Over the past decade, I’ve taken part in dozens of literature and writing classes, workshops, and book clubs, and one of the biggest problems I’ve encountered is that people just don’t read the assigned work. The biggest offender I’ve ever met is my friend Jeremy. We met during a literature class in our freshman year of college, and he tried to ingratiate himself to me by asking me every day five minutes before class started what we were supposed to read. He did this every day for the entire semester despite my blow-ups, my irritation, and my refusal to speak with him. And he continued this behavior through his five years of college.
Most people aren’t quite as bad as Jeremy. They usually ask the day or week before the event or spend the first minutes before it scribbling notes on the manuscripts and rapidly skimming the pages and highlighting important-sounding sentences. However, the fact remains that they haven’t read the work and haven’t done the work.
Refusing to read a book before a book club negates the purpose of a book club and turns what could have been a fun, intellectually stimulating evening into a gossip fest. People will quickly turn to talking about their mutual friends or discussing their work and home problems, leaving the people who actually read the work clutching their worn copy with sweaty palms and feeling, for the umpteenth time, completely left out.
Refusing to read a manuscript before a workshop is even worse because it’s retarding the writer’s development and eroding their confidence. No matter your age, when you’re a writer, you need people to pay attention to your work and bolster your confidence. You need to hear what makes your work special or boring. You need to be able to map out how your writing is progressing. And to do that, you need an outside perspective. So what happens when the person who’s supposed to critique your work clearly didn’t read it? Why are you even in this workshop? Why are you paying hundreds of dollars to be here? What’s the point?
As a working adult and fairly reasonable person, I understand that it’s not always possible for you to get the book and read it. Sometimes, you don’t have the money to buy it or it doesn’t come in from the library on time or you/your kid got sick this week and coopted your schedule or a dozen other reasons. But people really do need to approach book clubs and workshops with a greater sense of responsibility. They need to understand that refusing to prioritize the reading hurts others, makes it more likely that the club will fail, and reduces the effectiveness of the workshop. They need to know that when you’re a part of a workshop or book club, you’re part of something bigger than yourself that depends on you to make it work. They need to read the damn book.