McMurtry’s lucid writing style always blows me away. I can like the writing without necessarily embracing the prickliness of the author. He’s blunt and curt. For all this, his love of books and writing resonates with my own. And I’m not mad at him, even though he told me he wouldn’t sign my first edition, hardcover copy of Lonesome Dove–my all-time favorite book and mini-series on Blu-ray. Apparently, he lives in several places and doesn’t interact with his readers anymore. I’m sure he must get exhausted having lost his anonymity. Now he has to vigorously guard his solitude and writing time.
I was in Archer City, TX at “Booked up,” only not during the book sale. I dragged my wife and a publisher-friend and her husband there on an overnight outing from Amarillo. We spent far more time there than either my wife or our friends had imagined we would. Yes, I’m still married. Yes, they’re still our friends. Only no one will go with me to” The Brattle Bookshop” in downtown Boston.
I bought a “rare” book on my way out of store 1. The title was: Captain Lee Hall of Texas, by Dora Neill Raymond, with illustrations by Louis Lundean and Frederic Remington. I fancy it may have been the book upon which McMurtry based Captain Woodrow F. Call, I’m not sure. I’ve yet to read it past chapter one (though I’ve examined all of Remington’s drawings). I’ll get there though because I’m intrigued by real Texas Rangers ranging a lawless land–always have been from my earliest boy years.
I re-posted McMurty’s NYR post about the massive book sale for you because you’ll be enriched to hear the heart (and mind) of an old book-lover (bibliophile). And I hope it satisfies your love of books and their authors–who are mostly bibliophiles like the rest of us who enthusiastically write and read. McMurtry gives his perspective on how the sale went and how books continue to both lose ground and gain new enthusiasts.
I’m confident that you’ll enjoy his Texas Big-style of book collecting, keenness in the use of language, and perhaps “Booked Up” will become a new “must see” place on your Bucket List.
This is unashamedly a “How to” post. How to form a “quality” book club or reading group. The adjective in this title is all important. It describes what kind of reading group you form. In my opinion, and since you have no possibility of redeeming wasted time, a quality book club is the only kind of reading group worth participating in.
Assuming that you value your time, this is the right post for you. Either it will confirm something you’re already doing right (that should make you feel good); or, it can prove helpful motivational to consider doing something worth your time and effort. Perhaps the information shared here will equip you to take that step you’ve been contemplating–planning the launch of a quality book club or reading group. So, where do we begin?
So, are you starting a group that you will lead? Or are you wanting something more democratic? Just remember, the more cooks you invite into the kitchen the better or worse the food may be, but the question is do you want the confusion that can come with a room full of cooks? If so, then bring the group together to form the group, otherwise, you form the group and see who’s interested. Some groups prefer to not have to make a thousand decisions. They make far too many decisions every day as it is. So they may LOVE that fact that the leader takes that load off. Other groups don’t like one person leading. At this point, it’s your decision and your group, if you haven’t formed one yet.
Let’s assume you’re beginning a group and you’re unsure.
Decide Upon the Nature of the Group
First of all, is it a “reading group” or a “book club.” The suggestions in this post apply to a group of either nature. A “reading group” may read any number of different kinds of books. It may read a novel one month and a non-fiction, self-help the next. The group may decide to read the likely definitive biography of Neil Armstrong this month and a history of the game of Monopoly the next (there is such a book).
A “book club” usually forms around a particular author, topic, or genre. The participants may decide to read all the works of G.K. Chesterton or to read as many books as they can find about Sable Island. They could also be genre oriented. One book club I know of reads nothing but high fantasy another club reads only military history books.
It’s important to determine the nature of your club or group, but don’t get into angst about this. You can either decide up front–before you invite participants–or you can think of the people you want to invite into the group and bring them together to discuss what kind of group you’d like to be. Just make sure you enjoy the process. This is about FUN!! Keep that central. When it stops being fun, forget about it. You don’t need more stress in your life.
Once you know what kind of group you’ll be–reading group or book club–you’re ready to take the next step–determining the content.
Determine the Content
Is there an expert in the group from whom you can learn something new and valuable? Get rid of her/him. Just kidding. Actually, if you have a person who is knowledgeable in a particular area, and it’s an area worth exploring or learning more about, the group may want to invite that person to suggest or submit a bibliography and the group or leader could choose a reading list from the bibliography. In any case, bibliographies are invaluable when exploring an author, a genre, or a niche. Here is a source of bibliographies that can be invaluable to the reading group or book club.
Perhaps you decide you want to form a reading list from the top 10 New York Times best sellers (though that list is no guarantee of quality). A group that enjoys hiking or mountain climbing may want to Google books about climbing K2 or great hikes in the White Mountains of NH. Some groups I’ve heard of really like to gamble. They invite a different member each month to determine the title they’ll read for that month. It can be interesting and informative OR you could be held hostage to bad taste and disaster. You don’t want an exodus of members because they’re exposed to bad or bankrupt literature.
In deciding what your group wants to read, make sure that the writing is good and that it will hold the interest of the group. Fiction should engage the reader and allow for vicarious experience. Non-fiction should instruct, inform, challenge, and provide practical solutions. Both should come highly recommended by a diverse number of people, journals, or reputable sources.
Be able to answer the questions: What do you hope to get out of this group? What are you willing to contribute to the group?
Location, Location, Location
Will you meet in a home, at Borders (are there any left?), the local library? Find the right environment for the group. Make sure that it’s geographically central to the group members. Is it comfortable? Well lit? Free of distractions?
Will you meet in one place or move around? You can rotate homes on a voluntary basis or you can go to one location for the duration. This can be decided by the group or the club members’ circumstances. Libraries often have rooms available for reading groups and book clubs. And the libraries are usually central for a community.
There Must be a Facilitator – the same person or rotate? Clubs that are supposed to “just happen” don’t usually. They flounder unless someone is willing to facilitate–as opposed to dictate. See if anyone is experienced at leading small groups. If not, you do it, but read a few articles on “small group leadership” by searching on Google or your favorite search engine.
Invite people who love books, reading, growing. Diversity brings growth. Avoid clones. I don’t much like being in a group where everyone has to think alike. I’m challenged and stretched by being with people who have different perspectives. But the key to a positive experience with people who hold different values is–respect the right to disagree agreeably. We don’t all see things the same way. We all have filters we walk the world with. As long as we’re willing to acknowledge that and understand that we don’t have to all agree to enjoy and respect one another, we have the opportunity to grow, to explore. Guard this freedom in your group.
Begin a Blog or establish an email newsletter. Give everyone in the group access to share a review or suggestion.
If the group is an open group, Register at an online Finder like “Readerscircle.org” so that others in your area can find you.
What time will you meet? How long will this club meet? Six weeks or throughout eternity? Eternal clubs usually only last six weeks anyway. A good rule of thumb is to read three to six books. If you read one book per month, then that would be three to six months. Then meet for a celebration or barbecue and decide if you’ll go another six months. This gives people the opportunity to opt out or have new people join (assuming you’re a closed club until the time limit is reached). Open clubs can have members come and go as they determine together.
Outside Speakers or not? (see my blog on “Speakers for Book Clubs – Yes or No?” I haven’t written it yet, but check back from time to time or, “Follow” this blog and sign up for email notification at top right)
Decide on a Format
Make sure that you have track to run on that makes your club comfortable because its predictable. Studies have been done that show that MOST people are more relaxed and comfortable when they know what to expect.
I like the following format.
Icebreaker–a question that gives some insight to the person answering. Ask the question. Let each answer in turn. “What was your favorite book when you were 11?” “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” If you write down the answers, you could surprise everyone with a special ice cream bash which includes all the flavors mentioned.
Discussion By chapter? By character? By topic? What stood out to you in this week’s reading? Leave to facilitator? Use a study guide for the book? I understand that guides are available for book clubs. Do a search.
Choose the First Book
However you decided to proceed, it’s time to pick the first book. Make it a winner! Read something that is absolutely engaging. How will you know? Ask around. Do you know other book clubs or readers? Ask a librarian. Read some reviews. What title keeps coming up? What do reviews at Amazon.com say on the book’s product page?
Now Go and read the “Do’s and Don’ts of Facilitating a Book Club Meeting” [This post is not written yet either, but if you check back, I’ll include the link just as soon as it’s complete.]
QUESTION: Have you ever started a group? Would you add something I left out?
You’ve been kind of collecting books. They’re everywhere. You have shelves that will no longer hold books. So you have stacks—in the bedroom, in the living room, in the spare bedroom, in the dining room (which in our home I turned into our library). Books even grace the bathroom and a couple of closets.
Your spouse or roommate has given you an ultimatum: “You need to organize, get a plan, or get rid of all these books!”
Instead, how about building your own library . . . with intent. You CAN do it! Be like the great men and women in history who actually planned a personal library and collected books according to a modus operandi (a plan of operation)? It will be hard for even the most book-hostile person to oppose your noble plan—the plan of a personal library.
Some of you have never considered planning or arranging a library. Maybe you’ve been too busy. Or you’re not interested in the work involved. Plans don’t interest you. Then you need read no further. BUT . . . some of you love the idea of being more intentional, more organized. Perhaps like me, you’ve wondered: Well how would I go about a more intentional collection of significant books? If that’s you too, then you’re the person this post was meant for.
I’ve organized and arranged two libraries—my ministry library and my personal library. In the process, I made some mistakes and made some observations that might benefit you. Perhaps this post can be used to make your life a little easier.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO CONSIDER
Here are some recommendations to consider:
Read a good book on the subject. Many such exist. But don’t get overwhelmed. If no definitive list exists. Create your own.
Define and Prepare a Space – Decide on a size, Big or Small? This depends upon the physical space available to you. And the patience of your spouse. Determine where and how you will store your library. Do you have a free wall? Or spare room that you don’t use very often? What about creating a room just as a library room. That’s what I did in our dining room. We eat instead in the Kitchen/Great room.
Make sure that it’s comfortably appointed as well. Big stuffed chairs, a library table, warm lighting, favorite photos, paintings, or sculptures all make it your special place of beauty and peace.
Build Upon the Core of your Library (of what you already have). How? Answer a couple of questions:
- What am I passionate about? The answer will give you a prime section in your collection. That’s probably what your core already consists of.
- What would I love to learn or know more about? You’ve got your second section.
- What has always fascinated me? You’ll need a section of good books on the subject.
- What might give me some insight into . . . ? (people, places, ideas, occupations)
- If you are like me, you’ll want a section just for leisure reading as well. I have a full fantasy section of hardbacks in our library room and of softcovers in my Cave (guy room). Since Marcy and I are both readers, we don’t argue much about a house full of books. We both love fantasy too so we hang out with C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, L’Engle, Charles Williams, and Lin Carter (his anthology and special collections of essays on fantasy are awesome—and impossible to find.
Begin modestly. You don’t need a ton of books of all kinds unless you’re a hoarder vs. a collector. Locate and purchase the very best three to five books in each field of interest or passion. You might like to begin with an anthology or bibliography. This will lead you to recommended reading which comes from a variety of authors who have all weighed in on that subject. I read an autobiography of The Beach Boys’, Brain Wilson. In the back was a bibliography. From there I collected several more books including their discography (I wanted a history of their recording career along with the background history of their recordings). Bibliographies and Recommended Readings in the back or appendices of a book often provide you with exactly what you need to build your core.
Hardback or Paperback? What is the goal for your library? How much do you have to spend? Will you read your books more than once? If not, you don’t need a library. You can borrow from the public free library. But if you plan on the long term to read them and refer to them frequently, or to dialog in the margins (write in them) then you may want to consider hardbound for the majority of your books.
Look for bargains. Most libraries cull their stacks often. You can usually find hardcovers for $1. And paperbacks for .25-.50 each. It doesn’t take long to build a library at these prices. But be selective by sticking close to your plan. Otherwise you precious space will fill up with junk that doesn’t further your goals and overall plan.
Stick to your Core plan. Once you’ve decided on a plan of collecting, stick with it! Enough said.
Adopt your own set of “Simple Rules.” Mine are below as an illustration of the point.
MY SIMPLE RULES
The “Simple Rules” I’ve operated under for over forty years:
Love beauty (which will include the truth and creation). Certainly a person who does not love beauty can build a library. I suppose one who values ugliness, falsehood, destruction, and banality could collect books, but who but the base and lifeless would want to read them? Or write them?
Love of beauty forms character and generosity of spirit. These will therefore affect the character of what you will collect and share. Once character is in place my other two rules apply.
Collect what you enjoy. You must allow your library to evolve according to your interests and passions. Your interests have probably guided you this far. Your passions will form the core of your collection. I chose the very best three to five books in each field of interest or passion.
I have two main collections. One is my spiritual library and the other is my general library. Each library is made up of a core of several categories which are important to me. For example: I am passionate about my ministry and my walk with Jesus. Naturally the core of my ministry library is made up of several related categories: biblical studies (old and new testaments); church history; theology; and, language study. My walk with Jesus is covered under spiritual autobiography and biography along with devotional literature. These broad categories form the core of my spiritual library.
The categories of my general library are: Classic literature (poetry, novels & short stories), Biography/Memoir, Contemporary Literature (poetry, novels & short stories); Maritime topics; Writing, Faerie, History (WWII & New England); travel; western writings; and, the largest collection–Books about books–reading, bibliophilia, book collecting and selling; and, publishing.
Choose carefully only the books you KNOW you care enough about to read.
Read what you collect. No matter how long it takes, read your books. They will teach you and speak to you. They will inform and expand your thinking and experience.
Share what you read. Let others enjoy what you have enjoyed. Share your library. First, by blogging or journaling. Then be a lender to the people in your life who you know share your love of books or your core passion. Of course, make sure that those who borrow appreciate some understanding of the care and collecting of books. For example, I usually explain to someone who borrows a book of mine that I NEVER lay the book open. I ask them to likewise use a bookmark. I then explain that the spine can be broken or the glue be cracked by laying a book open, faced down. My watchword is “generosity” in all things. And lose a book before a friend. After all . . . a book is not more important than the people in my life.
QUESTION: What is the core of your personal library? Are you working a “plan”?
Photo: Our library room by David C Alves
©2011, David C Alves