Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

Both whilst recording the latest episode of The Readers Summer Book Club and then compiling my post on the book, ‘Bleakly Hall’ by Emlaine Di Rollo, itself afterwards has raised a question in my head… Can a book group be a bad thing for certain books and the reading experience around them?

One of the things I love most about a book group is the discussion, the gossip; chatting and wine afterwards is all a bonus. I have found with book groups in the past that discussing a book I didn’t like and hearing everyone else’s thoughts on it can sometimes make me d a complete 180 with my opinion. It can also be an utter joy, and rather bonding as I found with ‘Mary Barton’, if you all loathe a book and can sit and pick it apart. Yet what if you really enjoyed reading a book and others pick it apart, can it kill it for you?

This has very rarely happened to me before in any book groups that I can think of. Why is this so? Well I think it is because I tend to be more critical about books I am reading with my ‘book group’ brain on, yes even more so than when I am reading a book to review. With reviews I analyse the way a book made me feel and the questions it raises itself of makes me ask myself, yet with a book group book I tend to pick it apart all the more. Or maybe I do this all the time and yet am only aware of it when prepping for a book club – yes indeed, I prep.

It is this very reason why I have never suggested reading a Daphne Du Maurier book as a choice of my own to any group I have been part of, other members have and I have always been quite fearful that my favourite authors work will be picked to death and my love of Daphers altered. Fortunately Daphne tends to be so wonderful that this rarely happens.

Yet for the first time ever recently as I read a book I was thoroughly enjoying, the aforementioned ‘Bleakly Hall’, I found that as I knew I would be discussing it in detail I started to pick it apart as I read not afterwards. Normally I always do this afterwards, not during, and I am not sure why it changed with this book but I ended up almost sabotaging reading it because I was pre-empting the questions/reactions/subjects that the book would raise. It had a house of cards effect/loose thread effect and I started picking.

This then made me wonder if some books are just not book group books. For example, and I am not comparing ‘Bleakly Hall’ to this series it is just an example, I would never take an Agatha Raisin mystery to a book group. It and I would be annihilated and those, for me, are just books I read for pleasure, no more no less and there is nothing wrong with books that you simply read and are entertained by the whole way through. I think ‘Bleakly Hall’ would have been just such a book if I wasn’t reading it in the context I did.

So I wondered if any of you had found that there are some books that simply should be avoided as book group choices. Obviously with book group books the idea is no one has read them and so there is always the risk it won’t work I suppose but maybe some experiences/titles stick out in particular? Do you agree some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not picked apart or should all books be treated with the same analytical internal eye of a reader?


Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

20 responses to “Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

  1. Interesting post. I never really thought about it but I always knew I would never suggest two of my absolute favorite novels for a book club read – the Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Magus by John Fowles. I know not everyone will like them. Most will probably dislike them especially The Magus. I dont really want to go over them with the group and pick them apart. Maybe I’m afraid some of the magic will be lost. That goes for Rebecca by Du Maurier as well. Love that one too!

    • That is exactly my thoughts. There was one book group where they chose Rebecca but I begged them not to as it was a favourite and then the went with My Cousin Rachel which I hadn’t read and I totally loved, most of them did too.

  2. Yes, thought-provoking. I suppose I am too thick-skinned to believe any one else’s opinion about a favourite book or author (and by that I don’t mean I don’t respect their opinions, but I wouldn’t be influenced by it too much)… but I have never been in that situation. So maybe I have been unconsciously avoiding it!

    • Hahahaha it could be subconcious. Normally I don’t care what people think of the books I love at a book group, not in an arrogant way just in the fact that everyone has differing opinions and the debate can be fun. Like you said basically ha.

      I am interested in the fact I read a book group book slightly differently.

  3. Annabel (gaskella)

    Our book group naughtily sometimes has fun by picking titles that we know will provoke responses both +ve and -ve. We have some very robust discussions, but I think it would be a very rare thing for someone to be persuaded that a book was worse than they thought, rather for members to be persuaded to give an author or book another go.

    • Ooh I don’t think that is naughty Annabel, quite the opposite I think it is very wise. It can be fun if you all loathed a book, well apart from the reading of it possibly, but a half and half group debate is much more intersting that in everyone loves it universally.

  4. JanaNav

    It’s a bit like high school, isn’t it? By the time I had finished analysing some of the books in College Prep English, I wanted to hurl them across the room and never hear the name uttered aloud again. But revisiting them in later life, when one is able to face it, they can be delightful: East of Eden comes to mind as I re-read that this year. I couldn’t believe that it was the same book. I know age comes into play here, but also I think it is the endless overthinking vs just enjoying the book.

    • Ha I think you could be right there Jana. It is a little but like a more relaxed and voluntary version of school indeed. Only the thing I do live about book groups is the fact that there are no right or wrong answers.

  5. I made the mistake of suggesting Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows to my book group and they universally hated it. They also hated Cronin’s The Summer Guest (which is a jewel of a book), The Mill on the Floss, and Purge (which I knew they would dislike as they have a hard time with difficult subjects). I find that I have tempered what I suggest (my other book group is more adventuresome. The only one I was really disappointed in was the West novel.

    It is hard to say what doesn’t work for a book group because each group is different. Most of the time, the discussions in the four groups I know of personally (I visit my mom’s two groups when I visit her) is that historical fiction and non-fiction is generally more difficult to discuss. Historical fiction because the members are more comfortable discussing the plot and non-fiction for similar reasons.

    • Hmmm interesting observations. I haven’t really thought if genres or types of books. I have done non fiction and it’s not been a problem. Short stories however are a nightmare.

      • The only short stories we have done is Olive Kitteridge which really doesn’t count. I don’t think they would voluntarily choose a book of unrelated stories. We did okay with Henrietta Lack. The other non-fiction they have chosen has been focused on, and I am trying to find the words to describe them – finding yourself as a middle-aged woman. This month it was a book on the female brain which I didn’t read as it looked “iffy” and I was going to be out of town during the meeting.

      • My Grans book club do short stories a lot. Weirdly they all read different stories from the mix which I find most odd. I don’t think you could have a cohesive conversation, though they clearly manage.

  6. I also would avoid suggesting a favourite book to my book group – but we’ve all specifically agreed on that for exactly the reasons you’ve described. We seem to leave classics and settle for books by a “classic” author which aren’t their well-known works (eg we read “Hard Times” by Dickens as nobody had read it rather than any of his most famous novels). Or we’ll try recently released books and see if we agree with the critics. I do find myself tailoring my comments for the group though, whereas I feel free to say exactly what I want when I review a book. Funny that.

    I’d also never bring any of my beloved Stephen Kings to my group as everyone would rip it apart for not being “literary” enough!

    • Interesting that you do classic authors but not there classic books. I like that. I think that is what Lucy did when she chose Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’. Though that might not be the best example as it put most of us off reading her better known novels. Hmmm.

      • My mom has a friend in a book group where they choose an author for the month and people can read any book they wish to by the author and then discuss. I think it would be fun to try this sometime.

      • Oh that’s almost like my Gran’s group with short stories. It might be an interesting experiment but would it work?

        Again example of this working, well a bit different, is Dovegreyreader’s Endsleigh Salon as they read in a theme.

  7. Or..Can a Book Club be bad for a reader? I am so not in the place for a Master or a Margarita at the moment. **Sigh**

  8. Kristen M.

    I think that in many cases I enjoy books less that I read for groups than just for myself and I certainly think it’s that critical part of my mind that gets turned on while reading instead of just enjoying myself. I don’t know what the solution to that would be other than never discussing books with other readers — which seems a bit daft when put that way. 🙂

    • You see I have thought about it more and more and i think I’m just harder on them like I am review books. Not saying I’m not analytical on my blog but I tend to choose what I read for Savidge Reads.

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