Everybody knows I’m a booster of book groups (I run three myself).  I believe book groups can be a lot of fun, introducing you to interesting people and to books you might not have read otherwise.  Of course, not all book groups are created equal, and some don’t live up to the high standards of the best ones, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to assume that you’re involved with a good book group.  

Even the best book groups, though, can sometimes choose a lemon of a book. The best processes for choosing books, which include reading reviews and looking at “best of the year” lists and award winners (and books shortlisted for awards), can sometimes lead you to a book that you can’t stand, and sometimes you don’t know you can’t stand it until you start reading.

What do you do then?

My first suggestion is to push a little longer.  There are books that start off badly but pick up later on, and books that don’t make any sense (or don’t seem to make any sense) at the beginning but develop into something meaningful.  While I’m not a person who believes you have to finish every book you start, generally if you’re in a book group, you’re making an implied promise that you’ll try to read the book the group selects.  

But let’s say you’ve given it a good try and you still can’t stand it.  The writing’s terrible, or the characters or plot are offensive or annoying and you find yourself skimming or repeatedly checking the last page to see how close you are to finishing it. At that point, it may be worth your while to talk to other members of the group about the book, off line, so to speak.  You may not be the only one who feels that way about the book.  If it’s early enough, maybe you can talk to the leader of the group and the group can choose a different book for the month.  I’ve done that in two of my book groups (one time I, as the leader, read and hated the book, and offered an alternative to the group, which they agreed to), and it’s not the end of the world.

If that’s not a possibility, you have two choices: don’t read the book or hate-read it.  In either event, come to the group meeting.  If you haven’t read the book, your ability to discuss it will, of course, be limited, but maybe you’ll see different things in the book when you hear other people talking about it.  You might be inspired to give it another try.  There’s a definite possibility that you’ll hear spoilers in the discussion, but if you’ve absolutely given up on the book, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Alternately, if you hate-read it (reading it to find things you loathe), you can contribute to the discussion, if only as a counter to the people who loved the book or liked it.  Of course you’ll be polite and considerate while you’re explaining why the book was loathsome, but it can be really cathartic to talk about why you hated a particular book, and you may find that other people in the group share your feelings.  Disagreements among book club members (if conducted politely and with consideration, naturally) can be what brings the group to life.  Sometimes those meetings are more fun than the ones where everybody loved the same things in the book, or just all loved the book. 

If this happens once in a while in your group, all you can do is grin and bear it and try some of these techniques to deal with it.  If, however, you notice that you’re having to read a lot of books that annoy you, you might need to talk to the other people in your group about the way you’re choosing the books for the group, or consider whether maybe this is the kind of group you want to be in. There are lots of groups out there that might be a better fit for you, and you deserve to have a great book group experience.

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