worcester will discuss "Quiet" by
Susan Cain at 7 p.m. March 10 (second Monday) in Barnes & Noble
Booksellers, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester.
Ann Frantz writes about authors, books and book groups in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette. Send club news and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.