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Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?

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  • brent wodehouse
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/fashion/07clubs.html?_r=1&partner=MOREOVERFEATURES&ei=5040 Fought Over Any Good Books Lately? By JOANNE KAUFMAN Published:
    Message 1 of 4 , Dec 9, 2008
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/fashion/07clubs.html?_r=1&partner=MOREOVERFEATURES&ei=5040

      Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?

      By JOANNE KAUFMAN

      Published: December 5, 2008


      JOCELYN BOWIE was thrilled by the invitation to join a book group. She had
      just returned to her hometown, Bloomington, Ind., to take an
      administration job at Indiana University, and thought she had won a ticket
      to a top echelon. “I was hoping to network with all these women in
      upper-level jobs at I.U., then I found they were in the book group,” she
      said. “I thought, ‘Great! They’ll see how wonderful I am, and we’ll have
      these great conversations about books.’ ”

      Ms. Bowie cannot pinpoint the precise moment when disillusion replaced
      delight. Maybe it was the evening she tried to persuade everyone to look
      beyond Oprah Winfrey’s picks, “and they all said ‘What’s wrong with
      Oprah?’ ” she said.

      Or perhaps it was the meeting when she lobbied for literary classics like
      “Emma” and the rest of the group was abuzz about “The Secret Life of
      Bees,” a pop-lit best seller.

      The last straw came when the group picked “The Da Vinci Code” and someone
      suggested the discussion would be enriched by delving into the author’s
      source material. “It was bad enough that they wanted to read ‘Da Vinci
      Code’ in the first place,” Ms. Bowie said, “but then they wanted to talk
      about it.” She quit shortly after, making up a polite excuse: “I told the
      organizer, ‘You’re reading fiction, and I’m reading history right now.’ ”

      Yes, it’s a nice, high-minded idea to join a book group, a way to make
      friends and read books that might otherwise sit untouched. But what
      happens when you wind up hating all the literary selections - or the other
      members? Breaking up isn’t so hard to do when it means freedom from inane
      critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad chick lit
      and even worse chardonnay.

      “Who knew a book group could be such a soap opera?” said Barb Burg, senior
      vice president at Bantam Dell, which publishes many titles adopted by book
      groups. “You’d think it would just be about the book. But wherever I go,
      people want to talk to me about the infighting and the politics.”

      One member may push for John Updike, while everyone else is set on John
      Grisham. One person wants to have a glass of wine and talk about the book,
      while everyone else wants to get drunk and talk about their spouses.
      “There are all these power struggles about what book gets chosen,” Ms.
      Burg said. Then come the complaints: “It’s too long, it’s too short, it’s
      not literary enough, it’s too literary ... ”

      The literary societies of the 19th century seemed content to leave the
      drama to authors and poets, whom they discussed with great seriousness of
      purpose. Some book groups evolved from sewing circles, which “gave women a
      chance to exercise their intellect and have a social gathering,” said
      Rachel W. Jacobsohn, author of “The Reading Group Handbook,” which gives a
      history of the format plus dos and don’ts for modern hosts.

      Today there are perhaps four million to five million book groups in the
      United States, and the number is thought to be rising, said Ann Kent, the
      founder of Book Group Expo, an annual gathering of readers and authors.

      “I firmly believe there was an uptick in the number of book groups after
      9/11, and I’m expecting another increase in these difficult economic
      times,” she said. “We’re looking to stay connected and to have a form of
      entertainment that’s affordable, and book groups are an easy avenue for
      that.”

      Most groups are all-female, but there are plenty of all-male and coed
      ones. Lately there have emerged plenty of online-only book groups too,
      though - given the difficulty of flinging a drink in the face of a member
      who suggests reading Trollope - those are clearly a different animal.

      And more clubs means more acrimony. Sometimes there is a rambler in the
      group, whose opinion far outlasts the natural interest of others, or a
      pedant, who never met a literary reference she did not yearn to sling. The
      most common cause of dissatisfaction and departures?

      “It’s because there’s an ayatollah,” said Esther Bushell, a professional
      book-group facilitator who leads a dozen suburban New York groups and
      charges $250 to $300 a member annually for her services. “This person
      expects to choose all the books and to take over all the discussions. And
      when I come on board, the ayatollah is threatened and doesn’t say
      anything.” Like other facilitators, she is hired for the express purpose
      of bringing long-winded types in line.

      For Doreen Orion, a psychiatrist in Boulder, Colo., the spoiler in her
      book group was a drama queen who turned every meeting into her own
      personal therapy session. Dr. Orion was used to such people in her
      practice, but in her personal life - well, no thanks. “There were always
      things going on in her life with relationships, and she’d want to talk
      about it,” she said. “There’d be some weird thing in a book and she’d
      relate it to her life no matter what. Everything came back to her. It was
      really exhausting after a while.”

      What attracted Susan Farewell to a book group called the IlluminaTea were
      guidelines that precluded such off-putting antics. No therapy talk, no
      chitchat and no skipping meetings. “It was very high-minded,” said Ms.
      Farewell, a travel writer in Westport, Conn. Members took turns selecting
      books, “and you felt that your choice was a measure of how intelligent and
      sophisticated and worldly you were,” she said.

      The high standards extended to the refreshment table. “When it was your
      month to host a meeting, you would do your interpretation of a tea, and
      the teas got very competitive,” Ms. Farewell said. Homemade scones and
      Devonshire cream were par for the course, and Ms. Farewell recalls
      spending the day before her hostess stint making watercress and smoked
      salmon sandwiches.

      This started to feel oppressive. “If the standards had been more relaxed,
      I would have stayed in the group,” she said. “But I just felt I couldn’t
      keep getting clotted cream. I couldn’t work and carry on the formality and
      get through the novel every month, so I just said I couldn’t make the
      meetings anymore.”

      Some who leave one group find happiness in another. Dr. Orion and another
      woman broke from their original group and contacted another woman who had
      also left. “Then we secretly reconstituted as another group,” Dr. Orion
      said. “We’ve been going strong for 10 years, but our experience has made
      us cautious about inviting new members. We’ve become very selective.”

      Nancy Atkins Peck, an artist and historian in Glen Rock, N.J., has also
      made a successful transition. Until the election cycle of 2004, she had
      loved her book group - the members read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” novels
      by Virginia Woolf “and sometimes a paperback of no importance,” she said.

      Then, after a presidential debate, an argument about the candidates
      ensued, “so it was decided that we couldn’t read any political books or
      have any political discussions anymore,” recalled Ms. Peck, who had just
      suggested the group read a book about the Bush White House.

      “It was nixed, and I just felt that was unnatural,” given that the group
      had successfully discussed other sensitive issues, she said. She and her
      husband then joined a coed group, which has worked out well. “And we read
      a heck of a lot of political books,” she said triumphantly.

      Sometimes the problem is a life-stage mismatch among group members. “I
      know of a group where all but one member has young children,” said Susanne
      Pari, author of the novel “The Fortune Catcher” and the program director
      at Book Group Expo. “They talk for 15 minutes about the book and then
      launch into a discussion of poopy diapers and nap times and preschool.”

      Then the one member who had nothing to bring to the soiled Pampers
      conversation announced she did not have time for the group. For etiquette
      reasons, “it’s very uncommon” for people to give the real reason for their
      disenchantment, Ms. Pari said.

      Ms. Bushell, the book-group facilitator, tells of one woman who left a
      group “because she didn’t envision herself sitting around talking about a
      book - she thought some business networking would take place.”

      Another woman decamped because she wanted to read more chick lit. “I hate
      to sound ponderous,” Ms. Bushell said, “but I have a certain moral
      obligation. I don’t feel I can be paid for leading a discussion about ‘The
      Devil Wears Prada.’”

      At Book Passage, a store with two branches in the San Francisco area, Kate
      Larson is something of a Miss Lonely Hearts for newcomers and disgruntled
      book group members. “I collect names, and when I get 12 or 14 I ask them
      to come to a meeting at the store,” she said. “If it looks like they all
      agree about what kinds of things they want to read, they’ve got a book
      club.”

      Ms. Larson uses a newsletter to help people find special-interest groups -
      say, in science fiction or spirituality. Groups made up of total strangers
      seem to last longer, she said, “because the focus is truly on the book.”

      As for Ms. Bowie of Indiana University, she was asked to join another
      group but has chosen to stay unaffiliated. “My experience was a real
      disappointment,” she said. “Now when I look at a novel in a store and it
      has book group questions in the back, it almost puts me off from buying
      it.”
    • ~Darlin~
      Anyone thought of having a book club for this group? Since we re all into SciFi/Noir more or less it might go more smoothly than other book groups. It might
      Message 2 of 4 , Dec 10, 2008
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        Anyone thought of having a book club for this group? Since we're
        all into SciFi/Noir more or less it might go more smoothly than
        other book groups. It might even be a good idea to read new books by
        members of this group. I still haven't finished Wind Dancer, think
        that's the name of it. Still unpacking all the books though since I
        moved.

        Btw, hello. Excuse my manners. I've been lurking for about a year
        now I think just enjoying the group. Meant to speak up a few times
        but haven't. I'm Darlene aka Darlin. I'd like to thank all who put
        up links to intriguing topics AND cut and paste the article so those
        of us who may get the group e-mails at work can read the information
        instead of surfing the net in order to get to it. The company I
        work for is really limiting our Internet fun. I suppose it is best
        to work at work though.

        ~Darlin~


        --- In SciFiNoir_Lit@yahoogroups.com, "brent wodehouse"
        <brent_wodehouse@...> wrote:
        >
        > http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/fashion/07clubs.html?
        _r=1&partner=MOREOVERFEATURES&ei=5040
        >
        > Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?
        >
        > By JOANNE KAUFMAN
        >
        > Published: December 5, 2008
        >
        >
        > JOCELYN BOWIE was thrilled by the invitation to join a book group.
        She had
        > just returned to her hometown, Bloomington, Ind., to take an
        > administration job at Indiana University, and thought she had won
        a ticket
        > to a top echelon. "I was hoping to network with all these women in
        > upper-level jobs at I.U., then I found they were in the book
        group," she
        > said. "I thought, `Great! They'll see how wonderful I am, and
        we'll have
        > these great conversations about books.' "
        >
        > Ms. Bowie cannot pinpoint the precise moment when disillusion
        replaced
        > delight. Maybe it was the evening she tried to persuade everyone
        to look
        > beyond Oprah Winfrey's picks, "and they all said `What's wrong with
        > Oprah?' " she said.
        >
        > Or perhaps it was the meeting when she lobbied for literary
        classics like
        > "Emma" and the rest of the group was abuzz about "The Secret Life
        of
        > Bees," a pop-lit best seller.
        >
        > The last straw came when the group picked "The Da Vinci Code" and
        someone
        > suggested the discussion would be enriched by delving into the
        author's
        > source material. "It was bad enough that they wanted to read `Da
        Vinci
        > Code' in the first place," Ms. Bowie said, "but then they wanted
        to talk
        > about it." She quit shortly after, making up a polite excuse: "I
        told the
        > organizer, `You're reading fiction, and I'm reading history right
        now.' "
        >
        > Yes, it's a nice, high-minded idea to join a book group, a way to
        make
        > friends and read books that might otherwise sit untouched. But what
        > happens when you wind up hating all the literary selections - or
        the other
        > members? Breaking up isn't so hard to do when it means freedom
        from inane
        > critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad
        chick lit
        > and even worse chardonnay.
        >
        > "Who knew a book group could be such a soap opera?" said Barb
        Burg, senior
        > vice president at Bantam Dell, which publishes many titles adopted
        by book
        > groups. "You'd think it would just be about the book. But wherever
        I go,
        > people want to talk to me about the infighting and the politics."
        >
        > One member may push for John Updike, while everyone else is set on
        John
        > Grisham. One person wants to have a glass of wine and talk about
        the book,
        > while everyone else wants to get drunk and talk about their
        spouses.
        > "There are all these power struggles about what book gets chosen,"
        Ms.
        > Burg said. Then come the complaints: "It's too long, it's too
        short, it's
        > not literary enough, it's too literary ... "
        >
        > The literary societies of the 19th century seemed content to leave
        the
        > drama to authors and poets, whom they discussed with great
        seriousness of
        > purpose. Some book groups evolved from sewing circles, which "gave
        women a
        > chance to exercise their intellect and have a social gathering,"
        said
        > Rachel W. Jacobsohn, author of "The Reading Group Handbook," which
        gives a
        > history of the format plus dos and don'ts for modern hosts.
        >
        > Today there are perhaps four million to five million book groups
        in the
        > United States, and the number is thought to be rising, said Ann
        Kent, the
        > founder of Book Group Expo, an annual gathering of readers and
        authors.
        >
        > "I firmly believe there was an uptick in the number of book groups
        after
        > 9/11, and I'm expecting another increase in these difficult
        economic
        > times," she said. "We're looking to stay connected and to have a
        form of
        > entertainment that's affordable, and book groups are an easy
        avenue for
        > that."
        >
        > Most groups are all-female, but there are plenty of all-male and
        coed
        > ones. Lately there have emerged plenty of online-only book groups
        too,
        > though - given the difficulty of flinging a drink in the face of a
        member
        > who suggests reading Trollope - those are clearly a different
        animal.
        >
        > And more clubs means more acrimony. Sometimes there is a rambler
        in the
        > group, whose opinion far outlasts the natural interest of others,
        or a
        > pedant, who never met a literary reference she did not yearn to
        sling. The
        > most common cause of dissatisfaction and departures?
        >
        > "It's because there's an ayatollah," said Esther Bushell, a
        professional
        > book-group facilitator who leads a dozen suburban New York groups
        and
        > charges $250 to $300 a member annually for her services. "This
        person
        > expects to choose all the books and to take over all the
        discussions. And
        > when I come on board, the ayatollah is threatened and doesn't say
        > anything." Like other facilitators, she is hired for the express
        purpose
        > of bringing long-winded types in line.
        >
        > For Doreen Orion, a psychiatrist in Boulder, Colo., the spoiler in
        her
        > book group was a drama queen who turned every meeting into her own
        > personal therapy session. Dr. Orion was used to such people in her
        > practice, but in her personal life - well, no thanks. "There were
        always
        > things going on in her life with relationships, and she'd want to
        talk
        > about it," she said. "There'd be some weird thing in a book and
        she'd
        > relate it to her life no matter what. Everything came back to her.
        It was
        > really exhausting after a while."
        >
        > What attracted Susan Farewell to a book group called the
        IlluminaTea were
        > guidelines that precluded such off-putting antics. No therapy
        talk, no
        > chitchat and no skipping meetings. "It was very high-minded," said
        Ms.
        > Farewell, a travel writer in Westport, Conn. Members took turns
        selecting
        > books, "and you felt that your choice was a measure of how
        intelligent and
        > sophisticated and worldly you were," she said.
        >
        > The high standards extended to the refreshment table. "When it was
        your
        > month to host a meeting, you would do your interpretation of a
        tea, and
        > the teas got very competitive," Ms. Farewell said. Homemade scones
        and
        > Devonshire cream were par for the course, and Ms. Farewell recalls
        > spending the day before her hostess stint making watercress and
        smoked
        > salmon sandwiches.
        >
        > This started to feel oppressive. "If the standards had been more
        relaxed,
        > I would have stayed in the group," she said. "But I just felt I
        couldn't
        > keep getting clotted cream. I couldn't work and carry on the
        formality and
        > get through the novel every month, so I just said I couldn't make
        the
        > meetings anymore."
        >
        > Some who leave one group find happiness in another. Dr. Orion and
        another
        > woman broke from their original group and contacted another woman
        who had
        > also left. "Then we secretly reconstituted as another group," Dr.
        Orion
        > said. "We've been going strong for 10 years, but our experience
        has made
        > us cautious about inviting new members. We've become very
        selective."
        >
        > Nancy Atkins Peck, an artist and historian in Glen Rock, N.J., has
        also
        > made a successful transition. Until the election cycle of 2004,
        she had
        > loved her book group - the members read "A Tree Grows in
        Brooklyn," novels
        > by Virginia Woolf "and sometimes a paperback of no importance,"
        she said.
        >
        > Then, after a presidential debate, an argument about the candidates
        > ensued, "so it was decided that we couldn't read any political
        books or
        > have any political discussions anymore," recalled Ms. Peck, who
        had just
        > suggested the group read a book about the Bush White House.
        >
        > "It was nixed, and I just felt that was unnatural," given that the
        group
        > had successfully discussed other sensitive issues, she said. She
        and her
        > husband then joined a coed group, which has worked out well. "And
        we read
        > a heck of a lot of political books," she said triumphantly.
        >
        > Sometimes the problem is a life-stage mismatch among group
        members. "I
        > know of a group where all but one member has young children," said
        Susanne
        > Pari, author of the novel "The Fortune Catcher" and the program
        director
        > at Book Group Expo. "They talk for 15 minutes about the book and
        then
        > launch into a discussion of poopy diapers and nap times and
        preschool."
        >
        > Then the one member who had nothing to bring to the soiled Pampers
        > conversation announced she did not have time for the group. For
        etiquette
        > reasons, "it's very uncommon" for people to give the real reason
        for their
        > disenchantment, Ms. Pari said.
        >
        > Ms. Bushell, the book-group facilitator, tells of one woman who
        left a
        > group "because she didn't envision herself sitting around talking
        about a
        > book - she thought some business networking would take place."
        >
        > Another woman decamped because she wanted to read more chick
        lit. "I hate
        > to sound ponderous," Ms. Bushell said, "but I have a certain moral
        > obligation. I don't feel I can be paid for leading a discussion
        about `The
        > Devil Wears Prada.'"
        >
        > At Book Passage, a store with two branches in the San Francisco
        area, Kate
        > Larson is something of a Miss Lonely Hearts for newcomers and
        disgruntled
        > book group members. "I collect names, and when I get 12 or 14 I
        ask them
        > to come to a meeting at the store," she said. "If it looks like
        they all
        > agree about what kinds of things they want to read, they've got a
        book
        > club."
        >
        > Ms. Larson uses a newsletter to help people find special-interest
        groups -
        > say, in science fiction or spirituality. Groups made up of total
        strangers
        > seem to last longer, she said, "because the focus is truly on the
        book."
        >
        > As for Ms. Bowie of Indiana University, she was asked to join
        another
        > group but has chosen to stay unaffiliated. "My experience was a
        real
        > disappointment," she said. "Now when I look at a novel in a store
        and it
        > has book group questions in the back, it almost puts me off from
        buying
        > it."
        >
      • Chaeya
        ... I really couldn t do a book club. I hate to say it, but I m a writer and on top of having a full time job and a side business, marriage and kids, I hardly
        Message 3 of 4 , Dec 12, 2008
        • 0 Attachment
          --- In SciFiNoir_Lit@yahoogroups.com, "~Darlin~" <Darlene.Davis-
          Dixon@...> wrote:
          >
          > Anyone thought of having a book club for this group? Since we're
          > all into SciFi/Noir more or less it might go more smoothly than
          > other book groups. It might even be a good idea to read new books by
          > members of this group. I still haven't finished Wind Dancer, think
          > that's the name of it. Still unpacking all the books though since I
          > moved.

          I really couldn't do a book club. I hate to say it, but I'm a writer
          and on top of having a full time job and a side business, marriage and
          kids, I hardly get time to read anymore. Once a while, I take a break
          and read a book from a fellow author friend or do some critiquing for
          someone, but that's all I can do.

          Chaeya
        • Chris Hayden
          (I thought this WAS a book club) ... by ... think ... since I ... writer ... and ... break ... for
          Message 4 of 4 , Dec 13, 2008
          • 0 Attachment
            (I thought this WAS a book club)

            --- In SciFiNoir_Lit@yahoogroups.com, "Chaeya" <chaeya@...> wrote:
            >
            > --- In SciFiNoir_Lit@yahoogroups.com, "~Darlin~" <Darlene.Davis-
            > Dixon@> wrote:
            > >
            > > Anyone thought of having a book club for this group? Since we're
            > > all into SciFi/Noir more or less it might go more smoothly than
            > > other book groups. It might even be a good idea to read new books
            by
            > > members of this group. I still haven't finished Wind Dancer,
            think
            > > that's the name of it. Still unpacking all the books though
            since I
            > > moved.
            >
            > I really couldn't do a book club. I hate to say it, but I'm a
            writer
            > and on top of having a full time job and a side business, marriage
            and
            > kids, I hardly get time to read anymore. Once a while, I take a
            break
            > and read a book from a fellow author friend or do some critiquing
            for
            > someone, but that's all I can do.
            >
            > Chaeya
            >
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