Book Clubbing: What I Learned from Meeting #1

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Have you ever participated in a book club before? I hadn't, not until recently. Some of you know that I started a small book club with some friends around books by Asian American authors, a voice often left out in media and publishing. Our inaugural book was Red Azalea, by Anchee Min- a memoir about growing up in the last few years of Mao's regime. You can read my review of the book here. Hosting this first session was a daunting task, and I have some learnings I wanted to share with you (and document for myself).

It was a bright, sunny morning in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The streets were filled with families drinking in the first real day of Spring. I made my way to Audrey's Concerto, a cute little bakery in the neighborhood, to meet a few friends for our first book club meeting. I was particularly excited about the first book that we were going to discuss, Red Azalea. I don't typically read memoirs or nonfiction, but this was a memoir on a topic that I wanted to understand more about. I was also thrilled to annotate a book with a critical eye again for the first time since graduating college.

You see three books in the picture above (can you guess which one's mine?), and yes, three people is a paltry number for book club discussions. It's not the number I had hoped for, but I know life gets in the way of scheduling. Since I was the one who suggested getting together for this book club, it was a little embarrassing that only three people attended, but luckily, it was three of the best people I could have hoped for. I went to middle school and high school with both of them and obviously, still keep in touch.

There are definitely pros and cons of having such a small group:

Cons:

  • Lack of variety in opinions
  • Fewer discussion points and ideas to bounce off of
  • Sets a commitment precedent for future meetings

Pros:

  • More intimate setting with a few people who know each other very well
  • Participants feel more comfortable to share ideas
  • More room for thinking and processing

I don't think one set of circumstances outweighs the other, but I did get some learnings out of the entire process, and hopefully our next meeting will be just as good as the first one we had, and better!

What worked this time:

  • The group had a great discussion and bounced ideas off of one another with little prompting from prepared questions.
  • It was a casual environment, and the group felt comfortable in the setting.
  • Each person came prepared with quotes or thoughts to share with the group.

What to do better next time:

  • One of my friends wanted to phone into the discussion (bless her heart), even though we warned her that we were in a busy cafe and it might be too loud to hear each other. More consideration for remote folks who want to participate should be accounted for.
  • I had initially proposed the idea of brunch (since we met at 11AM), but we were so caught up in discussions that a few of us didn't get a chance to order anything, besides a drink. The meeting ended around 1PM and I was starving. The timing, plus venue and intent, should be more meaningful.
  • Remind people getting closer to the meeting date! I didn't feel like I had to, since I knew who was going to attend out of the entire book club thread that we all shared. But it's a good idea to keep reminding everyone up to the meeting date, just in case they had a last minute change of plans and could join us.

 

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Our next book is The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Lu. It's a science fiction thriller that was originally written in Chinese and has been translated for Western audiences. I love the genre, and I'm really excited to see what the translation brings, or loses, in the storytelling.

Read on,

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