Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Most Important Rule for Book Groups

What follows are the most important rules for selecting books for a book group:

1. Most Important Book Choosing Rule: Choose an older book which is available in paperback and not currently on the bestseller list.
Reasons for rule # 1: old books tend to be available, sitting on the shelf at your local library or at some other library from which your local librarian can borrow it on interlibrary loan. Bestsellers tend to be checked out and have waiting lists, not only at your library but at every library everywhere.

2. Most Important Book Choosing Rule, part two: do not pick a book that was turned into a movie which is currently being shown at theaters.
Reasons for Rule #1, part 2: the book-into-movie will be checked out and it will have a long waiting list not only at your local library but at every library everywhere (see also Rule 1, part 1)
On the plus side, if the group could just skip reading and go see the movie, everyone will actually have some idea what the book is about, which is not the case when people are expected to actually read a book. This is especially true if the book is by Jane Austen or some other dead writer.

3. Most Important Book Choosing Rule, part three: plan ahead. Reasons for Rule #1, part 3: while it's true that planning is probably a good idea in all life's endeavors, in book choosing it is essential. Consider your local librarian here - it takes time to track down enough copies for everyone. At one copy loaned per library, a ten member group can wipe out the collections of libraries for a radius of many, many miles. Think about it. If this were Numbers, the TV show, there would be a nifty graphic on clear plexi showing just how that works, but we don't need to draw a picture, do we? See rules #1 and #2.

4. Most Important BCR, part four: select something unusual. Reasons etc: Unusual, but not too unusual, books are easier to borrow and if it's in paperback, it can be purchased cheaply if push comes to shove in the planning horizon which is inevitable given human nature and the well-documented phenomenon that readers procrastinate more than non-readers. The drawback to unusual is that, unlike a bestseller, unusual books can be hard to slog through, whereas bestsellers are usually real page-turners unless everyone is buying a book just to impress people and not actually reading it as was the well-documented case with Godel, Escher, Bach which adorns the bookshelves of well-intentioned people everywhere, and to this day has only been read by the critics, if we can believe them.

Of course, book groups don't select books based on what's easy for their local librarian, nor should they, but having realistic expectations will result in a happier book group with more members getting the book and possibly even reading it, maybe all of it, and maybe even showing up at the group and just maybe talking about the book rather than talking about the newcomer who broke into the carpool lane and, well nevermind. But speaking of realistic expectations...that's a lot of "ifs." Which brings us to -

MIBCR, part 5: choose a short book. Reasons? Do I have to spell it out?

Another option is to choose an out-of-copyright book which is available full-text on the internet. My experience with this is that 9 out of 10 people hate reading classics and hate reading books on the computer screen, but in terms of convenience, availability and cost, this option is a real winner. There are thousands of books available on the internet. Just google the title of the book with the word "text" or "full text" or go to Project Gutenberg to view free online e-books. My local bookgroup "read" Saint Exupery's The Little Prince that way. The Little Prince is short, it's available for free, it's a classic, it's discussable, it's universal in its theme. The book is available in dozens of languages, complete with illustrations and links to explanations and literary criticism, chapter by chapter explanations and so on. In fact, The Little Prince, or Le Petit Prince as the French insist on calling it, is the perfect book group book. It fits all the criteria listed in this blog post:
Most Important Book Choosing Rule of All: Read The Little Prince.
Despite being the most perfect book choice of all, in my book group (not affiliated with the library in any way) No One Read the Book. Not a one. We disbanded the group. This brings me to -
The Final Most Important Rule for Book Choosing: just read what you like.If you want a social life, go out to dinner and if you want to suffer through a book, read anything from any high school Summer Reading List.

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