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How to run a book club

Today is the third year anniversary of my book club. I started my book club so that I could talk to people about something other than gossip and avoid consuming ourselves in pointless small talk. I started it, thinking that it would be a fun activity that may or may not go on for a little while. I never imagined that it would last as long as it has.

One of our favorite books for book club.
A collage of all the books we have read for book club.
Eugene Kang

The basic format was that everyone would have the chance to be discussion leader and that they could pick any book under a reasonable length (350 pages) for a book that could be read within a month to six weeks. Everyone should contribute to discussion, but attendance is encouraged above completion of reading.

Book club did not always run smoothly. Reading books is a commitment. It can feel like doing homework. It’s also hard to keep up everyone’s enthusiasm for such a long period of time. When people are unresponsive over email, text, and in person, it can be frustrating. We’ve often had to push back or cancel meetings, and some meetings have been more well-attended than others.

It has all been worth it when we actually have our discussions. We take our reading seriously. Everyone contributes and we try to push ourselves beyond superficial discussion of the plot. Since the people in my group have very distinct and different tastes, we’ve had many disagreements and heated arguments. Also, through book club, I have read many books that I would never have touched. I lean towards fiction, but we’ve read nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry, self-help and inspirational books.

Some of the most memorable books we read for book club were,

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

One of our favorite books of our group. Our group is all Korean-American and we could relate to the immigrant story and the outsider status that all the characters have in this book. We related far more to this book than we did to the next book I will talk about.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Even if the book was originally Korean, no one loved this book. Some liked it more than others, but not enough to defend it against its detractors. I found it emotionally manipulative and overly sentimental. However, we did have one of our best (and well-attended) discussions in which we talked about our relationships with our parents and the unique challenges we have as Korean-Americans.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

By far our most controversial selection, picked by yours truly, the admittedly graphic sex scenes put off the more conservative members of our group. The supporters of the book tried to push the discussion beyond just dwelling on these particular scenes and considering the book’s themes of disillusionment, lost love and growing up, but it didn’t progress far beyond this.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump was another favorite book of the group. Naoki Higashida is autistic, but he is high-functioning enough that he can write and share some of his perceptions of the world and his thoughts on why people with autism act the way they do. This book, like the best books, made us aware of issues that we had no idea about and brought us to a new understanding.

Book club has been a challenging, educational and fun experience. I would like to thank my fellow members for their enthusiasm and dedication, which have made this whole venture possible. I look forward to reading and discussing even more books, both excellent and terrible, with you in the future.

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