My book group meets tomorrow. After five years, we are still going strong. Like Jim Collins observed in his book, “Good to Great,” a key to success of any group is that participants like not only what they do, but who they are doing it with. It is a philosophy that works both for corporations and for book groups.
I used to bemoan the fact that there were no book groups that met in my town outside of my full-time work hours. The few that did rampaged through a book every month with no quarter given to the slow, more casual reader. I know people who are speed readers who zip through two to three books a day (okay, I only know one person who can do that, and yes, we are actually friends!). I know more women who haven’t read a book in years because everything on the planet is more important than the stolen pleasure of sitting down and reading a story. We’d love to, they claim, but there are dishes to be put away, laundry to fold, children to pick up, children to drop off. There are play dates to plan. Social obligations. There is barely enough time to skim the newspaper headlines. Most of these women also work, and after spending a day staring at the march of words across a computer screen, they are just too plain tired.
If I want a book group that meets my own selfish needs, I reasoned, I would have to do it myself. There is a great advantage to this, my friends. You get to pick WHO YOU WANT. It’s like getting every single Christmas wish, all on the same day. It’s easy. Just start off with all your favorites and keep on going. No worries about arriving at the home of an established group to find your boss’s ex-wife is already a member. You can’t fail.
We now have ten women in the group; seven birders and three of my former work colleagues-now friends, which is arguably a little lop-sided but since it’s my group, it’s fine. The non-birders even got used to the occasional outbursts that have NOTHING to do with the conversation about the book. It goes something like this:
We are deep in discussion about the philosophical meaning behind the religious dogma of “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” by Khaled Hosseini, when somebody shouts: “BROWN CREEPER!” Suddenly, seven women leap from their chairs and stare out the window. Arcane directions follow: ”Four o’clock on the big tree behind all those saplings with the viney stuff all over them. Going ‘round back and up.”
“Got it!” the birders chorus, then return to their chairs, ready to continue the discussion where it was left off.
The non-birders smile.
If you are starting your own group, you may have to do a little coaxing when you hear things like this:
“I’m flattered. But I don’t read much.”
“I’m too busy to commit to another meeting about anything.”
“I don’t like book groups.”
Be gentle, but don’t pay any attention. Tell them to give it a try. Use your best inside wheedle voice. No promises, no commitments, no dues, no guilt. And the clincher that makes them really think it over:
“Hey, you don’t even have to read the book. Just come.”
For some reason, this works. I actually have an informal wait list of people who want to join a book group where they don’t have to read the book.
We meet every six weeks or so, which relieves the pressure of the rigid “Every third Thursday of every month” schedule. We flex around vacations, business trips, confirmations. We even once had a “delayed opening” because of weather. But we met.
I confess we are not always very serious. If you are a Type A reader who wants to hold forth on some literary exegesis about an author’s hidden themes, you might be disappointed. We tend to laugh a lot. I mean a lot. We pretend we are the book’s protagonists and collapse into fake dialogs. We half kill ourselves with our own jokes. We wander off on tangential conversations but, being the leader, I take my responsibilities seriously, at least for the first 45 minutes, depending upon the book.
We had our five year birthday party this past September and are still going strong. One of the reasons we all like the group is that WE ARE NOW READING BOOKS, including genres that we normally would not have chosen. We are reading outside the box. And looking at birds. And laughing. What could be better?
And we meet tomorrow!