Although I’ve never participated in a book group, I’ve been hearing about them for years. According to a recent estimate there are roughly four to five million such groups in the United States. I am told there is an annual Book Group Exposition and even a professional book group facilitator who you can hire to guide your group for an annual fee of $250-$300. Now there’s a job for the countless unemployed readers in this country.
In my long time search for readers of the kind of books that I like, I thought I’d try my hand at forming group in my new hometown. After several failed attempts, I succumbed to the lure of language and the Internet and posted a notice with a “seductive” title on the Groups page of the local Craigslist.
Rather than call it a book group, I referred to it as a Salon. Basically that’s what I wanted to create anyway. By labeling it a “salon” I was not referring to a place to have my hair cut. Rather I meant a gathering of individuals to discuss a book, an issue, or any common interest or goal during afternoon coffee or tea. Doing this has a long history in several European countries especially during the 18th and 19th century. The idea appealed to me a great deal and I thought it would be the sort of term that would mean something to a reader who is serious about literature and quite willing to leave the drama to the books they ostensibly discussed, rather than the personal lives of the discussants.
Eventually, I received one response from a person who was a freelance writer for the Associated Press. That was it. She, in turn, asked a few of her friends to join and was successful in obtaining 4 individuals, all women with very busy lives at work or at home with children. So we were a group of 6, 5 women and one aging yuppie.
However, they all wanted to read a book I was not the least bit interested in (Annie Proulx’s new collection of short stories, Fine Just the Way It Is). In addition, they wanted and could only meet at a time when I could not. I realized this was not for me, not the book the wanted to read, not the time or the day they preferred. So I bowed out as gracefully as I could.
More importantly, I realized I really prefer to be a solitary reader with a pen in hand. In a note about communal reading Gregory Cowles put it best: “…reading has more in common with the cloisters that it does with the congregation.” Perhaps one day I will meet in person a serious reader and then we will be a twosome to talk about the books we both enjoy.
That surely won’t happen until I enter the Pearly Gates and can sit down one afternoon at the feet of Mr. Harold Bloom himself. Or wonder of wonders, I locate a like-minded reader on this island in the Pacific. Again, Cowles expressed it well: “And there is an undeniable thrill when you discover that the beautiful stranger on the subway likes Alice Munro as much as you do.”