4 reasons most book clubs just don’t work

Book clubFinding the right book club feels like dating. Many will be tried, few will succeed. At least, that's been my experience.

Over the years I occasionally feel a need to actually share my reading experiences, which are wide and varied and as much about finding book-lovin' folk as it is to talk about the specific book we read. I remember one group that met a few times in a bookstore, and we'd agreed that each meeting a new person would pick the book for everyone to read. The only limitation was that it wouldn't be more than 300 pages because apparently some people have lives/read slowly/get scared of big books.

When it was my turn, I picked "The Wasp Factory" by the late Iain Banks and despite the slim nature of that volume, the group died immediately afterward. Some people just aren't ready for the books I love.

But here are the real major issues I've found with most book clubs:

Hyper-focused Book Selection.
The closest I want to get to limitations on what we can/can't read are nonfiction vs. fiction. I get that nonfiction books can be as awesome as fiction, but to me that's a different meeting. But so many of the groups I've been involved in descend into non-fiction only, or (worse) insist on the NYT flavor of the month/literary darling. Someone should have a darn good reason for picking a book to foist on ten other people, and it shouldn't largely be connected to their placement on a bestseller/Oprah list. What we end up getting are bland, self-important works that may look good and often have little to say.

Corollary to the Above: Fear of Genre.
No, I don't want to read more than one western or romance in a row. But I would try it. Because you never know. Which means I'd like to find a group that can live with a sci-fi, fantasy or horror book that isn't solely dedicated to those three genres. Variety, spice of life and all that.

Let's Be Social!
Yes, book clubs are social gatherings. And it's great that we get to talk about other things going on in your lives. But the book comes first. There should be at least a 3:1 ratio of book talk to "stuff" talk. Clubs I've been in give up on the book after a few mealy-mouthed "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" and … zzzzz.

Entropy Takes Over and Oh! A Shiny Thing!
Official book clubs sponsored by companies or paid professionals have their place; they keep things going and organized, but often exert a firm hand over everything else. I can be won over with a nice cheese plate, but it's nice when the participants can have a say in the organization. That said, worse are the book clubs organized by regular folk (hello, Meetup.com!) that peter out after two or three meets because the organizer can't fit it in any more, or the people taper off. And I get it: Life happens. Shinier things beckon. But it's a problem.

Last night, I went to my first book club in a while, held at the Mashable.com headquarters. Good group, smart folk. (And so very young most of them.) I saw my first Google Glass, my first 3-D printer, and my first handsome young gazillionaire internet CEO (no, he wasn't in the club with us, sorry folks). We read "The Un-Americans," or rather, most of us read some of it because we only had a few days after the book was announced, and while it wasn't quite my type of book, it had merit. Plus, the author Skyped in and took our questions, which was a nice bonus. There wasn't much book talk beyond that interview with her, but a few of us lingered and had a terrific chat about both book and real world (howdy there, Sassy Peach!). So, a nice start.

We'll see, of course: This is a story that shall be continued.