Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book club burnout: It's OK to ditch a dud

Whenever I cast about for ways to meet new people, I start eyeing local book groups. It’s theoretically a happy blend of reading (love it) and making new friends (hopefully).

It’s hard to find that magic combo book group where the time, place, and reading material perfectly align. So I settle for coming close – if the time and place work, I’ll sign on even if a few of the book choices don’t intrigue me, as long we’re swimming in the same general literary pool. After all, a benefit of book clubs is discovering some gem I never would’ve picked up if left to my own devices, so I’m willing to roll the dice a little.

Playing the odds, I decided to try two book groups after moving to a new city a few years ago, and wound up sticking with both for a long time. One meets at the library and is presided over by a librarian; it’s fairly focused and doesn’t stray too far from the topic at hand. The second is more relaxed – it meets at a cozy coffee shop, and the informal discussion meanders away from the book before long. I like both vibes, the one of seriously discussing the book, and the other of casually having coffee with the girls.

But lately I’m suffering burnout. Not from reading in general (as if!), but from reading too many books I’m just not enjoying. My shelves overflow with physical books and my eReaders burst with digital ones, all selected by me, all patiently waiting for a piece of my time. And what do I do? Push them aside in favor of book club selections, which are often options I never would’ve chosen myself. These titles sometimes leave me cold (and bored), all while my “wanted” books wait in haphazard piles of neglected longing.

I still slowly work my way through my own book choices, but two books a month for clubs puts a considerable hitch in my stride. I have encountered books from my clubs that I unexpectedly loved, and others that I liked well enough to not begrudge the time spent reading them. But what to do if you go several months with club selections you find blah at best, and cringe-inducing at worst? And it’s so much worse when other members enjoyed the book that left you cold; you can’t even commiserate about the level of suck! What if you’re in two clubs, and selections for both turn you off a few months running?

You get burned out, that’s what you do. You get to where that ideal you held of always finishing the book, even if you weren’t enjoying it, goes out the door faster than snow melts in Hades. You become a book ditcher. And it starts taking ever fewer pages before you throw in the bookmark and gleefully call it quits, feeling like a kid who just got a snow day – now you can use the time to read what *you* want! In your face, book club!

My simple solution to the problem? Give myself permission to skim, or even skip, a book. If I don’t like the book, it’s OK to drop it like it’s hot. I’m a grown-ass woman; why the hell am I spending time reading books I don’t enjoy?!

A secondary solution to the problem: join more book clubs. It sounds counterintuitive, but more clubs equals more book choices, and more chances at finding books you like. This works wonderfully as long as you’re not afraid to skip a meeting or give pass up some of the selections. In the past several months I’ve pretty much dropped the library group altogether, kept my beloved coffee-shop group, and added two new ones. Of the two newbies, one has a history of selecting quality books and looks like a keeper, but I still will likely skip a few meetings.

I relish socializing with other book lovers, and being a regular face at meetings forges friendships. But there are only so many books we can read in a lifetime, and I finally realized there’s nothing wrong with choosing to read my heart’s desire over a book-club dud. I still bend a little on the choices, but I’m not afraid to just skip the book – and the meeting – if need be.

Do you finish reading books you aren’t enjoying, and at what point do you decide enough’s enough? What if it’s for a book group you love? Read it anyway, or ditch it? Go to the meeting anyway, or get selective about which meetings to attend? 

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