The BookGroup you’re having when you’re not having a bookgroup

or Why pubs make great venues for bookgroups

On the 2nd Wednesday of every month I walk down to my local pub to talk with other readers about thingys we have read. And yes, these get togethers are as vague as that first sentence. But let me start at the beginning.

Nearly 10 years ago, my local barista/friend/reading pal asked if I was interested in starting a bookgroup with her at the coffee shop she owned. She found that she was constantly chatting with her customers about books and this was affecting queues for coffee. The inaugural meeting was held with many of her customers, both male and female, turning up.

On that day there were several things that everyone agreed upon:

1. No-one wanted to feel like they were in a classroom. They did not want book notes, study notes, analysis or anything that might remind them of their school years. [My kind of people!]

2. The idea of 1 book that everyone had to read was distasteful. Choosing a single title that would appeal to the broad group would be too hard. Everyone agreed that a themed bookgroup was best. [Internal cheers]

3. Everyone had an equal voice. There was to be no scoffing, no derision, all reading and all choices were valid. [Yay! I could take romances with the knowledge that I didn’t have to roll my eyes and sneer at literary snobbery]

We eventually came to have a Number 4:

4. Cheers for most tenuous link between the subject and the reading choice. [This has become a highlight in our monthly meetings with the best ever tenuous link being someone who read a biography on Fidel Castro for the topic Infidelity and my own win with Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heaven, Texas for the topic of Church and State]

At first, we met up at Muse Cafe in Summer Hill. Once our friend, who owned the cafe,  sold up we chose to also move and after various unsuccessful venue choices we decided upon Summer Hill pub. I must point out that the then owners of Cafe Decolata (another of Summer Hill’s many cafes) were fabulously accommodating! Despite the fact they closed at 5pm they gave the group the keys to the cafe and we met there after hours for as long as we liked which we did for several sessions. But the eating & drinking options weren’t available to us so we had to move on.  The Pub provided us with a relaxed environment where no-one felt obliged to purchase a meal or a drink yet we had the ability to stay for as long as we liked. We have had the occasional clash with a rowdy football game but shouting across a table as to why you loved the latest romance or murder mystery you have read can be surprisingly cathartic.

Over the years, our themes have ranged from the sea, 3, music, blue, elections, feminism, blokes, beer, Russia, design and the list goes on. We also have had a variety of formats. Our reading extends beyond fiction and includes non-fiction, poetry, song lyrics (which on one occassion were sung and accompanied by guitar), plays, picture books, Hansard, essays, films and television scripts. Our members are a varied lot of people. With a good mix of males and females, we’ve had some very interesting people come and go. From teachers, baristas, ministers (well only 1 really but he was with us for a long time & we wish he hadn’t been transferred to Newcastle), librarians [moi!], academics, illustrators, marketers, teens, parents and even the occasional appearance from some of our kids presenting the book that they have read. Some of us have formed friendships over the years yet, for the most part, our strongest connection is meeting at the local to talk about our topic once a month.

In 2006, I saw the first write up of this type of book group in Library Journal as to the value [and in my opinion, a much more welcome model] of thematic book clubs. I was impressed. This article articulated the organic way our group operated. It also highlighted that by opening up to a theme based approach reading choices allowed diverse choices, less structure and suited to people who are not similar in their reading habits but just want an opportunity to share their reading experiences with others.

FAQs:

Do I think a library would be a better venue? No! Libraries close too early and they don’t serve beer.

How can you too have a group like the one I belong too? I don’t know. How does one meet an open-minded, reading friendly publican/coffee shop owner willing to provide the space and spread the word to their customers?

Does this type of bookgroup suit everyone? Not at all. We have had many people turn up for one meeting only to leave exasperated at our lack of focusing on one book and our tangential conversations.

And how does a laissez-faire group of people with no leader manage to keep meeting for 10 years? I’d say common courtesy and a desperation to share their reading experiences with anyone other than their immediate families who may or may not be readers.

Now, I must clarify, that the rest of the group are not Shallow Readers. They have depth……. and they will all happily acknowledged that I am the shallow one.

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5 thoughts on “The BookGroup you’re having when you’re not having a bookgroup

  1. Sounds fab!

    I am going to be joining a traditional bookclub this year after having been asked for many years by my friend who is a member. It will be interesting to see how it goes. Which reminds me, I really need to request the book!

  2. In Shallowreader’s defence, I think from time to time each of the members of the book club engage with their material with different levels of depth and commitment.

    Part of our longevity I think is that we respect that the ebbs and flows of life influence our reading patterns, but less so our desire to also ready with and through each other.

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