Death of a Book Club

Anne Frank

Anne Frank (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never taken part in a book club before, though I did try…once.  But I should have seen the end coming sooner than I did.

A good friend suggested starting the book club.  Despite working in a library, she wasn’t much of a reader, though I suppose the two don’t have to be connected.  Surprisingly, she wanted to start with The Diary of Anne Frank, an unusual choice for someone who would rather read Nicholas Sparks or shop for clothes than anything else. 

So I found a used copy for about $2.  I was ready to begin the journey!  I read a few pages to get started, since the three of us (the club included my sister, too) never did decide what to read when or when to discuss what we’d read.  I suggested we start with Chapter 1 (“Start at the beginning!  And when you get to the end, stop.”), but I was trying to ride a dead horse. 

My sister seemed interested in reading the text, but lacked the encouragement a book club generally offers.  Because she primarily reads self-help books and medical texts, Anne Frank was unusual for her, too, though she gamely went along with the plan.  Our leader lost her enthusiasm almost immediately, so we never did get anywhere.  I got a copy of Anne Frank out of the deal, but was disappointed there was never any discussion about the book, or even about reading the book.

I’ve not really been keen on joining any book clubs since then, but mostly because the book sounds dull, I’m in the middle of a reading project, there are too many people in the group, etc.  I know, I’m being picky.  Still, I do get a little wistful sometimes when I think of that first book club.  I think it really could have been a lot of fun if we had all jumped in and explored the work together, but perhaps we were all too different to make it work.  Or maybe no one was committed to it in the first place.  But that’s okay, because whether I read alone or with others, I get to discover a new story.  And that is an adventure in itself.

Have you ever taken part in a book club?  If so, what was your experience like? 

If not, why not?  What book would you most like to read with a group?

Let Me Hear You!

Doris Lessing, Cologne, 2006

Doris Lessing, Cologne, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag—and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty—and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.”

–Doris Lessing (b. 1919), British novelist. Introduction to The Golden Notebook, pp. xvii-xviii, Simon and Schuster (1971).
Instead of offering my opinions on this quotation, and I have several, I want to hear yours first. 
Do you agree with the above statement, disagree, or are you somewhere in between?  Why?

On Books, And a Light Thought on a Serious Matter

I found this quote on this morning and I just had to share!  Enjoy!  :D
“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them.” 
-Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings, ch. 1
Also, a piece from “A Prairie Home Companion” ‘s Garrison Keillor that always makes me grin:

I came home Friday evening, had dinner, wrote a limerick about my neurologist, and started writing about the experience of having a minor stroke. Nothing bad happens to writers — everything is just material.

Last Monday I suffered a stroke
Which affected the way that I spoke,
But it revved up my brain,
Which they cannot explain,
And now, when I think, I smell smoke.


What I Learned from a Painting

A Gotthelf Reader, by Albert Anker

This image greets me each time I open my computer.  It’s not colorful, the girl isn’t gorgeous, the setting isn’t exotic, and there’s little activity in this scene, but I still really like it.  Can I tell you what I think is happening in this painting?  Her dress, hairstyle, and room furnishings suggest to me that this young woman is a lower class factory worker or servant girl, maybe in the late 19th or early 20th century.  It looks like she has just finished a long, hard day of labor and is taking a little time for for  herself, whether in leisure or learning, in a time when these types of workers were not often literate. 

Every time I see this image on my computer, I remember what a gift it is to have the skills, time, and access to literature to seek relaxation or education through a book.  It reminds me that there are so many people who would love to learn and who enjoy stories, but lack one of the abovementioned necessities to do so.  And it reminds me to take an active role in my reading, because the ability to do so is precious.

Note: I just learned Anker painted this scene in 1884.

Books Tell More Than You Think

 I’ve almost finished The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester, which I highly recommend.  The story has been fascinating, particularly since I keep dictionaries close to my heart (and my bed, where I often write).  My only complaint is the author’s excessive use of complex words.  I would  have liked to know their definitions, but hadn’t the time or really even the desire to take so much trouble.  All I wanted to do was ready the story, but I kept tripping over these words that context clues sometimes illuminated and sometimes did not. 

Recently, I decided I wanted to know more about how to increase the old vocab while enjoying my favorite form of recreation, reading.  Of course, learning new words takes a little effort from the reader, so here are a few sites that offer some solid yet practical advice:

How to Learn Vocabulary , A site for non-English speakers, but it has great suggestions for those of us who are still (and will always be!) learning new words.

Learning with the New York Times , It’s easier than you think!

A Reader’s Footprints

Engraving of a Reader

The Reader

If you’ve ever picked up a book that has been written in, you know the notations make for a difficult read.  I recently read (and marked up) Sarah Rose’s For All the Tea in China, a birthday book from my older sister, who requested to read it when I finished.  But passing through the pages again is a little difficult even for me, and I’m the one who filled it with notes and hieroglyphs! 

In a moment of Sherlockian insight, I decided books are clues to the reader, who leaves footprints in the form of symbols, questions, and thoughts scattered throughout a book.  This could make it hard for the following readers to comprehend the book for itself.  It’s so cluttered with another traveler’s personality that those who follow behind feel they are not as free to develop their own opinions as if the pages were clean and neutral.  This can leave an individual feeling disoriented and frustrated.

I think this is part of why booksellers don’t offer as much money for used books that have been jotted in (and thus personalized).  They value volumes that have clean pages and allow audiences to trade ideas freely with the author, uninterrupted by another’s thoughts.  Of course booksellers also take into consideration that customers will pay a little more for a book that looks new and that marked-up copies probably don’t sell well because they don’t look as nice.

Below, I have illustrated some ideas on what a reader’s footprints may look like and the clues they might offer.  For the sake of simplicity, and since I happen to be female, I will refer to the reader as she.


  • Firm and straight: Suggests a reader sure of–though not inflexible in–her opinions, who knows important information when she sees it.  This sort of reader likely questions the material while reading, testing it for solid logic.
  • Wavering: Suggests a reader who is unsure of herself and her comprehension of the information or of the truth of the facts presented.  Or she may just be too tired to write in a straight line.
  • Faint: This is a conscientious reader who may be new to writing in books and so writes lightly.  She may write softly in pencil, should she need to erase marks made in error or want to sell the book for a better price later.  I imagine this is an observant reader who is particularly thoughtful.
  • Sentences slanted up  or down: This is a careful reader who takes her time reading and has to turn the book to make notes, suggesting she does not write hastily while reading.  That or she needs to practice writing evenly.
  • Neat, clear script: The reader is a careful, organized, logical thinker.
  • Words slanted far forward or backward: Probably more of a scrawl and difficult to read.  The reader is likely in a hurry or is caught up in the current of the story, whether fact or fiction.  She is probably a quick thinker.


The commentary is influenced by my own notation system.  The great part is you can create your own key as you read and can change it whenever you need to; no one other than you has to understand it.

  • *        These indicate a piece of information or point the reader wants to return to or remember.
  • +/-   These are general marks of an interested reader, but have slightly a lower value than that of stars and asterisks.
  • :)       This person takes a light approach to reading and values clever points and humorous remarks.
  • ___  An important sentence or unfamiliar word
  • !         Surprise at a story or fact
  • ?       “This part doesn’t make sense or doesn’t fit with what I think I know.”
  • ( { [   Information I want to remember that is more than one sentence long.  May also be an idea I want to comment on, so I jot a few words outside the symbol.

The Instrument

  • Pen: Suggests the reader is sure, outspoken, and may be knowledgeable on the subject.
  • Pencil: The reader may be wary of writing in a book (she was likely taught to revere the bound word), is possibly unsure of her own opinion and her notation system, or may feel she doesn’t understand the material she’s reading.  She is likely reserved, but thoughtful. 

I would like to add that readers who engage in books with any sort of instrument are likely people who are familiar with asking questions, frequently offer their own thoughts in a discussion, enjoy thinking for themselves, and/or value knowledge above a pristine page.

Clues to a reader’s identity may also be obtained from the physical condition of the book, particularly if the volume is part of a personal library.  For instance:

From dog-eared pages, one may guess that the reader is often in a rush or rarely has a bookmark within reach, depending on how many pages are dog-eared.  This person may be very laid back and slightly disorganized, since many readers make a point to keep bookmarks in or near their books.

If the book’s edges are worn smooth or the corners fanned out, one may theorize that the owner is a nervous or energetic (not necessarily quick) reader, who thumbs the pages as she reads. 

Slightly darkened edges may be the mark of a frequent reader, a reader who enjoys manual labor, or one who flies from gardening to the joy of reading without washing her hands.

Food or drink stains could signal that the book is so absorbing, the reader cannot be troubled to put it down even while she eats.  They may also be the sign of a careless or busy reader.

I hope you have been enlightened in some way by this very long post, wherein I have presented my own thoughts on this subject.  None of these suggested personality traits are meant to apply to individual readers, of course, as each reader has unique ways of traveling through a book.  Regardless of what your markings and notations look like, or if you make any at all, the act of reading points to a mind that wants to learn and/or enjoys the written word for the simple pleasure it affords.  I am not debating the reader’s intelligence or attempting to measure her character by my observations.  However, I do think the reader leaves clues about herself through the notes she makes while engaging in reading, which is a very personal experience.

Note: Interacting with a text (AKA being an active reader) is called annotation, a practice that helps you get the most out of the material you’re reading. 

You can find tips and how-to’s here.  This link even offers suggestions for the individual who wants to be an active reader but can’t stand writing in books. 

Another good idea is to write your comments and questions on a sheet of paper (include page and paragraph numbers) rather than in the margins of the book, since the chances of returning to your marked pages are very slim.

Please add to the thoughts listed in this post if you have a few ideas on the subject.  I only ask that all my commenters be courteous in doing so.

A Bibliophile’s Query

I love to read.  Mostly fiction, but nonfiction and historical nonfiction, too.  My problem is I feel guilty when I take time out to read.  Reading during the day, hours that should be set aside for work, makes me feel like I’m misusing my time in a big way.  I compensate for the guilt by reading at night, when there are no little chores to do and no sunshine silently reminding me to get a move on because the day is waning fast.

What I want to know is, does anyone else find reading to be a guilty pleasure?  If so, when and where do you read so you can enjoy your book without feeling badly about it? 

Especially when I’m reading fiction, I feel like I should put down my story and pick up something more informative, though I realize fiction can teach, too.  Can you identify with this?

Does reading ever feel like a waste of time to you, even if the material is educational?