Monday, January 25, 2010

Private Reader, Public Reader

By Pam Kenney

I've been asked many times to join book clubs, and my initial reluctance, and final decision to decline, have always surprised friends and acquaintances. After all, I love to read, spend much too much time in libraries and bookstores, and am not shy about expressing my views about the war in Iraq or healthcare legislation.

I've thought a lot about my hesitation to discuss books publicly, and I believe I don't enjoy the discussion format because I find it uncharacteristically difficult to articulate and communicate my thoughts about a book to a group. For one thing, a book's "theme" sometimes becomes secondary to me when I'm reading. I love language and words and frequently find myself so caught up in the way the author writes that I ignore the story line altogether. I can spend ten minutes mentally celebrating a turn of phrase by Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro, for example, marveling at their ability to use the English language to express the exact nuance of meaning they intend.

Discussing a book as part of a group interrupts and disturbs my inner dialogue, too. The books I most enjoy allow me to ponder at length, and often revise, my personal value system. When I read Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, I spent hours re-evaluating my beliefs about right and wrong and the importance of self-respect. Somehow, talking with others about the feelings associated with such insights makes me uncomfortable.

Book clubs can help many people find meaning in the monthly selections they might not have gleaned on their own. For me, however, private contemplation is more satisfying, so I'll continue my love affair with books on my own.



Pam, you won't join a book club because you feel uncomfortable sharing your reading experiences, and yet here you are relating your reading experiences with everyone who reads this blog!!! How did that happen?

Jim Burke said...

That is a very good question, Olga! Wish I had thought of it.

BTW, would you please assure Pam that I in no way prompted you to write a comment and ask such a great question. ;)


Pam Kenney said...

That is a good question, Olga, and my answer will give you more insight into why book clubs usually don't work for me. It's not so much that I don't want to share my feelings within a group, it's that I find it difficult to synthesize, and then organize, my thoughts quickly enough to contribute thoughtfully to a discussion. When I think about something that affects me deeply, my brain slows down and starts to relate new information to current values, beliefs, etc. It takes me a long time to decide exactly what I think about something and even longer to get the words out so listeners clearly "get" my points.

On the other hand, I can write about my reaction to books, for example, because I have time to think through precisely what I want to say and how to say it so my audience understands exactly what I mean.
I'd probably enjoy an online book club because I love to exchange ideas, but I haven't had much luck finding a good one.

By the way, it took me about 45 minutes to write this comment, and it's a lot clearer statement of my views than it would have been if I were answering your question in person!