Book clubs: Good for even more than gossip and wine.

Book clubs: Good for even more than gossip and wine.

Last week, I was invited to join a new book club. I also heard three different book clubs will be reading my novel. I’m over the moon.

I’m so excited that people are actually reading my book and talking about it together. I’m probably even more excited, though, to be in a new book club of my own. I’ve been in a number of them over the years and, truly, book clubs have completely changed my perspective on books and reading.

Everyone knows that reading is a subjective experience, but I didn’t fully understand the extent of this until I started attending book club meetings. I’d find a book absolutely captivating and others—intelligent, thoughtful people– would hate every page. Not only that. They’d have a completely different idea about what a main character’s intentions had been, a completely different sense of the significance of a symbol, even a different memory of basic plot points.

I found the divergence of our reading experiences pretty jarring for a while. Reading is intensely personal. Different, I think, from many other ways one might experience a story. Movies, television and plays are shared. Reading is typically an independent activity. Books give their audience a chance to create their own version of a story, their own images and sense memories. There’s a lot of room for creativity and individual expression between the letters on a printed page. Thus, everyone’s experience of a book can be unique.

When I read a book, I feel that I know the story and the characters, as if they are people that I’ve met. Usually I like them.

For a while, I really disliked subjecting my pristine reading memories to book club scrutiny. But I got over it because, well, I love getting new suggestions for books to read, I’m always eager for the chance to chat and drink wine with friends in the evenings, and, perhaps most importantly, I had the good sense that I could learn something by listening to others’ interpretations.

What did I learn? Writers should be humble.

Writers supply one part of a story, but, ultimately, the reader controls the experience. Readers don’t just interpret writers’ words. They play a vital role in creating characters, plot and meaning. So writers everywhere need to loosen up and let go a bit.

A book club is also a great reminder that successes and failures should be taken in stride. One reaction to your writing doesn’t amount to a definitive statement about its merits. For every person who loves your book, you will almost certainly encounter one who thinks its worthless sludge, and vice versa. Don’t get too caught up in reviews or rejection letters. Readers are fickle and varied. Some are discerning, some have no taste, and some, like me, tend to adore every single thing they read, whether it’s the charming slogan on their granola box or the challenging novel they pulled from the shelf in the library.

I think every writer should be in a book club. A book club is a very different animal from a writing group and serves a different, perhaps equally important function. Both will take you down a notch.  The book club will probably serve up the humble pie with other baked goods and a glass of wine.

I am certain the book clubs reading my book will have their own good ideas about discussion topics, but, since a few people have asked, you can now find a Reader’s Guide to Drowning Cactus on this website, here, and below the description of Drowning Cactus on the BUY MY BOOK page of this website.

Since I’m not even slightly famous, thus far I’ve been able to oblige every book club that has asked me to make a virtual appearance to answer questions. Interested in hosting me at your next book club meeting via skype?  Just ask.