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Rethinking the Traditional Book Club Format

Book clubs - peoplewhowrite

Are traditional book clubs becoming obsolete?

For obvious reasons, book clubs are hugely important to authors, particularly new and emerging authors. More and more bookstores are closing, newspapers tend to review the same books by the same authors (sometimes, multiple times), and online outlets like Amazon and Goodreads are most easily navigated when you know exactly what you want. Add that to the fact that, in many cases publishers invest little in promoting new authors, and book clubs remain one of the few venues where authors can gain the attention avid readers. But if you’ve ever been part of a book club, one of the least exciting aspects of membership is coming to a consensus on the book to read.

Author, editor and member of (count ’em) two book clubs Lauren Mechlin writes thoughtfully and hilariously about this “book club crisis“:

[T]he call for titles… opens up all the questions that have been plaguing our book club ever since its inception nearly a decade ago. What kind of books do we want to read? And, while we’re thinking big, just who are we? …The nominees are submitted, the list circulated. I don’t see any titles that I recognize. I remain silent, like the restaurant diner who shifts in her seat while somebody else samples the newly opened bottle of wine and gives the waiter the verdict.

Mechling goes on to admit:

I love the people in my book club. But I’m not that interested in discussing books I don’t click with. And I find it disheartening to talk about books I love with people who don’t also happen to love them. I am content to talk about all of these things with the one person who sees all my points: myself.

She suggests a radical solution to the crisis. Instead of the group reading one book on deadline, the “new book club” would meet just because they like hanging out–and, in the course of conversation, maybe discuss a recent read if the mood strikes.

“We don’t have to read anything in advance,” Mechling explains. “No forced discussion of any kind. We can just show up and open a bottle of wine and tell each other about whatever we’re reading and what we’re excited to read next. And then we can gossip our heads off. It will be the bookish person’s unbookish book club.”

If the “unbookish book club” is a trend, it doesn’t bode very well for writers. It certainly makes sense for some readers and reading circles, but if every book club does this, it’ll be even harder to find and build an audience for a new book/new author. Or maybe, it’ll result in stronger word of mouth for books that readers are actually passionate about. We shall see.


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