Dear Book Club: It’s You, Not Me

May 11, 2017 · 150 comments
GH (Los Angeles)
I'm amazed to hear these negative reviews of book clubs. I joined a club for the first time ever two years ago and it's been nothing but great. We welcome differing opinions of the books we read because that's what make for a lively discussion. I'm a sensitive type and if there had been any of the negativity and drama mentioned in these posts I would have quit my club a long time ago. Happily such has not been the case.
I joined an established book club of six women who met monthly. After about a year, I had had enough of the drama, cattiness and competition. The books weren't especially interesting, either, so I "released" myself. I may try one again sometime, but I believe I'm one who prefers to keep socializing separate from my books...the organized structure of a book club seems somewhat forced and artificial. For me, it diminishes the real joy of savoring a good book.
sterling (ny)
Both friends and reading are precious to me, but I do not want them to mix, especially in an artificial "club" setting. Shudder.
historylesson (Norwalk, CT)
If you truly love to read -- are a born reader -- a book club is going to let you down almost every time.
For those of us who live to read, loosely speaking, it's the recommendations of a friend or two that lead us to books we love, or books that challenge us, or books that awaken us to something new.
I've been in a book club, my first, for about a year and a half. Overall it's been a rather dispiriting experience, and I'm probably going to drop out soon. Members don't read the books half the time, or squabble about their inability to find the book in question at a library. Perhaps the worst experience centered around "The Underground Railroad" where one member carried on about how she refused to read the book because she was too sensitive for such an horrific topic. Fine, but why did she show up to share this? Why not skip the meeting? Another member kept asking me (why me?) why Whitehead wrote the book, since we already know all about slavery, and she didn't need to hear any more about it, let alone read it.
Roaming around on the web I found a site where interviews with women who read are posted, with questions about favorite books, books that keep them sane, books they disliked -- a range of questions that provide insight into reading choices, from which you can judge if you might want to read their recommendations. No reviews, just conversation about literature. It's a nice alternative to book clubs, or review sites.
www.girlsatlibrarycom, (GAL) for those interested.
This made me laugh! Now I'm thinking I should join a book club, just for the possible antics of its members!
Patricia Sears (Ottawa, Canada)
I'm a bookseller, yet can't raise much enthusiasm for joining a book club. I prefer a silent reading group, where people (friends or strangers) meet in a quiet environment for an hour or two of silent reading of a book of their own choice, all electronic devices turned off. Bliss.
Book Fan (USA)
I also had a "friend" who always told me about her two book clubs but never invited me. She knew I was an avid reader and we shared books. I have now joined what I think will be a wonderful group and am glad I missed out on the "mean girl" experiences the author writes about here.
MikeB (Montreal)
I really don't need a book club with a required reading list. I have over 200 books in my physical and virtual lists that I want to get to - hopefully one day.
I love reading other people's reviews, as in unprofessional reviews in online book clubs.
If a book club had a review of what each member's favoirite book of the month, I don't feel that would work. It would likely be too ego-driven with each member feeling he/she had read the best book - and probably uninterested in the books read by the other members. It would require a superb moderator.
me (AZ unfortunately)
The book club in my "community" is so catty that several people told me there is a book club and then made no move to invite me to join. Thank goodness! I don't want to know what they think. The vibe is bad enough.
Sarah D (Montague MA)
I don't hide the fact that I'm in a book club. We haven't invited other people to join for quite a while. We're not trying to exclude anyone socially, but we're at a good size and a mix that works well and simply don't want to get any bigger. Perhaps they're not being catty, but have similar reasons?
HR (Glen Ridge, NJ)
My beloved suburban bookclub of 8 years has hit a slump. A string of of bad reads has relegated bookclub to the D list of social options. Not to mention the bookclub scourge - those who avoid hosting duties like the plague. And yet I can't imagine not having a bookclub.
sfdphd (San Francisco)
I have a friend with whom I exchange recommendations of books we've read. When I asked her if she was in a book club, she said "You're my book club". That made me laugh.

Our exchanges give us what we like about book clubs and we don't have to put up with what we don't like about book clubs. I've been in a few with similar problems to what Newman described. I'd be willing to try another book club but would be cautious before I get too involved again...

So if you can find one friend who also likes books, you may be able to have a more successful book club just for two....
Evan Maxwell (Gardnerville, NV)
Book clubs share these kinds of problems with independent bookstores. They both lend themselves to cliquish behavior. Intellectual one-upsmanships, chatty little self-indulgent comparing of notes on precious examples of the genres that are acceptable, desirable or, worst, the most moral.

God bless Amazon.
CMuir (NYC)
Book clubs tend to be popular among women who wear yoga pants as regular clothing ... need I say more?
Amy (Chicago)
And unpopular amongst nosy randos who think too much about what other people are wearing?
jules (california)
The top prize for most insufferable must go to "some people just weren't our brand" Ms. Lavinthal.

On another note, who says anonymous sex with no consequences is an entirely male fantasy? Sheesh.
Richard Frauenglass (New York)
I am not a joiner in the first place but thought I might give it a try. A friend, book club member, recommended a book. Try as I might I could not get through the first three pages. Then I was informed that the club was going to discuss a particular biography and he suggested I join them since I was first person to some of the events that would be discussed. The group's leader insisted I purchase the book -- which I already had -- or else I was not welcome. So much for that.
On the other hand my wife is in a book club and has been for many years -- really enjoys it even though some of the recommendations are not really to her liking.
Anonymous (PA)
These book clubs all sound like awful forays back into the highschool experience! I know some people are rude, but slowly excluding them from the book club and laughing about them behind their backs? No wonder so many people quit book clubs. I just want to talk about the books!
I have tried 4 different book clubs over the past 20 years. They are just not for me. If a group of interesting ladies want to get together, I would rather meet them for cocktails or invite them to my home to chat and get to know them. I don't want to feel pressure to get through a book in 4-6 weeks, I have enough pressure from everyday life. I was the one who would love to bring a bottle of rose and just sit around and chat, even about the kids' camps/colleges, and not want to hear the book's ending. So, now I know they really did meet during the summer...
Susan Miller (Pasadena)
Well, I imagine some of the women who were ghosted
from Ms. Lavinthals "Mean Girls Club" now know what
happened, if they've read this article. And by the way, they
should consider it a compliment they weren't their "brand".
Enemy of Crime (California)
Well, if you're someone in the future invited to join a book group and are introduced there to old-member Andrea Lavinthal---don't say the New York Times didn't try to warn you about this particular coven.

As for the "weren't our brand" losers who were "released" for failing the clique's "interesting and witty" secret exam, I just hope none of them read this. At least in sorority rush week you're actually told when you aren't invited back to a house, rather than left guessing for months before realizing that their royal highnesses had cut you dead.
Mallory (San Antonio)
I have a Ph.D. and teach at the university level and you could not PAY me to be a book club member due to the infighting that occurs in the social clubs. I have two elderly relatives who have joined book clubs, only to call me crying that their views of a piece of literature were ignored or made fun of or caused anger at the club. What should be fun and engaging and a way to socialize has become mean spirited and polarizing. All too often group think and mob mentality occur in book clubs and both cause unnecessary social isolation of the book club members who disagree with a strong individual or group in the club. Come on, it should be fun, not a day at the Trump oval office.
judy (boston)
ouch. Well, you would be well to stay away from the book groups of your elderly relatives, but please do not lump all book groups into this unfortunate group of unfortunate people. I have been with a lovely group of women for 30 years in the USA. I lived abroad and the book group there was a lovely, enlightening group of women. Sounds like you would benefit from getting out a bit and interacting with others, Mallory.
Stefanie Green (Ithaca NY)
I don't think so.
Stefanie Green (Ithaca NY)
The thing of it is, I really am not interested in other people's opinions unless they are superior literary critics. I'm not interested in opinions and discussions that are "supportive" and "caring."
m.pipik (NewYork)
I have never belonged to a book club and have never wanted to. I am always actively reading at least two books. I don't understand why anyone who loves to read would want to be in a book club except for the social experience.

Didn't you folks have enough of analyzing books (and writing papers) in high school and, for many, college? I would think that those experiences would turn anyone off from the voluntary formal discussion of a book.

There are too many books that want to read for me to waste my time reading something I don't like. I can't tell you how many works of fiction I have started to read in the past few years and never finished. Interestingly, non-fiction books have done a better job of holding my interest.

Test question: What do these writers know that authors of fiction don't?
Laurence (Bachmann)
Believe it or not other people have insights you do not. Believe it or not, discussion does not have to be a replication of high school and college. The fact though that you feel the need to tell us you don't finish lots of what you start and that fiction doesn't hold your interest does suggest you'd be an unpopular member at many clubs. Wise choice.
Cowboy (Wichita)
"Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." Groucho Marx
Louis F (New York)
Great story! It brought back a memory from my own dabble in book clubs. Ours was democratic with members choosing the book on a rotating basis. When it was Peggy's turn, she announced our next book was a going to be the famously unreadable and unread "Ladies Almanack" by Djuna Barnes. I pleaded for her to change her mind, but it was set and my entreaties were considered boorish and anti-feminist by the women in the group. Also publicly by the other two men in the group (though I believed they were secretly rooting for me). When we got to the meeting to discuss the book, it turned out I was the only one who had gotten through the damn book. That was our last meeting -- or at least the last one I knew about -- and my last experience as a book clubber.
Artur Caracol (Portugal)
I refuse to join any book club that puts ego over member.
Casey Ellis (Bay Area, CA)
I dropped out of a book club because I just didn't love most of the book selections but I ADORED this article. Judith Newman's writing is sublime
Nicole (New Jersey)
Whoa, Nelly! When did book clubs become elitist, judgmental, competitive, and just plain old nasty? My dear friend and I started a book club in 1975. It was nothing but nurturing and supportive, with women of different socioeconomic backgrounds. I've followed the evolution of "book clubs" over the years, and judging by this article, and to misquote a famous saying, I would never knowingly join a club that would have these women/men as members. Lighten up!
Klord (American Expat)
What social privilege: to have the same night off on a regular basis, no insurmountable concerns about childcare, and then to be able to decide whom to "release." I'd always envied those in book clubs. Maybe I don't so much any more, thanks to this article.
Joe Cleetus (Kerala, India)
You raise issues that perhaps as the coordinator of a reading group I can comment upon. Our is not strictly a ‘book club’ but a reading group; the difference is worth noting. In a book club generally the latest books are read, of all kinds, and and poetry does not figure. We deal only in fiction and reader-chosen poetry.

We invite people to join us and have a minimum of rules, regular participation being the most important among them. We keep socialising to time outside the reading sessions, and once of twice a year we meet over a subscription dinner at a nice place. A faithful blog I write keeps a record of all our readings, and any literary occasions that might be of interest. We organise special celebrations to celebrate memorable occasions such as Shakespeare's 450th birth centenary.

You can take a look at our blog, which has been active since 2006 when the group was formed:

We have no problem about discussing sex, and other issues treated in a novel. The views are often divided, and critique is always welcomed. Particularly in Poetry, our tastes are catholic, ranging across many traditions and languages.

Humour and jokes are inevitably a part of the exchange. We have never had people being uncivil to others, or dropping out because they felt slighted.

We may be the only reading group in the world that has maintained a continuous record of every session. We are interested to make contacts with N America.

joe cleetus
Faith Moosang (Vancouver BC)
We also keep a blog of our readings and reactions/criticisms etc. to the books. However, we keep the blog private for members only. Some in the group were concerned about privacy. Nonetheless, it's great to go back and refresh your mind about a book from years ago.
Michelle (Los Angeles)
I have joined three book clubs over the past two decades. My best advice? Single-sex clubs only. All three clubs I joined were men and women, and they are a breeding ground for every sort of trouble that happens between the sexes. The first club I joined was in the '90s and young woman's boyfriend left her for another young woman's brother (Book: The Secret History by Donna Tart). The second was in the months following 9/11 and there was a fistfight between two husbands about George Bush's intellect or lack thereof
( Atonement by Ian McEwan. The third was a few years back and something about Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" led two couple to divorce--and we all had front row seats watching their unions disintegrate. I was recently invited to join another book club. This one sounds interesting: it is time and genre specific--6 months/contemorary mysteries) specific and also involves wine tasting--and men AND women. I'm going to pass.
D (Brooklyn)
Never join a club that would have you as a member, particularly a book club that might dismiss you because you don't fit The Brand. Why on earth would one Brand a club about reading and discing books? Are they selling T-Shirts?
Cynthia Williams (Cathedral City)
I've quit several. As a feminist I am horrified to say this, but always it was because of the women. They tend to ramble on without directly or concisely making a point, mumble over people who are talking and start boring secondary conversations about personal stuff, and focus too much on the snacks. And they're the worst at not-reading the book yet still commenting. Men actually talk about the book, which is what I want.
Andrea Lavinthal (Brooklyn, NY)
It's very fitting that I'm writing this comment while sitting with none other than Book Club. We made a a rare weekend trip to NJ where one member moved several years ago. We spent the first 30 min of Book Club reveling in our first New York Times mention and the next 30 minutes reading the comments. Luckily, Judith has a wonderful sense of humor and understands mine. We may not be the most inclusive group, but it's one filled with love and support for eachother. Our chemistry is unique and we've lasted this long by preserving it. And that's why we're together right now, on a rainy Saturday in NJ, drinking wine and laughing over the fact that no one read the book.
flatlander (Maine)
When we first moved full-time to a verrry small town in Maine, I was invited to join the book club. It was a life-saver over the long winters and wonderful relationships developed, plus the longed-for intellectual stimulation of intelligent conversation. It saw me though the ups and downs of my ex's mental illness without discussing it, just because they let me know they were there for me if I needed them just by their constant presence in my life. But beyond the personal, we read challenging books and had very different interpretations which was very mind-opening to all of us and hadn't happened since college. It wasn't go-along-to-get -along but a finding of our own personal opinions in a world where women too often "go along".
Joseph Aczel (Decatur)
Interesting article- and the shallowest quote ever from Andrea Lavinthal. I'm certainly not her "brand" and quite thankful for that!
Sara (Massachusetts)
I like the idea of a book club, but I think it would ruin my blog.
Doug Gordon (Rochester Hills, MI)
In the one example given, did anyone in the club actually read "All the Pretty Horses?" The scene was only presented for effect as being anonymous when clearly the woman was Alexandria, the daughter of the Mexican rancher, and there were indeed severe consequences that pretty much comprise the rest of the book (not to mention the later sequel "Cities of the Plain").
DW (Philly)
NEVER. Would rather have my fingernails torn out.
Randi (<br/>)
The fall-out over mis-reading Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses" is the perfect reason not to belong to a book club. Heresy, I know, but here's the reason why: Both men and women read the bunk-house scene as a scene of sex between strangers. The women objected to the male fantasy they claim that scene enacts. The men jeered at the women for having such sentiments. The sentiments of each group are entirely misplaced. The young cowboy and the young woman knew each other well enough by the time this scene appeared, had been on a date, had gone riding on the plains together, had had sex in a lake. They were hardly strangers. But feelings were hurt and a relationship ended not over what the novel said but over the things the novel did not say. Frankly, I'd rather read on my own.
Laurie Beeson (Canada)
I enjoyed the book club I belonged to a number of years ago. The other members were kind and funny, as well as interested in reading good books. The type of group Ms. Levinthal describes exists in many spheres (private school p.t.a.'s, charity groups, etc.) certain people feel more valuable when they exclude others - perhaps some groups frown on those employed by seedy, pulp entertainment mags! All the best book groups are welcoming - not self-satisfied and excluding. Read On:)
CB (California)
This was hilarious and I immediately shared it with my book club!

I've been part of 2 clubs. The first one was a "come one, come all" type. The core group of about 12 people rotated hosting and choosing a book, sometimes with 30+ attendees. Every host decided on what to provide, maybe water, maybe wine and goodies, maybe nothing, maybe dinner - didn't matter. It was very relaxed, no judgement but, due to the size I think, it didn't last more than a year.

The book club I'm in now was originally formed about 8 years ago and was comprised of near strangers, people who were already friends and people who had previously been co-workers. We have one married couple as part of our group, so we get one male perspective but it would be great to have more. We have a limit of 7 people and the host, who rotates monthly, provides dinner and chooses the book.

Maybe because we are a bit older, 50 - 70's - nobody cares what anybody else does! About 1/2 the group loves to cook and the other 1/2 doesn't enjoy it but cooks or has take-out. It really doesn't matter, it's what the host wants and everyone else enjoys whatever happens. We do our best to stay on track with book club questions but of course veer into personal stuff too. Some people were friends first and some have become friends, if people make plans during book club that don't include anyone else, there are zero hurt feelings - we're all adults!
Nancy (London)
Oh this made me laugh! The first book group I was in split up due to disagreements over who was to blame for a punch thrown at an event of the school that many members' children attended. One half withered while the other half is still going strong.

I was invited to join the second book group by my then best friend in town. I thought she wanted me to join for various reasons that flattered my ego, but she was actually demoting me from 'best friend' to 'someone I run into at book group a few times a year'. It was a friendship management move. Her NBF is in the group now. Going to meetings with them is weirdly like seeing an old beau with his new love. But some of the books have been absolutely brilliant.
Toni (Indiana)
I love books. Linking books with a group of people sounds like a way to get me to stop loving books.
Liz WIld (Fairport, NY)
Two practical suggestions that have made my book club work better (over eighteen years):

1). At the outset everyone gives her individual reaction to the book, WITHOUT INTERRUPTION. Two minutes at most. No comments from others until everyone has had a chance to speak.

2). The first Monday of the month is fixed as the date, no matter what. This means no valuable time is wasted hashing over who can come and who can't to any given meeting.

The best thing about being in a book group is that it has led me to books I would never have picked up on my own. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns comes to mind. Also Siddhartha Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies.
Nina (New York, NY)
Our book club had the most interesting discussions when most of us did not like the book.

In time, the third of our group who seldom cracked the book and attended for the snacks and society, burdened the rest of us who were stimulated and interested.

And there were too many who would object to discussing the ending. I wished our kind leader would have taken them to task.
Jackie Gordon (Italy)
I've been in a great book group since about 5 years ago...the group has been around for more than 15 years, and includes about 5-6 of us who work at the same university, and about 6-7 other people with random connections to each of us. We meet once a month.
I think it is successful because, rather than choosing a single title for everyone, we each discuss what we've been reading or listening to, based on our own preferences. There are no restrictions on genre, language, or medium. About once a year we might have a thematic meeting, but even then the presentations can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, audiobooks, a feature article...there are no rules. It is a great way to get suggestions for future reading, and often we go back to formerly discussed titles if another person has read them. It has been interesting to watch shared interests and literary tastes...or strong differences...emerge among unlikely pairs.
One person is occasionally 'ghosted' from extra events for her tendency to interrupt and dominate the conversation, and she sometimes has to be reminded 'it's not your turn!' Snobbiness and graduate-seminar-type literary analysis fall flat.
After everyone has presented, some leave and others stay on for dinner and a movie.
We've also been on 'field trips'...for example, visiting a famous bookstore or travelling art exhibit in a major city, and then having our meeting somewhere during the trip.
Mari (Europe)
Ah, the Controllers. I left one book group because for every minute we spent discussing a book, we spent another five arguing about which book to read next. One woman in particular didn't want anyone to read books about "extreme" or "weird" characters. Among other books, she objected to Middlesex, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency (!). When it was gently suggested to her that the rest of us wanted to read books like this, and she didn't need to read those books if they bothered her, she tried to prevent the rest of us from reading the books by arguing with us at every meeting. Three guesses which political party she belonged to.
Maureen (Boston)
I was in the world's most fun book club for years in my 30's ( I am now 59). Our husbands called in Wine Club. I had to quit when I got sober, but it was great fun while it lasted.
Pontifikate (san francisco)
Having been an English teacher for years, the last thing I want to do is read a book I've not chosen for myself at my own pace. That said, I wouldn't mind getting together with a group of people who've read a book I just finished.

I envision some kind of very loose book club found online with people in your area who've just finished the same book. It would have to be a large community and a fairly popular book for this to work, enabled by the web. Guess I can dream. Till then, I'll keep reading what I like when I like.
Eileen (Ithaca, New York)
I was lucky to belong to an expat teachers' book club in Shanghai that decided each year, the group would plan a weekend trip around a book set in China. Traveling to the scene led to interesting discussions of the impact the setting had on the book and on our perceptions of the book. Loved that at least as much as the book! I no longer teach in Shanghai, but I hope to read from the list planned for the coming year and then head back for the next book-focused weekend - while hoping to start a local version of that book club. Wish me luck on both counts!
Reid (Los Angeles)
I was in a book club that preferred snacks brought to our meetings to relate to the material at hand. Fine, until increasing demands that food be vegan friendly, and ultimately gluten free as well. It was indicative of a larger problem and I had to move on.
Margie (Colorado)
When another book club member and I were diagnosed with Celiac Disease, our group researched what we could eat and provides gluten free options. Without fail. We don't expect it, but they do it. We appreciate being included even though I know it can be more of a challenge for the host. It's hard to put into words how grateful I am. On the other hand, I understand that providing GF food for those on a fad diet can be frustrating.
shopper (California)
Being in a rotating book club is like hosting a party. The comments about my unusual mid century modern home decoration and lack of gardening skills were interesting. I wanted to read and not bother to keep up with the Joneses.
Susan (Sunnyvale)
I've been involved with two book groups. The first,all women, met in a synagogue in the NYC metro area. Food was served.

When I moved west I joined another book group, also at a synagogue, mixed men and women. No food.

They both have strengths and weaknesses. Stronger more serious (and often depressing)books in the second group, closer ties between members in the first group. I think that the addition of men makes for more interesting discussions. Without men discussions were more personal. Each good in its own way.
Cheryl Beatty (CT)
This career librarian has had many conversations about book clubs. I am often asked for recommendations and I am happy to offer suggestions. Frequently, the inquirer moves to a discussion of book club stress. My advice: Forget the pressure of a shared read. Have a lovely dinner with friends where you each talk about your current reading; anything goes -- fiction, non-fiction, or your delight in poem, a great turn-of-phrase, or a pithy review or editorial.
sloan ranger (Atlanta, GA)
I joined a book club because I like the organizer, but the "where my kid is going to college" conversation dominates the evening, and the book selections are often mediocre, so after a few more tries I'll probably leave. I think finding a perfect book club must be like finding your soul mates, people whose love of books and whose sensibilities and sensitivities about find writing match your own. Such unions must be near-impossible to achieve.
demetroula (Cornwall, UK)
Wow, I feel so lucky. Ours is a great book group, no drama, no oneupmanship -- the eight of us have been together for the better part of 12 or 13 years. We mostly read both modern and classic literature, we rotate monthly meetings in our homes, the hostess (we're an all-female group, by choice) chooses the book title -- and we limit the discussion (up to 90 minutes) to the book.

We meet in the evenings, after dinner, so nibbles are modest and only occasionally themed to the book. We do a Big Summer Read (i.e., "Anna Karenina," "The Forsyte Sage," etc). And once a year we go on a three-night retreat to a nearby 16th-century manor where we . . . discuss books and the joys of reading, and watch films based on books. And only then do we cook and have meals together. Bliss.
debmarst (ca)
Karmen Nelson (Minneapolis)
OMG. I think I want to move to the U.K.and invite (insert?) myself into your club!
David Galef (Montclair, NJ)
These book clubs always sound so tempting. But then I remind myself that I'm a literature professor who discusses books for a living.
Mary Emerson (Newport, RI)
One of the members of my book club is married to an Eng. teacher, who does the AP class at his school. Every year we choose one classic from his AP list, and he comes to 'facilitate' the discussion... gives us a list of questions beforehand, etc. Needless to say, there is less talking of upcoming weddings and college choices at that meeting. Perhaps you could hire yourself out to clubs?
SLBvt (Vt.)
I would love to join a non-fiction book club, but that doesn't seem to exist in my area.
Probably playing with fire, but I would love to be part of a book club/discussion group on politics and world events.
Unfortunately it seems very few people can discuss politics without getting steamed or trying to "convert" everyone else.
Mary (Marrakesh, Morocco)
Why don't you start one yourself? I started a purely nonfiction group with two friends. This eliminates the type of people who are only interested in fiction and get upset when you pick a nonfiction book. We met regularly, and over time our group has grown larger. We have serious readers and fantastic discussions. We only had one meeting in five years where we actually had an argument over the book's point of view. Our solution was to read a book on the opposite point of view and discuss it.
Hannah Diozzi (Salem MA)
I've been in a book club in the north of Boston area for about 30 years. Our ages range from high 60s to low 80s. We meet mostly at each other's houses/condos, always on the 2nd Tuesday of the month. During our working years, we met at night. Now it's in the daytime, usually beginning mid-morning. Our book choices are all over the place.....the past year we read The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Hamilton, The Quartet, A Man Called Ove, Dimestore, to name a few. We meet in June to propose books for the next September-May season. Each member proposes one book, and members have 5 days to vote by email. (14 members, 9 meetings). This gives us time to check reviews, number of pages, and library network availability. We don't love all the selected books all the time, but generally all of our reads are enlightening in one way or another. I'm happy this group is part of my life.
Kit (US)
Might I suggest Norwegian by Night?
Connie (Scottsdale)
Have been in two bookclubs. Quit one because we moved away, quit the other because with limited time I wanted to read only my choices, as I was growing tired of WWII sister stories... (just an example).
Tracy (Philadelphia, PA)
I think the "Book Club" being likened to "Fight Club" is very appropriate. Talk about Mean Girls!
FLL (Chicago)
Wait.....What? Ms. St. Clair broke up with her boyfriend because he had a sexual fantasy that she thought was dumb? I'd say the ex-boyfriend is a lucky guy.
Leslie P (CT)
Oh, don't give up on the idea of a book group! We are eleven women together for almost 25 years; we currently range in age from our mid-sixties to eighty-ish. We've lost a few people through the years, mostly to moves but maybe a couple of others to unhappiness with the group, and I think we've only once tried to bring in someone new to our by then well-established group, which didn't work for her. There are great times, not so great times, discussions that please all of us, and discussions that please few. But I think we've made it all of these years, meeting monthly for a breakfast meeting, because we don't demand much from one another. That doesn't mean that some of us don't have strong opinions--we do!--but we respect one another and don't have rules other than the fabulously democratic way in which we choose our books (the whole year at a time, at our one dinner meeting, with wine!) Some people stay committed to marriages through thick and thin; we all stay committed to our book group. If we have to age, we're happy to be doing it with one another. And, btw, we're pretty serious readers.
Mari (Camano Island, WA)
Great article, and so true! I 'created' a book club while at a neighbor's new year's party, a group of women and I were talking about books, and I asked, "would you all be interested in starting a book club?" That was the beginning of our canyon book club, that still meets 15 years later. Though we've had ups and downs, we've survived because for the most part everyone is gracious and willing to get along. We have a member who is chronically late, which drives me crazy! And another who seldom comes, but says she wants to be included! Ugh!

In the end, book clubs are wonderful for those of us who love books. Now, that I'm living in a new community I am longing to start or join a book club. Happy reading, everyone!
Barbara (New Jersey)
The archetypes described in this article come as no surprise to me. When my daughter was in elementary school, I met twice daily at the bus stop with a group of women who were part of a longstanding book club. Whenever the subject of the club arose, I would listen in amusement as they would fret over their book selection, despair about the amount of housework to be be done, apologize for not having the time to finish the book, and criticize the book/food/home cleanliness/attitude of other members not present. It took me quite some time to discern the rules that governed their club. For the most part, books were authored by women, had a female protagonist, appeared on the NYT bestsellers list or, on very rare occasion, a classic work of literature. I always listened politely and offered an opinion if asked. Until one day when the Controller questioned the editorial judgment of the of the NYT Book Review for its inclusion of Fifty Shades of Gray on the bestsellers list. I'd listened for years to their high minded descriptions of the drivel they read, but could not let this fundamental error go unchallenged. I thank my lucky English Major stars that I was never considered their brand.
Caroline Lawrence (Chicago)
So if a book is "authored" by a woman, has a female protagonist, and appears on the NYT bestseller list, it is "drivel"?
Julie Zuckman (New England)
The last book club meeting I attended was exactly 20 years ago. We were just delving into our varied responses when I received a phone call informing me that my father had unexpectedly died. The group shuffled out hastily, leaving behind shocked condolences. I didn't keep in touch.
Rhonda Piemonte, (Lido Beach, NY)
Our bookclub is a group of retired and working teachers from the same school district. We meet in a mutually approved restaurant - no pressures to perform - and proceed to talk about the book, work, our lives, etc. It is a great social gathering each month!
Ann (Louisiana)
I only "belong" to one book club, a French book club run by a Frenchwoman at our local Alliançe Française. Half the members are French and all the books are in French, by French authors. I put "belong" in quotes because the AF lets anyone who wants to, attend and they aren't allowed to "release" you. Also, I don't go every month as I travel often and don't always have time to read each selection.

That said, the club has introduced me to authors I wouldn't have otherwise discovered, which on occasion can be truly enlightening and mind-expanding. Case in point: "La Classe de Neige" by Emmanuel Carrère (the english translation is called "Class Trip"). It's a short novel or a long novella about a young boy on a school ski trip when a murder occurs. There is little real "action", and it's very very subtle, but it is also deeply disturbing. So riveting in fact, that I reread the entire thing immediately after finishing it.

A week or so after, the NYT had a long piece on the author, Emmanuel Carrère, and his impact on French fiction. Quelle coïncidence!! A thoroughly satisfying literary experience that I would not have had but for the book club. That's the sort of thing I personally would be looking for in a book club. Much more so than socializing and snacks. I love reading too much to slog through books I don't like just to spend time with people I do. But when everything clicks, it's magic.
Jackie Gordon (Italy)
Carrère is a frequent author in our bookclub, and I also found the NYTimes profile of him spot on. Although several of us thoroughly enjoy his writing (Limonov, l'Adversaire, la Classe de niege) we tend to agree with his own assessment of himself...he is a flawed character. As readers, these flaws sometimes render his books unlikeable to the degree he injects himself into them. He is a real jerk in his 'life like a russian novel' story, and terribly tedious in his book about his wavering religiosity (il regno something something) One major exception is 'D'autres vies que la mienne', which is his book that I read twice, front to back, front to back, and recommended to some of the people I love most.
Ann (Louisiana)
In "La Classe de Neige" have you got any idea what Chapter 26 means? Our group couldn't figure it out. As far as I can tell in reviews, this is a common problem.
Barbara (Connecticut)
When I retired 9 years ago I was invited to join a women's book club that had been going strong for about 15 years. Over the years since, some members have left for various reasons, new members have joined, and through it all the tenor and ambience of the group has stayed true. We come from all walks of life and currently our members range from 40ish to 70ish. The glue that holds us together is that we have a professional facilitator, an academic who charges us a flat annual fee which we divide equally among the number of members. He is the most stimulating guide to the literature that one could wish for--insightful, nonjudgmental, and personable. We do most of the talking but he guides the discussion and offers analysis, background information, and respectful listening. The group selects the books we read, sometimes at our leader's recommendation, but mostly books that members propose. Our rule is that you must have read a prospective book before you propose and describe it to the group. We read mostly fiction, from classics to contemporary, but once a year we select a poet and our leader chooses about a dozen poems for us to discuss. Those evenings turn out to be the most magical and we all learn so much. How lucky I am to be able to interact with so many like-minded women, who have become my friends, and a leader who loves facilitating adult reading groups (ours is not his only group).
Markel (USA)
"Like-minded"?? Now that is the problem with book clubs among other things.
MT (Boston, MA)
More Judith Newman! Such a great article, and helpful to know you'll get deviled eggs if you invite her to Book Group!
MaryAnn (Portland Oregon)
I belong to a Fantasy Book Club; kind of like Fantasy Baseball League. When I finish a book, I discuss with the characters what the author did to them, what they were made to do and not do. Then I go eat a couple of Gummy Bears and start a new book. Works for me! I haven't kicked myself out of the Club yet.
Alexis Powers (Arizona)
That's my kind of book club. I've left several clubs. I don't want to read books someone else suggests and then explain why I didn't finish the project!
Chris (Bethesda, MD)
Thank you for a fantastic laugh!
Robert (San Francisco)
Fantasy Book Club sounds rather conceptual
Matt (California)
Anybody that brings deviled eggs and a flask of alcohol with them can be in my club- it's a hiking club, though...
Judith Newman (New York, NY)
NO no no no nope.
Frances (Brick, NJ)
I coordinate a book group which has been meeting for 18 years, mostly successfully. We have had our share of organizational issues (social supper club vs. real discussion book club etc.) but managed after implementing some "guidelines" to turn into a real read-the-book and discuss group. We were all colleagues at one time and although we are not all close friends we enjoy getting together monthly. As several other commenters have stated, we have been supportive of each other through births, illnesses, deaths etc. I loved this article but hope Judith gives a book club another chance!
MEC (Boston)
I am an avid reader and knitter and I am struck by the similarities between book and knitting groups. Hilarious! Over the years of participating, as long as the majority of members want to learning as much as shar, things generally work out well
MrNiceGuy (New York, NY)
First World problems. Thankfully, I'm a loner. I read for my own pleasure and gain, not to try to intellectually outdo anybody in some silly book club. Besides, I have no interest in psychoanalyzing fictional characters (or anybody else for that matter). I'd rather be stimulated in other ways. And...if I want to socialize, I go out with friends.
Kate (Utah)
A neophyte member, I knew was in the wrong club when another announced she had read the assigned book 'in the original French, as was intended by the author'.
Elizabeth (Philadelphia)
I was 'ghosted' from a book club five years ago - I was dropped from the distribution list of participants, and when I reached out to ask if a meeting was scheduled got the run-around.

I still wonder from time to time what I did wrong and why no one had the courtesy to say, "It's not you, it's us."
Ann (Louisiana)
Some people don't grow up, they just get older.
Catherine (Evanston, IL)
I find it incredible that grownups behave that way! I wonder if it is just women, perhaps older women? It seems so very petty and unkind. I joined a book group where many of the members knew each other from their neighborhood, so they would openly discuss social plans with each other, excluding all of us " outsiders" . I guess I was lucky I was not " released".
Bectec (Baltimore)
I've been a member of my favorite book club for over a decade, almost since it began. Our members are of different ages, varied backgrounds and political views. The main reason we've been so successful is that we encourage each attendee to share whether or not she or he enjoyed the book and why. My, the differing opinions can be staggering! But we listen to and respect each person's views; we expect to see facets of the book we'd missed as we listen. Although the leader for the month comes prepared with background information, our discussion is free-flowing. Finally, we meet in a room of our local library where we're supported by a staff person who brings literature about books and events and procures copies of the book we're reading each month for our members.
karen b. (kansas city)
Your success has probably been helped by the fact that you meet in the local library -- which would mean no drinking! I no longer drink and was amazed in a former book club how the level and content of the discussion went down along with the level in the wine bottles. It took me a while to figure out what was happening! I don't belong to that book club now -- not because of the drinking but because it became apparent that our values were very different. The last straw was a discussion of ``Between the World and Me'' when one woman said she'd have liked the book more if he hadn't been ``so angry'' and a couple of the others said yes, they worried when their kids were out late, too! I haven't been back.
Tracy Mitrano (Ithaca)
I work in technology and so was delighted when a colleague invited me into a book club that she was newly forming over ten years ago. Through that club, I have met some of the people most dear to me. They have been there for me through surgeries and divorce and newly found love, and I have been honored to share in their sorrows and joys as well. To have literature as the backdrop deepens our understandings of each other as we travel through life. Even though I seldom even read the book!
Lawrence (San Francisco)
How not make a comment! The key to a book group is that it has people who love to read, not people who think they should read or need support in their reading life. The people should judge a book for what it is, not for "I didn't like him" or "I couldn't identify." Food is a great plus because people get to know each other when they eat together. My club has a "family dinner" -- it can be a big bowl of spaghetti. There should be rules, but simple ones. My club has one rule and one procedure. The rule: only fiction. If you don't like that, find another club or read non-fiction on your own. The procedure: One meeting, it's a classic -- from Melville's Confessions of a Confidence Man (or whatever the title is) to the Makioka Sisters. The next month, it's a modern -- from Yiyun Li to Shirley Hazzard. The most fun is drawing the date line; currently it seems to be anything published before we were born is a classic! When it's time to talk book, we move from the dinner table to a different place in the house and we talk book. It seems everybody who appears has read the book -- I mean, that's the point.
FLL (Chicago)
"The people should judge a book for what it is, not for 'I didn't like him' or 'I couldn't identify.'" I can't imagine joining a book club, but if I did I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be in yours. I'll like or dislike a book for any artificial reason(s) I want, not based on YOUR artificial reason(s).
EE (Chicago)
I’ve been in a book club for over a decade and this wonderful article with its hilarious character types really captures my experiences. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of any longstanding group full of strong personalities, I remain committed to it because through the magic of discussion I always come away understanding more deeply. And I even, occasionally, grudgingly, end up almost liking (some parts of) a book that I went in convinced was thoroughly awful.
Jane Carter (Huntington, NY)
Thank you, EE from Chicago, for recognizing and mentioning "the magic of discussion" in this fascinating and varied trail of responses. This has been my experience, too. With many years of book club meetings behind me those meetings in which this magic happens are treasured.
When people share their thoughts, and open their minds to each other's, while enjoying hospitality and delicious food a synergy and insight can happen that you just don't get from reading a book alone.
I would say that to read is human ... but to read, discuss, and learn from each other is divine.
HHBklyn (<br/>)
In the 1950s, when the Great Books clubs started by Mortimer Adler were gaining popularity, my aunt and uncle (both academics) joined one. It lasted more than 30 years, finally petering out only due to people retiring to other states or dying. Its longevity was due partly to the Great Books structure: members weren't responsible for choosing books. They slogged through Origins of the Species and The Federalist Papers according to a prescribed schedule. And most members had been strangers at the start so there was no expectation of friendship or even compatibility, though mutual respect developed over the years. Even in this high-brow group, my aunt said, there was a lot of competitiveness about the snacks and desserts.
Still, in a society of division and bubbles, I like the idea of people of different backgrounds and faiths and interests getting to know each other by discussing their reactions to authors' ideas. That's why I think the one city/one book initiatives are noble though amorphous. Just keep the baking and snack-shopping out of it.
Mr. Grammar (Massachusetts)
"Origins of the Species"? NOT

On the Origin of Species...
Shelly (NY)
I have been in more than one book club, and no drama in any of them. However, the idea that everyone in your book club becomes your best pal has not been successful for me thus far. I like discussing books, but maybe I need more of the "let's talk about the kids" variety of club.
jfr (De)
You really mean it when you say that "anonymous bunkhouse sex" with a beautiful woman is not romantic? Perhaps, it's a romantic fantasy maybe.
Victor Wong (Ottawa, ON)
I used to run a monthly book club a few years ago, taking over from a member who'd had to move away for his job. I tried to do a variety of books: graphic novels, "classics," airport novels, nonfiction, etc. I did get a number of members who were surprised by some of my selections, and a few who were horrified ("I don't do comic books!" "I HATE that author!") but that was balanced out by people who enjoyed the books I suggested, who wouldn't have picked them up if it weren't for the club.
“ Some people just weren’t our brand.” Brand?! Blech. Sounds like a high school clique.
Sarah D (Montague MA)
And the mean-girl gutlessness of pretending not to meet as a way to dump the ones they didn't like. Pathetic. Ick. I don't care if they're nice to each other--friends usually are.
CJ (Rhode Island)
I had the same reaction. Terrible!
Susan Adams (St Louis)
Wonderful! Judith Newman, you are welcome to stop by any time. ( first Wednesdays-our next book is Last Bus to Wisdom). I'm in a longstanding and very satisfying book club that strikes a healthy balance between the books and social chatting. (Of course , since I'm in control of the schedule, book choices, and pace, I might be a minority opinion) And we drift to college applications, and kids, and sometimes haven't all finished the book. Overall, though, we've compiled quite an impressive history. But politics, oh politics! That has been a downfall more than once. You should hear us spar and dance around the election results and health care......
ach (boston)
I have been in book clubs, both good and bad. When a meeting goes well, eighty per cent of the discussion is about the book, and meaningful points are made about the characters, and the writing itself. If a reader gained a new insight from the book, terrific thing to share. The hostess ought to try and draw out the quiet members, and it is certainly helpful if pedantry is reined in by someone when it goes awry.

Here's book club at its worst: An aggressive member comes late, without having read the book. The book, which might have been about a young boy's emigrating from Cuba to the US, reminds this person of their grandmother who came from Europe with nothing, etc; and then we spend twenty minutes discussing her families' experience, before segueing into a discussion about her new McMansion and her decorating, where we spin like a Caribbean water spout, looking for land. Rules might need to be made explicate: First half hour, okay to gab about any subject, but then on to the book!
C (West Coast)
this sounds exactly like my book club.
Robin M (New York)
I would love to be in a book club where Judith chose the books. But only if there is no cooking...
Denise (NY NY)
I've never been in a book club (for more than a few weeks) so it was fun hearing the inside story of what goes on. Ms. Newman always adds her humorous spin while providing a vivid, informative piece on whatever subject she is writing about! Thank you!
JaneQPublic (Brooklyn)
I've occasionally been invited to join book clubs, and I've been tempted, but I've never joined one. I read for my own pleasure and edification, and the idea of a book becoming an "assignment" is anathema to me. I enjoy the occasional informal discussion with a friend, but I prefer to wander in the garden of books alone.
Ali (Maine)
Charming piece, with the added benefit of confirming that my book group of 13 years is in great shape. We have had the same eight members all along. We read non-fiction so we can speak in facts rather than opinions. We have true pot luck dinners that sometimes end up to be 5 salads wine and brownies. We talk about children and jobs and sorrows and joys during dinner, and then get into the book. We agree book group is the best night of the month. We have evolved a pleasant method for choosing what to read. We even have overnights from time to time, by the sea. We feel pleased with ourselves and fortunate. I wish we could invite Judith Newman, but we are closed, and clearly she'd leave us anyway. But we could guide her on starting her own happy group.
Olenska (New England)
I was in a book group for a while. At first it was fine; we met once a month and talked about a book that a member had proposed and we'd agreed upon. There were snacks and wine. Then somebody said "I'm hungry after work - could there be more substantial food?" (grabbing a sandwich before she left the office apparently never occurred to her; nobody else felt deprived). So there then ensued an increasingly competitive round of show-off dinners as we moved from house to house, with about 15 minutes of discussion of the book at each meeting.

That was bad enough, but then one member, apparently frustrated at the way we chose each month's book, proposed a change: starting immediately, we'd go by members' initials, in alphabetical order. Needless to say, both her first and last name began with A. Since every book we had read on her recommendation had been awful (including one she'd written herself) I quit.
I met my boyfriend at the first meeting of book club and we've been trying to gracefully exit ever since. Our Controller however insists on attendance, which I acquiesce to and he underperforms at. Still, we got lucky at book club!
alex (DC)
Loved the turns of phrase in this piece. We should all have book club discussions about this book club article!
Meighan Corbett (Rye, NY)
I was in a book club for over ten years. Finally had to say goodbye last fall and I have found it very good to be out of there. That being said, I enjoyed it for many years. It was time to say goodbye.
Janice Nelson (Park City, UT)
I just attended our book club last night. I have been in other book groups back in Massachusetts as well. At first when I started reading this, I rolled my eyes thinking, this is silly. Then, as I read further, I noticed my head nodding in agreement. I have seen it all in action. Middle school antics under the guise of intellectualism. I guess we never really do grow up. Or grow beyond.

I do not have any of this nonsense in the current book group I belong to here. The one here features good wine and snacks, beautiful mountain views, and an actual discussion about the book with most members who host doing research on the author. No drama in our group. The ladies range in age from 50's to almost 80. Usually, in my previous groups, we were all about the same age. Highly recommend a group to include several different decades. Makes the interpretation of the book through the eyes of different generations very interesting. I love this group more than any other I have ever joined. And we actually read the book.
Julianne M (San Diego)
I am not in a book club although I love reading and discussing books. And that has been my problem. The few groups I've joined have mostly been social groups. The other members don't read the books so it's impossible to share ideas and impressions...just like the author's description of the group that wants a quick plot summary and then moves on to discuss kids and college. That has been my experience! I also am particular about what I read...more of a Booker Prize than Oprah Book Club. So, I think I will have to be content with informal discussions with my book-loving friends.
Lynn in DC (um, DC)
Public libraries have book clubs that meet monthly and the meetings are led by a facilitator/librarian so there isn't long-winded discussion of kids and college. Check out (haha) your local library to see if this might work for you.
Joanne (New York)
My book club, Bibliophilic Babes, which I started 4 years ago has definitely experienced and encountered some of the situations and archetypes mentioned. We've managed to persevere despite mild attrition. I credit our by-laws for helping to provide some order and prevent disagreements from bleeding over into our friendships which is important.
Lauren McKinney (Swarthmore PA)
By-laws? Please share them, thanks.
Christopher (Chicago)
While book clubs are surely a wonderful social outlet for many, I'm certain that I enjoyed this article more than I would a book club.
Dara H (Chicago)
I am still searching for the right book club- the drama-free oasis where we can share each other's ideas, snacks, and homes. I believe I would enjoy finding one and committing to it, but I have never been to more than one meeting. I tried a club with people from work, another with people from the neighborhood- I hold out hope a friend will set me up with a lasting match, but it has not happened yet. The ghosting and sneakiness described in the article leaves me discouraged.
Hennschu (Tulsa,OK)
Maybe we should start one for sisters?
Dara H (Chicago)
Brilliant. I am in!
ALong (Chicago, IL)
Have floated through book clubs peopled with the archetypes Newman describes. Even been cheerfully cornered into a virtual workplace book club with rubbishy business self-help tomes. But none have stuck, despite featuring generous pours, rigorously vetted selections and foodie members. Think, in practice, I prefer the solitary reverie of burrowing in a book without the end goal being the sport of the group discussion. Better an unstructured and unplanned conversation with a fellow reader and book enthusiast.
KeriH (Chicago)
I was in a book club for over a decade beginning in the mid90s. It was totally a social thing where we talked as much about the latest episode of Sex And The City as we did about whatever book we were assigned. And wine. Lots of wine. Just like with friendships, each club has its own personality.

And ours was never about books.
Melodee Kornacker (Columbus OH)
Our long-standing book club in Columbus O-pie-o , called First Thursday because - duh - that's when we meet, would love to have you join us. If you haven't read the book, just ask a few perceptive questions as you sip cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the nibbles.
Judith Newman (New York, NY)
Why thank you very much. Just as long as everyone agrees with me...(perhaps you can see why I've never lasted...)
Melodee Kornacker (Columbus OH)
First Thursday has been around for over thirty years and we've never 'released' a member. Some have become too busy to attend, others have moved away or died; new friends and neighbors join us, We don't vote on pour reading list -- individual members choose books in turn. Even if we don't totally 'agree' with you we will welcome your opinion and learn from it. So if you are traveling to Ohio, let us know!
D. Cahr (Chicago)
I'm pleased to hear that people care enough about what they are reading in their spare time to actually generate hard feelings. We can't all be members of the Algonquin round table but we can get extremely aggravated at our friends for liking Jonathan Franzen.
Judith Newman (New York, NY)
DW (Philly)
Hating on Franzen? Very out of date.
Ann (Forest Park, IL)
Ah yes. I've been in three. The two that have survived both have a firm rule that we NEVER meet in each other's homes. Restaurants have wine, so we don't need to worry about whether we're serving one that meets everyone's standards--or compete with the baker who could have gone to culinary school in France. When my 30 year one met at my house it was the one and only home where everyone drank tea. Apparently I can't make coffee.
Smarmor (Chicago)
The first rule of bookclub is you don't talk about book club. I have always wanted to find the idyllic space of a book club that works. I'm still looking.
Hennschu (Tulsa,OK)
Such a relief to know I'm not the only one who is still looking. While in theory I love the idea of discussing fiction with friends over wine, I also like to pick my own books and read at my own pace. Sadly that doesn't work well for a group. My most recent attempt at forming a group seems to have ended before we could pick a date for the first meeting. Looking forward to finishing our chosen novel, reading the NYT Book Review, and having a conversation with myself.
kwhitehead (Connecticut)
I'm not in a book club but my wife is. In the warm weather they meet at the beach. They love it. Lot's of nice lakefront areas in Chicago, if memory serves.
"Some people just weren't our brand."

Huh? This Andrea Lavinthal sounds like a piece of work. And for the record, People magazine is not MY brand.
Judith Newman (New York, NY)
(I assure you, she's wonderful. She was just being cheeky. )
mary (washington dc)
I agree - that is not being cheeky, that is being dishonest. If that's how they treat human beings, who cares what they think about a book?
Patricia (France)
Marvelous! I love Judith Newman's articles, but this one really made me laugh. I've always wondered why I'm not in any book clubs--now I know why! But given the opportunity, I'd love to discuss books with her any day!
See also