When Friendships and Book Clubs Do Not Mix

When Friendships and Book Clubs Do Not Mix

FULL RES - Badzin-03 copy-1This week we’re thrilled to publish a guest post by HerStories Project contributor Nina Badzin. Lots of women are enthusiastic members of their book clubs, but it’s also true that not every woman is looking for the same thing when she joins one. Have you ever been a “mismatch” with a book club that you’ve joined? Read Nina’s experience with trying to combine friendship and book clubs:

bookclubcurse

I always wanted to be part of a book club.

My initial desire started young when I observed my mom’s enthusiastic participation in one. However, I didn’t realize as a kid that my mom and her fellow book club members were brought together through a shared love of reading and nothing more. They were certainly very friendly on account of the book club, but they didn’t create the book club because they were close friends. The difference is significant, which took several failed book clubs for me to understand.

I started my first book club in the summer of 2000. I was twenty-three and had recently moved to Minneapolis where I knew my husband’s (then fiance’s) family and not another soul. In my fantasy of young almost-married life, I had to be part of a book club. Aside from the model of my mom’s club, I also had Oprah. The summer of 2000 was the heyday of Oprah’s book club. People were reading the same books all over the country, discussing them in cozy groups while sipping wine in well-designed living rooms. I wanted in! More than anything though, I wanted to make friends.

I created a book club as soon as I’d made two friends, and they invited others they knew. I remember not liking some of the novels we chose, but like my mother, I always finished so I could participate. My frustration when others didn’t finish or when we didn’t really discuss the book was palpable. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most popular woman in the group and instead of making new friends, I made people mad. Eventually I quit, which made me look like a snob (according to the unsolicited feedback that came back to me later). The experience was a disaster both from a book lover’s point of view, and as someone trying to make new friends in a new city.

I tried another group with some different friends the next year, but the same thing happened. We’d rarely discuss the book because not everyone had read it. Now before you think I’m completely anti-social, let me say that I do love hearing about everyone’s lives, catching up, and simply hanging out. But I longed for a book club where the women wanted to talk about the books. I mean really discuss them–like speaking over each other and having to eventually cut off the conversation when it gets too late kind of discussing. I was also a ninth grade English teacher then, which meant I already spent time forcing a discussion about a book as a job. I didn’t want to do that in my free time too!

Fast forward a few years. A friend of mine invited me into a book club with some women she’d known in high school. This book club didn’t work out for me either because those of us who read the book weren’t supposed to “ruin” the ending for the others. When I accidentally broke that rule, the group’s unofficial leader sent a scathing email to the entire group reminding us how “unfair” it was to spoil the ending. Any book lover will understand why I left that group immediately. I also realized that I didn’t want to be in a book club with a group of old friends–my friends or anyone’s.

Since then I’d been invited into other groups, but I’d always decline. In a smaller community like Minneapolis, I didn’t think I could afford to make any more bad impressions with people based on my desires to discuss the dang book.

However, two neighbors I was friendly with insisted many times that I try the neighborhood club. They promised that everyone in the group was an enthusiastic participator. And they were right! I’ve been in that group for two years now, and I finally found the club where I belong. The women range in age from 35 to 65, which helps keep conversation from lingering too long on subjects like potty training or even college visits. We are all at different points in our lives and come from a variety of backgrounds, but what we all have in common in any particular month is the book we read. Our differences bring layers to the discussion and bring up issues from the book that hadn’t occurred to me on my own.

As for friendship, of course after two years we’ve developed a friendliness above and beyond “fellow book club member.” I was incredibly touched when some of the women from the group carpooled to see me in the Listen to Your Mother show last year. And when an interesting author comes to town we have tried to make an outing of that, too. We’ve arranged for author visits as well either in person or via Skype. I must say it’s the perfect book club (for me) made even more wonderful by each host living no more than five minutes from my house. Luckily this book club saga had a happy ending!

Have you been able to create a successful book club with close friends or has your experience been more like mine?

26 comments

  1. Allie says:

    I have had almost the same experiences! I have been in four book clubs and the only time everyone in the group would read the book, was if I’d contacted the author and arranged a call in (and twice, a drop in). Even worse was the people who’d RSVP and then didn’t show up, “because they hadn’t finished the book.” The hostess would end up stuck with a ton of food. This happened quite a bit.
    Allie recently posted…My New Design!My Profile

  2. Lisa Wagner says:

    I’ve been part of a wonderful book club, the Rollicking Readers, for almost 6 years now. My good friend and I started it with the intent of reading all of Jane Austen, which neither of us had done. We then expanded into reading other classics with current movie adaptations. She and I always said we would be perfectly happy if just she and I got together, but other wonderful women have joined in along the way. Now we average 8-12 ladies at each monthly meeting. Nearly always, though, the women that turn up are different from month to month. We pull from a larger group of 30 or so women and teen girls who have been invited by someone in the current group. We do make it a requirement to read the book and we do discuss it. That said, members who have had a difficult time getting into a certain book or who have had extenuating life circumstances are given “a pass” to attend even if they didn’t finish the book. Our meetings are usually structured as follows: meet at 5 pm on a Saturday for potluck, discuss the book with pre-arranged discussion questions, decide on our upcoming books and dates, then watch a film adaptation of the book together (and talk through it). I adore my book club and the women I’ve gotten to know through it. And I’ve read over fifty books I wouldn’t have read without my Rollickers!
    Lisa Wagner recently posted…In the Middle of FOURMy Profile

  3. Anna says:

    YES. This so speaks to me. I have given up on book clubs because it’s more of an excuse for a girls night than it is to actually discuss the book. And I’ve read some awful books all in the name of starting a book club discussion. *sigh* I like your theory!
    Anna recently posted…10,000 Steps | Day 1My Profile

  4. I am in the process of starting a new book group in a new city, so I really appreciate this post. I’ve been part of a couple of really good book groups, so the bar is high. Good things to consider here. Just because I like someone, doesn’t mean a good book club member they’ll make!
    Michelle O’Neil recently posted…Grisly AdamsMy Profile

  5. Dana says:

    One of these days I will have to join a book club like yours, Nina. My neighborhood book club is a fun night out, but we don’t discuss the book for long and usually only half of us have read it. I don’t mind too much because I expected it, but sometimes I wish everyone would take it more seriously.
    Dana recently posted…Introducing my love listMy Profile

  6. Liz Aguerre says:

    This made me laugh, Nina! I started one years and years ago with my BFF at the time. We each invited pretty much anyone we knew. It went on for 2 years and towards the end was such an annoyance, that she and I said we needed a break due to time constraints. Really, it was because half the group wouldn’t read the books ever, and it annoyed the hell of us that we were finishing all the books (even the bad ones) and wanting to discuss them. After we left, the group sorta fell apart (probably b/c we were the only ones seriously nerdy about the whole thing). Then I started a “secret book club” with this friend and two others. It was awesome for a while, but stressful to maintain its existence a secret from the old book club members….like a sitcom. Then once the original BFF and I started having friendship issues (she is the subject of most of my friendship-related posts in one way or another), THAT book club fizzled….Just the term “book club” leaves a bad taste in my mouth! Although I did LOVE it so when it went well!
    Liz Aguerre recently posted…Lonely: Just Write TuesdaysMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Oh my gosh! I actually totally get the need for the secret book at first. And you KNOW I get how irritating it is to finish books that you didn’t even want to read in the first place. I actually just did that for the book club I love. The only reason it’s tolerable is knowing that we’ll at least discuss the book, even if it’s to discuss why some of us didn’t care for it.

      So sorry to bring up bad memories for you!
      Nina recently posted…Obsessing About Nonsense and a Jew Who ConvertsMy Profile

  7. Galit Breen says:

    Nina, I so relate to this! I, too, have traveled in and out of book clubs which always frustrated me because it felt like something that should *so* be my thing!

    (I, too, am in one now — and yes, I *always* read. We’re samesies. xo)
    Galit Breen recently posted…One StrokeMy Profile

  8. Oh, I share a similar tale of woe in finding a book club where the members actually read the book. To me, if you just want to get together, drink wine and chat, do that. Why do you need the guise of pretending to read a book? I’d like to talk about the book. (Such a curmudgeon, aren’t I? 🙂 )
    I’m glad to hear that there are book clubs out there that enjoy discussing the book. I’ll keep hoping that I find one in my neck of the woods.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One with My CommuteMy Profile

  9. Shana Norris says:

    Nina, been there, done that. I’ve been in a couple book clubs and have ran into the same problems you mention. You make a very good point about what happens when the members DON’T have a lot in common aside from their shared love of reading. Sometimes it means the focus remains on the book – or at least on books/reading. I was once in a book club full of teachers and the discussion often went to school situations, students, complaints about the administration. Not good. And once I went to a British book club at a Barnes and Noble where no one knew anyone else and the discussion stayed very focused and on track …
    Shana Norris recently posted…Ask Away Friday with Sarah of Beauty School Dropout.My Profile

  10. Nina, I used to get annoyed when I went to bunco and no one played the game, just chatted all night. And that was bunco! Imagine me in a book club!

    I did an author visit to an absolutely awesome one recently. It’s a neighborhood club. If you’re in the neighborhood you’re in; if you move, you are out. There was a delightful group of 15 – 20 women there, from probably 35 to 70 years old, 3/4 of whom appeared to have read my book. It was amazing how much their book club made them love their neighborhood and how important it had become to them as a reason not to move anywhere else (Arizona can be a little transient!).

    So I was jealous but, of course, I couldn’t join. I live two miles north of them!

  11. I’ve often thought of starting my own book club, so I’m grateful to you for sharing these experiences. I never would have thought of the potential problems you’re describing. If I ever get to that point, I will definitely set up the group with care!
    Annie Neugebauer recently posted…Thoughts on Shirley JacksonMy Profile

  12. Catherine says:

    I think you’re right! I’ve only been in one book club, and although I wasn’t initially friends with most of the people in the group, they all were. I was one of the few serious readers, and unfortunately, the person how most annoyed me with her side comments and wanting to talk about herself was the person, my one friend, who initially invited me. Maybe if I ever try a book group again, I’ll join one at the library or a bookstore. My problem is that I’m often critical of something in a book and this turns many people off.

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed it and learned something new.

Comments are closed.