Friday, August 07, 2009

Book Club Guilt

I'be been part of a reading group, a book club, if you will, for a couple years now. Mostly we read pretty good books, and I enjoy them. Sometimes, I don't. A couple times I haven't even opened the book because I've been too busy or whatever.

But this time, I'm about one third done, and blah.

It's a murder/detective/police procedural sort of book, and I must admit up front that I don't find those that interesting usually.

There's a point at which most of these feel really formulaic, and I just don't care. That's not to say that there aren't differences, and I'm sure there are some wonderful ones out there, but... (and Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series is a whole 'nother wonderful thing altogether!) I also confess that Shakespeare's comedies are pretty darned formulaic; but somehow they don't bore me silly.

Here's the current formula:

For example, the protagonist is usually:
...divorced or unhappily separated or in a bad marriage. (subtext: women are demon-spawn)
...very special at detecting. (subtext: everyone else is an idiot, especially the higher ups on the force or at the agency)
...obsessive about something I couldn't care less about.

and the crime is usually:
...murder. unusual/creative that you'd hear of it across the world if it really happened.
...committed by a male (subtext: women are demon-spawn but not usually murderers)
...solved. (unlike many crimes in the real world; rape in the US has what, an 18% conviction rate?)
...proof that law and order are good, no matter which civil rights get stomped on.

and the complications usually involve:
...the way one crime leads to another. (subtext: did I mention women are demon-spawn? or else, teh gay!) least hints of a conspiracy theory.

I just sent out an email offering to pass along my copy to someone else, not mentioning that I haven't actually read it.

The other day I ran into someone else in the group, and made the mistake of asking who'd chosen this book. S/he waxed poetical about the wonders of the book and how much s/he loves this author and yes, s/he chose it and isn't it the best thing ever? Oops.

Our reading group seems to have dropped off considerably in actually reading the texts. I think that we started when most of us were fairly recent transplants, and since then people have become more involved in relationships and community stuff, gotten busier at work in various ways, and so just don't find the readings a priority. I'm okay with that.

I wonder what percentage of reading groups last more than about 3 years? And of those that do, how do they do it?


  1. I'm bored by those as well. They need to be cleverly written and actually funny (Carl Hiasan) for me to invest the time.... or, with really good details about someplace I'd like to go (Donna Leon).

    Lately I've been reading Kathy Reichs. Her character is the the basis for the main character in the TV show Bones. I also like Janet Evonovitch -- her characters are pretty good, and the supporting characters are really funny. Both authors have female main characters.

  2. I'm actually a fan of the genre, but I pick and choose carefully. I either want the author to know the formula and play with it (exaggerate it for humor, for example) or avoid it, or be from the classic novels that invented it in the first place -- so before it was really *formula*. *Or*, if it's going to stick with the formula, do so for other ends (such as a critique of why the formula is the formula, or the social contexts or narrative desires that created it) -- a la James Ellroy.

    Don't dismiss the genre if your reading group picked a more formulaic example!

  3. I was in a reading group that managed to keep going, more or less, for about 6 years before I moved away; it's since added new people. The trick is in adding the new people, and having people who want the same level of intellectual engagement.
    Ours was pretty tolerant of "I didn't finish it yet", which helped. On one occasion, we were all bored by the book (chosen because noted author had just died), and only some of us finished it. We rotated choosing, which helped. We alternated between older works and newer ones; fortunately we never got a detective/police procedural, which really don't do it for me.

  4. OK, so what was the book? :)

  5. We're just about to go into year eight and are still going strong with our original membership. I think what keeps us going is the choice of books. Some of us are crime readers but we don't tend to select genre fiction for discussion. Most of what we read is the type of book that is going to take us into considerations of social and political issues as well as literary features. Our problem is usually stopping talking.