Friday, 18 May 2012

How to kill a reading group???

I was surprised this week to both hear on the radio and read in a newspaper,  that a sure-fire way to kill a reading group is to read Middlemarch. Apparently a definitive list of book club rules has been drawn up by the influential Middle Class Handbook website to help members keep book group discussions on track and prevent the collapse of their club. Top of the list of tips,  is to avoid Middlemarch at all costs.

This jumped out at me because not only is Middlemarch one of my all time great reads, it is also the book I swear I will take to a desert island with me should I ever be lucky enough to have that opportunity. My own reading group read it  back in 2007 and lived on successfully. 

I'm sure I'm not alone amongst serious readers and book group advocates, in pouring scorn on this advice. Surely one of the main purposes of a book group is to be challenged to read something you might not have the motivation to tackle otherwise. Surely books that tackle serious issues, moral dilemmas and  questions about how people treat each other, for good or ill,  make for better book club discussions than simply whether or not its enjoyable?

It would be interesting to know from colleagues if there have been books that "finished off" a reading group of theirs. Certainly there have been many books over the years that I have failed to finish personally, and many meetings which some people have chosen not to attend, often because they really disliked a particular book. But it strikes me that a group that is defeated to a person by any specific book is probably one that is on its last legs anyway. Poor George Eliot for being so maligned!


  1. Jane - I agree. What is wrong with our groups tackling something that might make us think?!! It is not high brow, it just happens to contain a bit of philosophy. But not every reader even needs to engage with it on that level if they don't want to because it is also a wonderful story about love and loyalty.

    Perhaps the key is to try reading it in sections or reading the hard bits together? (Or a mixture of both of these: agree for everyone to get up to a certain point and then talk about it and read a section out loud when the group comes together). There is nothing better than a real sense of accomplishment and understanding through sharing the challenge.

  2. Although Middlemarch has one of the all-time great novel endings (so beautifully voiced by Judi Dench in the TV adaptation) I'm afraid much of the rest of the novel is terribly dull - maybe it's Casaubon's fault. After all, he's not exactly the life and soul of the party...