[The images in this post reflect my eleven favorite Book Group books over eleven years.]
I discovered the other day that the book I’m reading this month with my book group (Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – fascinating story based on David Copperfield by Charles Dickens!) is the 100th book we have read together. 100 books! Of course, we’ve been choosing and reading and discussing books since 2012, and we’ve been friends for longer than that (some of us have been friends reading books together since our kids, now in their 40’s, were in pre-school!)
It’s just fascinating to look over the list – some of the stories remain vivid in my mind, others require something that jogs my memory. Some I began but put down – just couldn’t go on, not for me. Some I chose that the group loved, others I chose fell flat. Some I expected to like and was disappointed by, some I had no initial interest in and ended up loving enough to look for other books by the same author or other books about the same subject.
No matter what the book, I’ve loved sharing our responses, and being part of a group has taught me to read more carefully, asking myself to be able to articulate what I loved, what I didn’t (sometimes both in the same book.) As a writer, I often have stronger responses to style than to story – I’m less interested in plot or forward movement. I respond to the way something is being said and fill my books with marginalia or post-it notes. And I’m a slow reader – reading text as if it’s being spoken slows me down. You learn a lot about books and a lot about yourself by being part of a book group.
To that end, and because choosing the book is often the hardest part of the whole process, I recommend an article titled “How to Be a Better Reader,” published in 2022 in the New York Times. Of course, “better” is a matter of opinion, shaped by your answer to the question, “Why do I read?” But the article talks about choosing books, about reading more deeply and more critically, and it has the best list of links to literary reviews I’ve ever seen. The link is below: read through the article and see what you think.
I especially liked this part:
“To read more deeply, to do the kind of reading that stimulates your imagination, the single most important thing to do is take your time. You can’t read deeply if you’re skimming. As the writer Zadie Smith has said, “When you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it….In ‘Slow Reading in a Hurried Age,’ David Mikics writes that “slow reading changes your mind the way exercise changes your body: A whole new world will open up, you will feel and act differently, because books will be more open and alive to you.”