When Book Clubs Work

Photo taken from: http://blog.evite.com/evite/2007/10/help-book-club-.html#.VaKRrIsc05c

Photo taken from:
http://blog.evite.com/evite/2007/10/ help-book-club-.html#.VaKRrIsc05c

I am a part of a “ladies only” comics club. Ideally, we meet once a month to discuss a pre-chosen comic, though this doesn’t always happen due to logistical reasons. We’ve discussed Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Lumberjanes, and most recently American Vampire, to name a few.

For the longest time, I’ve felt unhappy with this group. I didn’t like how often the meeting dates could change, and I didn’t like the dynamic. It was run and founded by a small group of women who have known each other for years. They work with each other, they hang out with each other, and they have tons of inside stories. During the meetings, they would inevitably start talking among themselves, leaving the rest of us to stare from the sidelines as we tried to get a word in edgewise (This wasn’t the entirety or even the majority of the meetings, but it happened often enough and for long enough to irritate me.). There also wasn’t that much structure to the meetings, which meant sometimes we lapsed into awkward silences, not knowing what to say next. And sometimes there didn’t seem room or desire for actual criticism. You were expected to be endlessly positive, and no one said anything beyond, “I liked this, it was cool.” There were many times when I left the meetings feeling unhappy and stressed, and I usually didn’t look forward to going back.

Friday night was different. On Friday everything clicked. We started out the meeting in high spirits, drinking and mixing our own cups of Thai tea that I’d brought, which really seemed to relax everyone. The book of the night was American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Stephen King and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. Only a couple people really liked it, but most agreed that it was fun and stupid and incredibly confusing. We spent a good deal of time trying to pin down what was happening and why it was happening and pointing out our favorite panels. People joked and laughed and had both individual and group conversations. After about an hour, the conversation turned from the book to whatever it was we wanted to talk about. We discussed a cool Twilight fan fiction (which you can read here and which is actually logical and bad ass), we ranked Studio Ghibli films on their level and intensity of depressingness, we gave video game recommendations, we planned a D&D game night, we bitched about the pomposity of Stephen King, and we tore Jurassic World a new one for their treatment of Claire Dearing. It was awesome.

It was also so incredibly cathartic. My sister, girlfriend, and I left the meeting feeling rejuvenated. We all talked about how awesome the other girls were and how we couldn’t remember when the last time was that we had so much fun with such a large group of people. We’re honestly looking forward to the craft night next week, the game night the week after that, and next month’s meeting. We’ve even done a small amount of Facebook stalking to learn more about our new friends (mostly just to try to figure out their names).

I’ve been part of several book clubs and workshops in the past, and they usually end in disappointment. Regular book clubs require regular meetings, which not everyone can commit to. They require someone to take the reins and make sure the conversation flows freely without restricting it to their particular viewpoint (which makes me a bad moderator). They require members that want to hear what everyone has to say and who won’t try to monopolize the conversation or jump in where they’re not wanted. And, most of all, they require that people read the actual book or manuscript, which is surprisingly difficult for many to understand.

However, a good book club is so important because it’s often the only place where you can actually sit down and discuss books with others. Despite their enduring popularity and huge range of genres, books aren’t widely discussed in common social circles. It’s much more common to talk about things you’ve done, movies and TV shows you’ve watched, video games, and your kids. Someone once explained to me that people would rather talk about things they’ve done than opinions they have: actions are safer than thoughts and being judged on your past actions is significantly less stressful than being judged on your past thoughts (I don’t quite buy that, but it makes sense in relation to several past interactions.). That’s why in immature groups the talk turns to anecdotes rather than likes and dislikes. That’s also why it’s difficult for many people to talk about books in any real, revealing way.

Books have always been important to me, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say they’re my most important interest. When I go a day without reading, I get depressed and restless. When I sit down to read but am interrupted, I get irritated and snap. You can always tell when I’m feeling ill or depressed because I won’t read. So for the majority of my life, I’ve yearned for a decent book club. I wanted to meet other people who understood how important books are, how essential to my well-being and happiness. I wanted to find other people who truly understood books, what they could provide and what they could do.

I am of two minds about this most recent meeting. On the one hand, I’m excited and happy and feel as though a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I can’t wait for the next meeting and anticipate another fun, cathartic evening. I’m even planning what treat to bring next time. On the other hand, I know that the success of the evening will depend on the people there and the book chosen. We’ve chosen East of West by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Dragotta, which I love for its art, originality, and tight scripting. However, it is incredibly violent and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We may have a new cast of participants who are less vocal and confident in their opinions. We may have fewer people and more inside stories. It may go horribly, which would devastate me for the night. But even if that happens, I’d like to remember this past Friday night. I’d like to remember how happy and even proud I felt sitting in that circle listening to those women talk. And I’d like to remember that feeling that way was possible once, which means it’s possible again.

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