Friday 17 August 2007

Reading Groups

I re-read Jenny Hartley's Reading Groups today, which looks very like the picture here, except I couldn't find an illustration without Amazon's chirpy 'Search Inside!' addition. Since the sentiment is admirable, I'll let it stand.

Apparently there is an updated version available, but my 2001 edition is fascinating nonetheless. Hartley (et al, I daresay) sent out questionnaires to reading groups, and this guide is based on the 350 responses they received. If you're like me, this information is enough to make you immediately order a copy of the book - I love book club, I do. Of course the internet equivalents are wonderful, and I think the blogging community can be pushed into this category, but this is nothing to beat a face-to-face reading group. I haven't attended one for a couple of years, since university and moving house separated me from the one I spent a year at in Eckington. The other day, though, I discovered an Oxford book group in its initial stages, sent off an email, and shall be joining them from September - I daresay you'll be hearing about that in due course.

Where was I? Hartley's book, oh yes. As well as basic information about the number, location and gender of book clubs (statistically, apparently, the most common one is a rural, all-female group of 6-10) Reading Groups frequently cites questionnaires on all reading-group-related-topics. We hear why Beryl Bainbridge doesn't find much favour, about Bristol's four continuing book groups which were around in the early nineteenth-century, and the various reasons why men are considered miscreants in the world of collective reading. Hearing about the rituals and practices of all-male book clubs (one group sits in order of seniority, clockwise, and must consume no more and no less than two pints of ale per meeting) I'm not surprised that my gender is looked upon with some suspicion. Shame.

I could cite all the examples, but you should instead pop along to Amazon and pay the £0.01 + p&p required to own one yourself. Well, since you asked, here is another titbit: "One woman rarely reads the assignment but gives great excuses: for Camus's The Plague she read one page only and said she does not like books about rats."

Anyone reading this is self-evidently a peruser of blogs, and most of you will write your own - but what about your 'terrestrial' reading groups? Are you in one, two, twenty? And how do they compare to the blogosphere?


  1. I read weblogs (sorry I can't stand the word "blog") on a number of matters, but primarily literature. I have never ever been tempted to join in a reading group, which I am sure is my loss not theirs. I do find intelligent comment on websites (such as this one) very interesting and it has certainly led me read new things and think about books and authors I have read in a different light. However I do not wish to join in a group discussion (even over two pints of ale) about what I am/have/will read. My own website is purely work related (physics).

  2. I am in one book club and we have been together for 7 years. We do have interesting book discussions but I'll admit I'm there just as much for the social interaction. That's not to say we're not somewhat strict - we vote democratically, and we really do all read the book and are prepared to discuss and answer questions about it. I think for me, an online book club wouldn't give me the social interaction I enjoy. My fellow online booklovers give me an outlet to discuss the sort of books my real life club does not.

  3. I am simply not a "group" reader. I like to read my own little book alone, and usually don't like to discuss it with anyone else. To me reading is such a personal, such a singular, such an "alone" thing, that I have no real interest in a book group. I do love reading blog entries about books. Sometimes I am lead to a new book or put off it, depending on the writeup, but I just don't have a desire to meet up with a group and talk about a book. I am really in the minority, I think, since most women do.


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