I’m somewhat convinced to post an opener for my book club choices on Habitica here, starting in December, but in the meantime I wanted to ponder a little about picking books for a book club. It can be really difficult: do you want to pick something people will like, or something people will discuss? Often those won’t be the same thing at all: a book group I was in had months of fruitful discussion about a book we universally loathed, while a book we loved had maybe five comments in the whole thread. The discussion is often better if a book is divisive, too: if one person criticises it and another digs in to defend it, and nobody’s feelings get hurt, there are hours of discussion to be had.
Confession: mostly, I pick the books for the Habitica book club with three criteria: 1) it’s a different genre to the last two months’, 2) I own it and 3) I want to read it sometime soon. The whole intent was to cut out the difficult bit where people vote on a choice or someone forgets that it’s their month to pick or whatever, and just make sure that it’s a book I already own, want to read, and think could prompt some discussion if anyone feels into it. (Most successful pick in a while for the latter is this month’s pick: The Genius Plague, by David Walton.) To a great extent, it’s a commitment device: I told these people I’ll read it, so I guess I’m gonna have to.
(Sometimes it works.)
If I’m picking for a book club in the real world, discussion is probably the primary thing on my mind — but also trying to balance everyone else’s known likes and dislikes. Is this book going to provoke a political argument? Is this book going to just bore X silly? Is Y going to be a child about what happens in chapter ten? Just sharing a book I enjoyed or expect to enjoy has never really worked, mostly because I feel like other people expect something worth discussing.
I’d love a book club where people abandoned lists of discussion questions or considerations of what other people would like. Every month, a different person would bring along a book they just really loved. Okay, discussions would sometimes just be handflappy “omg the bit with X and Y doing the thing!”… but that sounds kind of nice, and I have no doubt that discussions would still arise organically, not due to intent but simply because books are like that, if you give them half a chance. There would be a strict rule about never telling someone else their taste sucks just because it differs.
To be quite fair, my favourite book club is pretty much like that and consists of two people: me and my wife. Discussions are random, tastes mostly align without total agreement ever being likely or desired, and I’ve never had to offer to crown her with a tub of guac. (Sorry, Robert.) Someday, for the sake of Wife Book Club, I might even get round to reading Republic of Thieves.