Confessions of a Book Club Dropout

Lots of publishing professionals belong to book clubs. That makes perfect sense, since we read lots of books. Why not meet with a group to discuss them?

Awhile ago I joined a book club of Christian women who read general market books I normally don’t read. I thought reading along with them would broaden my horizons.

The first month, I couldn’t get through the book although I tried. The nonfiction tome didn’t apply or appeal to me. It did make me aware of a couple of writers I didn’t know. However, the work of those writers isn’t of particular interest to me as a reader or a professional, so the knowledge wasn’t that useful.

The second month, they chose a very, very long, highly-acclaimed novel. I tried to read it. Really, I did. Please note that I’m a huge fan of very, very long novels. But I couldn’t relate to the characters or their situation, so for me, the book went on and on and on. And the depressing storyline had no letup. Not even anything I’d call comic relief. Because the book is famous, I was able to find a plot summary online. I could see that the depression would not relent. Ever. I put it aside and skipped the meeting.

A member of the club asked us to read another book for a retreat. The unremitting stream of gritty topics and horrible characters I didn’t want to read about made me quit that book, too.

Selections came and went. Without me. None of them interested me enough to invest the time needed to read them. Yes, I felt guilty about this. Then again, maybe not.

What I learned:

  • Life is short. (Though I already knew that.) I had to read lots of books I didn’t want to read when I was in school. I’m out of school now. I’ve earned the right to read what I want to read.
  • I love representing books I enjoy. My book club dropout experience made me even more appreciative of my work.
  • My tastes may not be as broad as I like, but oh well. I refuse to apologize for who I am.
  • My time is more valuable to me than I realized.

I’ve thought about starting my own book club with selections more tailored to my tastes, yet broad enough to challenge myself and other members. Maybe that would be a good New Year’s resolution! I’ll keep you posted.

Your turn:

Do you belong to a book club? What is your favorite part about it? Your least favorite?

Have you ever dropped out of any type of club? Why, and how did that make you feel?

Do you run a book club? Can you offer me tips if I decide to start my own?

53 Responses to Confessions of a Book Club Dropout

  1. Jenny Snow September 14, 2017 at 4:32 am #

    Tamela, your book club experience sounds like one of my college literature classes! 🙂

    From experience, I can tell you that hosting your own book club is infinitely more fun. I welcomed suggestions from members, but ultimately, I picked the book.

    I hosted the club a little over 2 years. The worst part was keeping my house clean enough for a living room full of women. The best part was the lifelong friendships that developed. Along with getting to inroduce my friends to my favorite authors.

    To good books, great friends, and being accountable with our time!


    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 5:38 am #

      Amen, Jenny!

    • Debra Clewer September 14, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

      My late husband John became legally blind in 2013. Always an avid reader and fine public speaker, he joined a men’s book club at our local public library in 2015. He and another vision impaired member were giving talking books of the chosen title. One or two he found interesting. The problem was that the titles were chosen by a single female librarian who kept choosing women’s fiction for the men. John gave up and stopped going. His other blind friend agreed with him, and stopped going too. Book clubs should work on the basis of the members agreeing what choices to make. Having said that, I realise that you will not have a consensus of opinion among members, but perhaps a voting type system would work. It isn’t possible to cover all bases of interests, but people could agree to meet in the middle.

  2. Jane Tucker September 14, 2017 at 5:18 am #

    I’m sad that your book club experience was such a downer! I’ve been in a book club for 19 years. We have 12 members, so every year each person chooses a book and a month, and the December person hosts a party instead of a book.
    Over the years we’ve read a wide variety of authors, from Toni Morrison to Louis L’Amour. We’ve also been there for each other through life’s ups and downs.
    As a novelist, my favorite kind of marketing is talking to book clubs. When people invest their time in my stories, and want to discuss them with me–well, that’s a joy.

  3. Jerzy Wolfe September 14, 2017 at 5:30 am #

    {Poking head out of hidey-hole to wave hand wildly} I’m part of the Book Club Dropout Club. Never understood them. Tried one once, just to affirm my opinion. It was affirmed. I guess I’d rather be reading books than talking about them. {Retreating back into hidey-hole. . . to read.}

  4. JanyreTromp September 14, 2017 at 5:43 am #

    I belong to a book club, and I (usually) love it. We take turns hosting and whoever hosts, gets to pick the book. That way everyone gets a book they’ve been dying to read at least every few months AND we get a huge variety. We tend to troll each other’s GoodReads pages for what everyone else has on their lists and that helps tremendously. I’ve been introduced to several favorites through the group that I would NEVER have read otherwise. But I have to admit, there have been a handful of books I struggled through because of style or content. But then I put on my “critical reader self” and process why it didn’t work (or why it did) and take that into my own writing and editing. In 3 years, I think there’s only been one book I quit.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 5:59 am #

      Good for you for sticking with books you don’t like! At least it sounds like there’s balance in your group!

  5. Damon J. Gray September 14, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    Tamela, I am not a member of a book club and have no plans to become one. Indeed, I stopped a small group Bible study because the group made the decision to set the Bible aside for a time in order to study some other book.

    I am not opposed to these activities, but simply have no interest in a prescribed reading regimen. I want to read what I want to read rather than what I am told or assigned to read.

    I love getting recommendations for reading, and am poised to order a book recommended by a blogger I follow, because it sounds tremendously interesting to me. I have had occasion to purchase a dozen copies of a particular book to pass out to friends, simply because a friend recommended it to me – and I LOVED it!

    I now yield the soapbox to the next commenter.

    – damon

  6. Niki Slováček September 14, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    You’re correct, reading should be enjoyable. Not every author is for every reader. I’m a firm believer that reading should be fun and the book shouldn’t let you put it down.

  7. sherri stewart September 14, 2017 at 6:20 am #

    I’ve belonged to three book clubs. The first was more of a gabfest about children than a discussion about the book. I dropped out of that one quickly.

    The second one met once a month in a trendy restaurant. The women were business women–ages spanned from the 20s to the 60s. The ladies were not Christians and the books chosen were broad in scope. That’s what I enjoyed most. We read Malala; we read about the Chilean mine disaster; we read Brooklyn. The leader was well prepared with probing questions and examples of similar books and movies. But it fizzled out.

    The one I’m in now is made up of retired Christian teachers. We read widely (always fiction) and while I don’t like each book, I enjoy the gathering of like-minded women discussing good fiction.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 6:45 am #

      Sounds like you’ve experienced some pitfalls! I like the restaurant idea since the host’s family doesn’t have to be somewhere else during the meetings.

  8. Karen Saari September 14, 2017 at 6:22 am #

    I think I like the idea of a book club, more than I’d like the actual club. I do belong to a small writers club (4 people) and I look forward to that and hate it when I miss. And, like Damon, I like to read what I like to read when I want to read it!

    But I do recognize the opportunity to learn about some new authors and read some different genres. Next term I’ll be taking a Modern Lit class where we will study The Hunger Games and its theme and what she was really trying to say! Maybe … just maybe, she simply wrote the book. Crazy, I know!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 6:45 am #

      Sometimes people “read” way too much into books! Hope you enjoy the course!

  9. Rachel Mcdaniel September 14, 2017 at 6:26 am #

    I’m very selective with what I read because the content sticks with me long after I reach “The End.” It’s both a good thing and bad. Good because when something ministers to me, I can reflect on it and it’s like a continual blessing. Bad because if something disturbs me, it takes longer to shed from my memory. (I’m the same way with movies and tv shows) It may seem odd to some, but like you said – I refuse apologize for being who I am.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 6:47 am #

      I had a nightmare after watching a TV series and decided then and there to choose something else in the future!

    • Nicola September 15, 2017 at 6:56 am #

      Rachel, I want you to know you are not alone. This long memory of the imagination gives me an aversion to trying new books or movies.
      It’s not that it has to be ‘clean’, I live in the real world. It just has to stay away from graphic and gratuitous. So few do these days. And it is different for each person.
      In my own writing, I have some gruesome things, but they don’t happen ‘on screen’. They are filtered by the memories of the people experiencing them.
      I sympathize with you in how hard the balance is between protecting your heart and living out loud.

  10. Kristi Woods September 14, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    Love the idea of a book club, but I’ve never been a member of one. I danced with the idea of joining COMPEL’s (Christian writer training) new and upcoming club, but an already full schedule seems to be dampening that dancing spirit. It may be best to enjoy the “beat” through your experience for now, Tamela, although I hope the next club endeavor results in more fulfilling reads.

  11. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 14, 2017 at 6:49 am #

    I remember a book club from 9th grade. Our English teacher made us read “In Cold Blood”.

    Even at that age I could see it was a horrible choice for young people, and that he’d done a lot of damage. We had discussions on it, but he held the grading pen.

    So after the assignment was over, I placed the book on a post outside said teacher’s office, got his attention, and whacked the thing as hard as I could with a baseball bat.

    Then I made as if to go after HIM.

    Book ‘club’, indeed.

    Good memories.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 6:50 am #

      Oh, dear! Well, sounds as though you learned a valuable lesson not found in any book!

  12. Shannon Redmon September 14, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    Those are the very reasons I’ve never joined a book club. Sometimes I read the same books as my mom and sister, then we discuss, but even our tastes are quite varied. I like suspense and intrigue. They like love stories.

  13. Susan Karsten September 14, 2017 at 7:13 am #

    When I hear the titles friends’ book clubs are reading, they’re often the lurid best-sellers. I’d love a group where a discerning reader, with compatible tastes (to me), would unearth some really meaningful and well-done fiction for the group to enjoy.
    Many of the current best-sellers feature messed-up main characters with no moral compass.

  14. CJ Myerly September 14, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    I haven’t joined a book club yet. While my children are young, I don’t want to add too much to my life. I could see how it would be beneficial–if the books are interesting to you, and you can connect with the people in the club.

    I do like the concept.

  15. Pearl Allard September 14, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    “My tastes may not be as broad as I like, but oh well. I refuse to apologize for who I am.” This is kind of where I’m at — except I am a bit apologetic. Do groups exist for *ahem* grown-ups that like children’s books? I’ve lived in the kid section of the library for so long with my children that I’m checking out children’s classics for me that I haven’t yet read! I would like to join a “real” book club someday.

  16. Carol Ashby September 14, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    I’ve never been in a book club. I don’t know that any of my friends have either except my sister, who lives in a small town a thousand miles away. That one evening a week that I could carve out before i retired went to a home Bible study.

    But I put 10 discussion questions in the back of each of my books to give a book club or individual reader something that probes deep into the motivations and choices the characters made. The questions tie them to our own !Ives. I don’t know if anyone ever uses them, but I do like to put them there in case someone wants them. I should probably!y add a PDF of them to my websites, now that I think about it. (I didn’t expect this comment to add to my task list.)

  17. Carol September 14, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    Note to self: to avoid typos, don’t comment from small touchscreen with weak reading glasses.

  18. Rebekah Millet September 14, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    I nodded my head to all the bullet points you listed. Fortunately, I’m in a wonderful book club that started with a few online friends and a shared love for a certain YA series. We connect through a private Facebook page. Over the years our close-knit group has grown and now spans six countries and includes almost every fiction genre, as long as there’s a swoony hero. We are also not your typical book club. There are no mandatory reads. It’s more like sharing books we love, warning each other on books to avoid, venting/mourning over characters, etc. Sometimes several of us will be reading the same book simultaneously, and those discussions are a lot of fun. Most of all, we have become friends, so it’s never negative.

  19. Chris Storm September 14, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    I’m in two book clubs and must confess I don’t always finish the book. Life is short, like Tamela said, and if I’m bored or if my Christian faith is overtly offended I put the book down. However, Book Club breaks me out of my routine and comfort level, exposes me to current literature styles and trends and topics. As a writer, I need that. And, surprisingly, I’ve loved quite a few books I never would have chosen independently.

    I totally understand Tamela’s disappointment with a current Best Seller. I have a theory that, sometimes, Best Sellers are like designer handbags–everybody loves them because everybody loves them.

  20. Norma Brumbaugh September 14, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    Oh goodness! I relate. I started a book dinner group from different contacts of mine some sixteen years ago (they didn’t know each other). I was newly divorced and created the club as a social outlet to meet my need for community. There were ten of us. Six of the original are still going strong. We meet quarterly. I’ve selected 90 percent of the books. We only read spiritually-in-tune books. It’s been quite the challenge to find books that will work. I’ve pretty much learned who doesn’t like what, and I try to vary the selections. They all say they’ve read books they never would have like “Hinds Feet on High Places.” Once in a while I pick a winner like “Walk to Beautiful.” Books don’t get finished on occasion. We’ve read a few debut books…I like to encourage new authors. It works for us. The books are good, but most of all, we enjoy the laughter, friendship, and camaraderie. A year ago I suggested we disband (tired of finding books!), but they wouldn’t hear of it!

  21. Marilyn Turk September 14, 2017 at 9:28 am #

    Hi Tamela,
    I started my own Christian fiction book club six years ago because 1) I wanted to make myself read more. 2) I wanted to expose Christian authors I know to people in my community. We meet monthly at my house, so I only have to clean once a month 😉 I provide the beverages and the paper products. Snacks are rotated within the club with two people bringing them each meeting, one sweet, one not sweet. I always choose the books. I used to ask for a vote, but the other members were content to let me make the decisions. What I did learn to do was rotate the genre because some, like me, prefer historicals, others romances, other mystery, other contemporary, etc. As a writer, I enjoy hearing what these readers like and don’t like about the books we read.

  22. Ann L. Coker September 14, 2017 at 10:16 am #

    I participated in a book club for about a year, and I enjoyed being with friends. The not-so-likeable part, as you discovered, involved reading what someone else selected. So when it came my turn to pick, I passed out various books by one author I liked. The next meeting they shared their opinions and these were not complimentary. I did not leave because of that, I quit the group because I did not get to my own list of want-to-read books.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

      Sounds like a good tip for people running a club might be to have the club read books you’re invested in emotionally or personally. But I also agree that when you’re too busy reading something required, it’s easy to let the pile on your nightstand grow!

  23. Kelsey Anderson September 14, 2017 at 10:29 am #

    I started a book club at my church a few months ago. I had never been in a book club before, and only heard how book clubs worked from online articles and my sister who started one at her old church in Kentucky. I wanted the club to read different books and genres within Christian Fiction, especially since all the members like different kinds of books. The way we pick the books is by vote. Every month, we have three books to choose from, and those three books have something in common, whether it’s theme, subject, or genre (We’ve had women’s fiction, books written by men, and fairy-tale retellings). And whichever book gets the most votes, is what we read for the month. We also do a Bible devotion based on certain themes that the book has, which has been great and given more depth to the book conversation. I always tell my members that it’s okay if they can’t finish the book because they’re not liking it, but I do encourage them to explain what it was that didn’t grab them about the book. Our book club has only been running for a few months, but it’s been great to hear from members that they’re enjoying it. It’s certainly been a stretch for me since I’m an extreme introvert, so leading a book club as definitely taken me out of my comfort zone. But it’s been good for me and I love talking about books. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

      Like you, I do better when I have something to talk about! So glad you’re enjoying your club.

  24. CJ Chase September 14, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    Has anyone else seen “Mom’s Night Out”? There’s a line near the beginning of the movie where the main character has gone to her book club even though she (once again) hasn’t read the book. She says, “Reading books is something I aspire to, but I have three kids…so I don’t actually read books.”

    Yeah, I laughed out loud at that one.

  25. Sharon Wilfong September 14, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    You’re telling my story! I think it is that, being a book club, we think, “Ah! I’m going to have something in common with these fellow readers.” But then we find out that people read for different reasons.

    I dropped out of a Christian book club because I could not get anything out of the first book and I personally felt the second book chosen was off theologically.

    I was excited to join a summer book club with my newspaper and even bought the two inch thick tome. I don’t know if you were reading the same book but your description of length, a first person narrator that sounds clinically depressed with no break in the darkness certainly is similar to the book I read. Also, I don’t care for revisionist history, even if it is historical fiction.

    Maybe that book club that fits my needs is out there, but I haven’t met it yet.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 14, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

      Sharon, sometimes I think it’s all about the chemistry. Hope you find a good club soon.

  26. Loretta Eidson September 14, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

    I’ve never been a member of a book club. I don’t even know how to start one. I was invited to one a while back and she said she’d let me know the date and time. I never heard back. I’ve considered starting one, but as I said, I’m clueless. Invite people, read books, talk about it? Are there specific questions you should ask or discuss?

    How about an online Skype/Zoom/Go-to-Meeting book club? Has anyone ever done one of those? No house cleaning would be involved and you’d provide your own refreshments. Lol

  27. Deb Santefort September 14, 2017 at 9:26 pm #

    I’ve never been in a book club but on my last vacation I brought three copies of one book. I like to read poolside but I didn’t want to be anti-social. I offered my extra copies to some people with whom I was vacationing. Two women ended up reading the book along with me. It was a blast! We had a great time discussing it all week long!

  28. Cecelia Dowdy September 15, 2017 at 7:09 am #

    Don’t get me started on the subject of bookclubs, LOL! I’ve been in three of them. The first one focused solely on African-American novels. We had a few good meetings, but, then people simply stopped coming.
    The second book club lasted for about a year? We took turns choosing the books. For some reason, attendance just faded away (only myself and one other person was coming, just like the first book club in which I participated).
    The third one – well, it’s at my day job. We vote on books every six months for our reading lineup. I didn’t enjoy the last few books, so, I have not been back for the last several months. If they should happen to choose a book that I might enjoy, then I’ll go back for that meeting. They meet once each month during lunch break.

  29. Hannah Davis September 26, 2017 at 6:39 pm #

    Oh my goodness, your entire post made me think “#ALLTHETHIS!”

    I’ve never joined a book club mostly because the book clubs I know of are all tailored to non-fiction or mass-market fiction. Now, I love a good non-fiction…particularly memoirs and biographies. (Currently reading/listening to George Bush’s “41”.) But there have been very few general market books I’ve read simply because I know that there is little to no hope in them.

    I love suspense, action, and mystery, but nothing competes with a good Romance. Yes, I love it when my heart flutters at the two characters falling in love. But more, I love crying through a story because God is speaking through the characters to me. That is the ultimate romance. <3

  30. Mersenne December 23, 2017 at 7:01 pm #

    Hey! I just dropped my book club the other day. Why? Life’s too short to read books I don’t really enjoy. And the women were (mostly) nice but all friends with each other outside of book club…I was asked to join to fill an empty seat and provide “literary comment.” The latter requirement truly sucked. Okay, I was the only one who’d studied literature in university, and I was undoubtedly the “best read.” My husband’s a retired prof and so are most of our friends. But who wants to sound like the club pedant? To choose the most “literary” books only a couple of other people enjoyed at all? It was a bad fit. Plus, about 2/3 of the time was spent by the friends-outside-of-club talking about their mutual acquaintances and activities. It was like reliving a bad day in high school, one night a month.

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