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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

23 May 2007

A book discussion group: a useful tool for writers

The best thing about my book discussion group is that everyone has different tastes, so I’m forced to read out of my comfort zone.

The worst thing about my book discussion group is that everyone has different tastes, so I’m forced to read out of my comfort zone.

Left to my own devices, I would consume a steady diet of fantasy, science fiction, historical mysteries, mainstream historical fiction, and history, leavened with an occasional romance novel—not the most balanced fare. A writer should expose herself to a wide variety of authors and subjects.

Belonging to a monthly book discussion group has broadened my intake considerably. I’ve read some classics that I had never got around to, such as John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, and some literary award winners, such as Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Some books I enjoyed I never, ever would have picked up if my book group hadn’t chosen them, such as the novel The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty (A loser rides a bike across America—Didn’t sound the least promising) and the memoir Mississippi Solo: A River Quest by Eddy Harris (A guy takes a torturous canoe trip down the Mississippi—Life contains enough unavoidable pain, thank you; why read about someone who inflicts it upon himself?).

My life is so busy that I have trouble finding time for non-work-related reading. But the book club assignment is something I have to get done by the meeting date . . . so I have no guilt about bumping straightening up my office or weeding the garden to make time in my schedule to read the book group selection.

Last but not least, what a pleasure and a luxury to spend time discussing a book with people who love reading as much as I do! The book group has been a good source of friends.

Of course, there’s always a down side. When one enjoys something, one wants to share it with friends. I’ve been frustrated that I’ve had limited success getting my group to try speculative fiction and historical fiction and sad that most members have not enjoyed what little we have read.

Every so often, we read a book that I hate. I spend those months regretting the time wasted and wishing I could have spent those hours with one of the delicious books in my to-read piles.

Still, I would recommend a book discussion group to any writer. We can all benefit by reading widely in a variety of genres and styles.


Charles Gramlich said...

A very good point about the writer's need to read outside their comfort zone. I've thought often of joining a book reading group, but like you, I read so much work related stuff that when I do get free reading time I really want to indulge in something I'm sure I will enjoy.

Lisa said...

This is really a great idea -- particularly for people like myself who aren't inclined to read outside my comfort zone. There is undoubtedly a lot to be learned. The social aspect also can't hurt for those of us who work alone and get a little too comfortable that way sometimes.

Shauna Roberts said...

Lisa, you're right about the social aspect. As a freelancer, I go for days without seeing anyone but my husband or maybe the mailman. The book club gets me out of the house and interacting with people.

Sphinx Ink said...

Shauna, I love the symmetry and irony of your two opening paragraphs of this entry.

I appreciate what you say about reading outside one's comfort zone. I joined a reading group several years ago for just that purpose, but found it didn't work for me. Instead, having an assigned book I "had" to read every month activated an old rebelliousness from my schooldays; I would procrastinate reading it until right before the meeting night, and often ended up not being able to finish it in time. Eventually I dropped out of the group because I felt I was just a drag on the discussions. Now I'm back to reading in my comfort zone, and happy I don't have that monthly "assignment" any more. I know my reading scope is too narrow and to be well-read I should broaden it ...but at this time in my life I find that, more and more, I'm letting go of the "I shoulds" in favor of the "I wants."

Shauna Roberts said...

Sphinx Ink, you spent about as much time in schooling as I did, I believe. I think long years of delayed gratification and constantly pinching pennies takes its toll, at least it did on me. Nowadays I want things NOW. I feel as if I've spent enough time putting off things I want to do or have and life is running out at a fast pace.

Another thing I've done to read out of my comfort zone you might find easier than being in a book group: Reading my friends' books. I'm reading--and enjoying--things I didn't previously read, such as contemporary romances (only historicals for me before!).