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It’s OK Not to Read the Book

By Cheryl Scheir

Even though the pandemic has reduced my attention span to about 25 seconds, I have remained a faithful member of a book club. My book club lacks a catchy name like or Read it and Weep (tearjerkers only) or Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons (an actual book, believe it or not). It is simply, Book Club. But what it lacks in a name, it makes up for in enduring friendships, warm get-togethers, and much tolerance for people who haven’t read the book.

Recently, I read this in an article from BookBrowse Blog:

Has your book group ever become frustrated by members who join in book discussions without having finished the book -- or, in some cases, without even starting it? If so, you're not alone.According to our research, 15% of reading group members say their book club has experienced problems around this issue; and a quarter of those who left a previous book club due to dissatisfaction cited frustration over members attending without having read the book, or not attending meetings at all, as a factor in their decision to leave.

For the moment, we’ll set aside what it might mean that some people left their book clubs over people not attending meetings; it seems like that’s the nature of any group. However, I’ll admit that with my life transitioning to full-time work and caregiving to aging parents, I’m not keeping up with my book club selections* the way I used to. Here’s how I handle it:

  1. I don’t protest spoilers. Our group members have agreed that those who have read the book can discuss anything from the book, even if it gives away plot points. Fair’s fair.

  2. I don’t steer the book discussion away from the book to a topic I’d rather talk about. The central reason for our gathering is the book. Yes, the book discussion is sometimes a clothesline for other things, but let’s give the book its due. Again, that’s only fair. (Plus, you can talk about your kids some other time…and maybe with someone else.)

  3. I demonstrate curiosity about the book, trying to key in on what people liked or didn’t like. A book club is kind of like being at a focus group. I can get honest reviews of the book from people I trust. That’s a good screening tool!

  4. When I have read the book and I know someone hasn’t, I assume that life happened, and I fill them in about plot points to help pique their curiosity. Who knows, the book they didn’t read could be perfect for the beach in a few months when they have some time.

  5. Since I’m having so much trouble getting books read, I have subscribed to Audible, so that I can at least passively take in what I can’t actively read. It’s not quite the same, but it gets the job done!

Life is hard enough without a book club being another seat of judgment. (OK, I’ll take back that thing about you talking about your kids). If we all just try to lighten up a little bit, we can all still enjoy ourselves, regardless of who managed to read the book. Plus, if I show up and haven’t read the book, I’ll defer to everyone else, and maybe I’ll borrow the book after the meeting…though I can’t promise that I’ll give it back.

*This month’s book is the YA novel Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket

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