From JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI
Book clubs can be a wonderful way for like-minded people to get together and share their love of literature. Maybe you’re long out of college and miss the academic pleasure of “talking out” a book, or maybe you’d like to get more insights than reading alone can provide. Or maybe you just want an excuse to drink wine and jabber with girlfriends.
Some people have suggested that book clubs are a silly, middle class diversion for the kinds of pretentious bourgie women who want to have high minded discussions about books you buy at an airport so you can read it “before you see the movie.” The ever-reliable Daily Mail has some pretty hairy horror stories about a dark underbelly of mutual trade-paperback enjoyment, one populated by “show offs, drunks, and fibbers.”
To keep your book club on task, and to avoid it devolving into some kind of sycophantic bacchanal of people who buy sweaters on GILT group, try using discussion topics. Many bestsellers come pre-equipped with reader’s guides and discussion questions just for book clubs.
Here are a few that can be adapted to your book club for its specific needs.
1. During the sex scenes in the book, did you picture the other people in the book group also having to read the sex scenes and feel sort of weird about it? Why do you think we have so much trouble acknowledging our friends as sexual beings?
2. Who here owns a TV? Why, or why not?
3. Several people have noted key differences in structure between the modern bestselling novel and commercially successful classic literature. Who do you think these people are trying to impress? Can we all acknowledge that these people went to Brown so we can move on?
4. This book has sold several million copies and has been translated into 26 languages. A lot of us are kind of resentful about this. Do you think you could have written this book or something? Do you think writing a book is easy?
5. Jane Austen was one of the first authors to examine the effects of socioeconomic pressure on personal relationships. What kind of grown woman brings Yellowtail to a book club comprised of professional women? We’re all trying to save money, but what are we, 17-year-olds in a suburban basement?
6. How come every month when we’re picking our next book, somebody suggests some plodding work of non-fiction? We all liked “Devil in the White CIty” too. But come on, some of us are tax attorneys, most days we don’t want to come home and read about Nazis.
7. Do you think Jonathan Franzen is hot? How is that not a valid question?
8. How come we’re all like, no, “The Hunger Games” is a kid’s book but Borges writes about an enchanted library and it’s “magical realism?”
9. Compare and contrast the different relationships between the main characters and their parents. Or, if that feels boring, maybe talk about something personal. Like, maybe, how many times a week do you and your boyfriend have sex? Just spitballing.
10. What foods or beverages did you spill on the book during the course of reading it? Anything good?
11. How come authors are always wearing black turtlenecks in their flap jacket photos? Do you think there’s like, one book jacket photographer out there and he’s like, “Oh, for the shoot tomorrow, could you wear a black turtleneck?” What would you wear in your author photo? No, money’s no object. Go nuts!
12. A lot of book groups have a theme snack. Like, if they read Eudora Welty, everybody will bring like, grits or sweet tea or something. Is that lame?
13. Do you think it signifies a lack of imagination to picture characters as popular film and television actors? Sometimes there are a lot of characters to keep track of, or you’re really tired from a long day of tax law, and can’t picture one in your head so you just go, “Okay, Sir James is Tom Hardy.” And then later when they describe Sir James as tall, with flaxen hair, aren’t you like “Noooooo, ignoring! Tom Hardy” ?
14. I hated “The Kite Runner.” Did you hate “The Kite Runner?” Is there more wine?
15. We all almost came to a consensus for next month’s book with “Anna Karenina,” but some of us said we “read it already.” Is it possible that some of us lied because we just don’t want to read it? Who was your favorite character in “Anna Karenina?” Oh, really? What was “Vladimir”‘s last name? It’s okay, we’ll wait.