by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I’ve had many terrific experiences speaking to book groups and, as a member of a book group, I’ve spent many hours debating and (let’s face it) dissecting other people’s novels. While my mother-in-law is visiting, she and I have been talking about the role of book groups and how difficult it is to please many book group attendees. In my mother-in-law’s group it’s rare that any book passes muster – and this got me thinking about the power of book groups and their evolving dynamics.
There’s no denying the power of book groups today – they are the fuel that can propel a literary book to bestsellerdom (think of books like The Kite Runner or The Memory Keeper’s Daughter). I think many publishers are eager to please the ‘book group’ demographic (women aged 35-65) because without the book group ‘word of mouth’ few literary books would probably achieve commercial success.
As an author I love speaking with book groups but there is always the fear that someone will hate the book or tear it to pieces in front of me. Before I was published I never thought twice about ripping into a book I felt was unworthy – now, I confess, my criticism of novels is more tempered (as I know just how bloody difficult it can be to write the darn things!). Still, I cannot help but be impressed by the influence book groups can wield – and I’ve been mulling over just how certain books end up being the perfect ‘book group’ read.
So here are my questions:
- Are you in a book group, and if so, how do you select the books you read? Are the bestseller lists influential or is it mainly word-of-mouth (in my groups it’s all word-of-mouth)
- How critical are you and other members of the group – are fewer and fewer books these days meeting your standards?
- Do you have authors visit – and if so, how do you deal with the thorny problem of members not liking the book? What do you like authors to cover or discuss with the group?
- How much notice do you take of the reading group guides publishers provide (either on-line or in the back of the book)?
- For all you authors out there – what have your experiences been like with book groups? (…any horror stories you’d like to share?)
- And – for God’s sake – tell me, are there any men in book groups these days????
Now I’d better get to reading my next book group read, and sharpening my claws for the inevitable discussion:) on our next read – Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier.