“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis
Owned and Unread Project
Monday, February 20, 2012
The Stone Diaries; Or, My Book Group Failure
Well, I can tell you from first-hand experience, because that's what happened to me last Thursday. I had the second meeting of the library book group that I just started and nobody came. Not one person. I had tea, I had cookies, I had a Pulitzer prize-winning book to discuss, and nobody showed up.
The previous month, I had two people, and this was actually kind of cheating, because one of them also works at the library with me, and the other runs a group that I attended for several years (at the library branch where I used to volunteer). Unfortunately, neither of them could attend, so I was really hoping for a random stranger, or just someone to come in and keep me from eating all those Pepperidge Farm cookies.
But nothing. Nada. No one. I waited twenty minutes, and as I waited, I started reading the next book selection for the Teen Time Book Group which I am also running. (The book is The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, and it's really creepy. And then I gave up and packed up my tea and cookies and went back to the reference desk.
Now, I know it's tough to start a book group from absolute zero, but I was hoping for at least ONE person. Could it have been my book selection? Book choices in library groups are tough, because if groups want to discuss the hot titles to draw in new members, you run the risk of choosing a book with about a zillion holds on it. I can't ask members to buy their own copies, because that sort of defeats the purpose, since it is a library activity, right? And I have to choose the book about two months ahead to get it into the library's newsletter. It's a vicious circle.
Maybe I chose the wrong book? It was The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, a 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner, and admittedly, I chose it because it was on my TBR shelf, and because the library owned enough copies -- that's another problem, if you wait too long to select a book, the library will start deleting the copies.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on The Stone Diaries. It was okay. That's all I can come up with at this point. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. Basically, it's the story of the life of Daisy Goodwill, from her birth in 1905 through her death sometime in the 1980s. Her birth itself is pretty shocking, then there's her childhood, her move from western Canada to Indianapolis, her love affairs, friendships, career, etc. Her old age and death are particularly poignant.
What's mildly interesting about this book is that her life story is almost entirely told through the perspective of other people, plus letters, diaries, and newspaper articles. It's all various peoples' memories of her -- almost none of it is told from her perspective or with her as the subject. There's a lot about all the people that surround her, her parents, in-laws, husbands, etc., but very little about her directly, so I guess the point is you're supposed to get a sense of what she was like from this second- or third-hand perspective. It's an interesting approach, and I liked parts of it, but I wasn't that excited about it. Maybe it was a bad choice for a book group that's just getting started. Honestly, I think it would have been great to discuss with my old library book group, because I know the people. There's a lot to discuss in it about the role of women, etc.
Now I have totally rethink this book group thing. Anyone else start a book group from scratch? Any words of wisdom? Do I need to have the people first, or pick the books first? Any sure-fire book selections to draw people in?
If nothing else, at least I finished another title for my 2012 TBR Pile Challenge. That's now three out of twelve, so I'm on track to finish at least one of my challenges this year. How's everyone else doing with their challenges?
Labels: 2012, book group, challenges, coming-of-age, domestic fiction, epistolary fiction, Pulitzer Prize
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Awww: I'm sorry Karen! I'd be happy to try to make it to the next group meeting; it looks like you're doing China Mieville's City & the City?ReplyDelete
Thanks, that would be great! And in April we're reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggars.Delete
I've got the Mieville on my Nook now! So barring a fibro flare-up, I'll be there.Delete
I started a book group a little over a year ago and it took several meetings to get a reliable group. Something that helped the group grow was putting posters up around town.ReplyDelete
I can totally feel your pain about people not showing up. Over Christmas my mother and I were hosting it at our house as we decorate out the wazoo for the holidays. I send out a reminder email each month and only had one person RSVP. We knocked ourselves out decorating the house, serving coffee and cookies and only had two people show up (plus the one who RSVP-ed yes was a no show) Anyway, it was a total bummer and the book was horrible to boot. FYI: Stacy Schiff's biography on Cleopatra reads like a textbook.
Two books that the group did enjoy and brought for good discussions were Wench by Dolen Perkins-valdez and The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard. A bonus is that they are both in paperback and have ready made discussion questions.
It was much harder to start a book club than I thought it would be. We started with three books that we had already read and loved, a tried and true concept and then moved to uncharted territory. Selection is just difficult in general, but you can't please everyone! I think you're doing a fine job, It just takes time.
Since I started mine with a group already together, it was much easier to handle, though we did have a couple months where only one other person besides me showed. Have you put out bookmarks at the branch? That really helped the classics group. If you end up changing the time of the club, let me know - though I admit, seeing the words "pulizer prize winning" on a book is sort of an automatic turnoff for me. Award-winning modern literary fiction usually isn't my cup of tea...ReplyDelete
I've been in your shoes, Karen! I started a science fiction & fantasy group at my last branch and it was a total flop. It was pretty excruciating sitting in the meeting room waiting for people to show up...I got transferred to another branch before I could really make a go of it, though.ReplyDelete
I think if you can find a group of friends to show up, that is the best. We've found that people in retirement communities are our best book group attendees - maybe you could do some special advertising at senior centers or neighborhoods for the 50+ only crowd...
I've been thinking I should hang out at the Friends of the Library group meetings next time around. This is an afternoon book group and that tends to attract a lot of seniors, who who have free time and often don't want to drive at night. The FOL group is usually a good demographic and of course they support the library. Of course I just missed the last meeting, but there's always next time, right?Delete
I'm sorry Karen! I feel your pain. I attempted to start a book club with a group of friends, and had about 10 people say they wanted to join. I sent out three book choices, everyone voted and we made plans. Then...one person showed up. One! And these were my friends, not random strangers at the library! It was so frustrating, especially since only one person mentioned it, texting me an hour after it started and saying she was sorry she didn't make it. The one person and I did enjoy talking about the book (Sarah's Key - it was really good and provided a lot of discussion even with just the two of us) and eating cookies, but it was so sad! I so want to have a live book club, but this was discouraging. The library book clubs near me are all during lunch, which doesn't work for me. :( So I guess I'll stick with blogging and virtual book clubs!ReplyDelete
It's nice to know I'm not the only one. At least my supervisor is really supportive, he said I can keep trying until I'm ready to give up. And I'm thinking about going back to my old book group at the other branch and begging some people to come so I'm not so lonely!Delete
Oh no! We always have a few people that turn up that haven't even read the book just to see what it's like or because they're regulars and don't want to miss the social aspect. Ours isn't a library one though, it's held in a pub and it has an online presence too. It's being going just over two years now and has a good core group.ReplyDelete
It was initially advertised online and got a mention in the local paper so there was plenty of interest at the start, though many have come and gone. I think the girl that started it brought a few friends along to the first one "just in case" and a couple have stuck with it. I have never been to a library book group but mostly because they tend to hold them at times when normal people are in work!
I like the idea of the local paper -- I'll have to look into that! Thanks for the idea.Delete
Of course holding it in a pub would be even better! Sadly, no alcoholic beverages allowed in the library, le sad.
My friend who works at the local public library sends me reminders the week before, the day before, and then the day of, because she knows how things pile up, since it's not just my schedule I have to juggle by my teenage son's.ReplyDelete
I remember liking The Stone Diaries, but can't remember a single thing about it. I read it pre-blogging.
Wow, that sounds like a tough schedule! I definitely think that's a good idea to send out reminders.Delete
I think The Stone Diaries was just a meh choice. I put my copy in the library sale donation bin, I didn't even like it enough to keep it. I'm sure I'll forget it too.
I loved The Stone Diaries myself, but I can see why it might be a tough sell for a library book club. I've never run a book club, but I have been one of two people who showed up for a meeting once. It was okay, but really, a bigger group is needed.ReplyDelete
Can people sign up for email reminders? That would be a big plus for me.
Awww I'm sorry no one came to your book group. I haven't ever started a book group, so I don't have any advice for you. But I will say it's very admirable of you for giving it a go.ReplyDelete
I'm sorry that happened and I can imagine how you feel. I have 12 ppl in my book club and we thought at first it would be too much but it actually works because not everyone can make it every time. We have a 500 page limit because we meet every month. We also take turns choosing a book and hosting. We also set the next date a month ahead. People usually rsvp so we can tell ahead of time how many can or can't make it.ReplyDelete
Aw Karen...that is my fear, too! I started a book group at the public library about 5 months ago and I am always a little fearful no one will show. So far, fingers crossed...4-6 people each time...ReplyDelete
I felt that way about Stone Diaries, too...did not love it...did not hate it. It was just kind of "there". If we lived in the same state I would come to your book group, though, I promise :)
I am so sorry that nobody came ... it can be really really tough to get a group going. Many years ago a friend and I started what appeared to be a small congenial book group ... and after two or three meetings, two of the women never showed up again ... no explanation no apologies. We tried to blame Wallace Stegner -- our last discussion was on Crossing to Safety which we mostly hated -- but it didn't much help. Oddly enough, our first book was The Stone Diaries which got a VERY mixed response.ReplyDelete
Oh my goodness, I am so sorry for you but perhaps it was a busy night. Or as you said maybe the book was an off choice?ReplyDelete
In any event I am sure the next one will be more successful!
Thank you for all of your great suggestions.
I tried to start one last year with my friends and family. We had a group of 12, I baked all day, and when it was time, only 2 other people showed up. And one of them only read 30 pages of the book. We tried the next month, but it was just the 3 of us again, so I gave up.ReplyDelete
I would love to be in a book club, but it just hasn't worked out. I feel for you!
What a disappointment. Maybe more publicity would help - local newspaper, posters, etc. Even facebook and twitter if your library uses them. Or an organizational meeting to start... readers may feel more invested if they are involved in choosing the books.ReplyDelete
I've never been in a library book club. My group started as a playgroup when our kids were young, and morphed into a book club when they started school. Membership has changed since then, but a core group remains.
Good luck, Karen!
I'm sorry - it is quite disheartening when this happens but I must urge you and encourage you to keep at it. These things need momentum and build time. Starting with zero and keeping at it and really, you will build it up, I promise. Stops and restarts are not the way to attempt. Just keep scheduling and people will somehow sense that IT WILL HAPPEN and they will join in. :)ReplyDelete
And I totally adored The Stone Diaries - I loved loved loved it - SO my kind of book. It was one of my top 3 for last year.
I've never been a member of any book club that wasn't online, unfortunately. I know the library branch near me has some active clubs but my schedule changes often so I never know if I'm going to be able to make it to the meetings.ReplyDelete
So I'm not the best person to offer suggestions. But one that comes to mind - have you thought about putting the book selection to a vote? I understand the limitations that you outlined in your post. But you could pick a few books that are available in adequate quantities in the system and create some type of poll at the library (or on the library website, though that might disadvantage people without Internet access). That way, people who have voted for the winner will be more invested in reading the book and attending discussions.
I don't know if this would work, as I have no experience to back it up, but just a thought. Good luck!
I love Carol Shields, but oddly, The Stone Diaries, her most famous novel, is not my favorite. I can't imagine trying to start a book club from scratch.ReplyDelete
I've never started a book club, but I have joined a few and sadly have been one of those people who don't show up. I'm not sure what it takes to make one successful...I would guess it would have a lot to do with the chemistry of the group though.ReplyDelete
I agree with Thomas. I love Shields but this is my least favourite of her books. Good luck with the book club. My library runs a book club program but we buy book club sets of 10 copies so we don't have to rely on the copies being available. It also costs money!Delete
It might've been the book, which really doesn't appeal to me. I don't like the title, and I've read mixed reviews. That said, you have my sympathies :(ReplyDelete
Oh how disappointing! I have been in many book groups since I graduated from college and I think the best way to begin is to gather together the group of people. Then talk it over, what do they like to read, what would be their choice for the first book. You could even take a vote because there will be different choices. In my longest running book club (18 years) we started with "Rebecca," and it was a home run. Once you find some kindred spirits and start off with a winner (hopefully) you will be off and running. Good luck, book clubs are so much fun!ReplyDelete
It might just be bad timing, because I would have really enjoyed the selection, and I think others would have too. One thing you might want to try would be doing some kind of a survey, to get a feel for what types of books your patrons would like to read. That might give them some ownership. I know it must be disappointing, but I know you'll be able to make it work! Best of luck!ReplyDelete
I would have come! I have read this book and would have enjoyed discussing it with you.ReplyDelete
It must have been very hard.ReplyDelete