I spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about books, but oddly enough I’ve never been part of an actual book club. I’ve always harbored a vague envy for the whole cycle: Staying up late to finish the book in time for the next evening’s discussion, figuring out what to cook when you’re hosting, and drinking all that wine. But I also know that the time constraint would start to chafe, not to mention letting someone else suggest what I should read. Even with all that wine, I suspect I’d be a bad book club member.
Fortunately, there’s the Internet. I’ve been part of some interesting book discussions at GoodReads and BookBalloon, and while the real-time element is admittedly lacking, the option of coming and going on my own time makes up for some of that. And I’m seeing some other variations for solitary readers looking to make contact, and they all look worthwhile.
The Rumpus announced the formation of its new book club last May—new in the sense that there hadn’t been one before, and also because the books involved are all hot off the presses. The idea is to feature titles that may fly under people’s radars otherwise, although the first pick, John Brandon’s Citrus County, hit the ground running with a favorable New York Times review and a lot of attention. All the more reason to have been there first, which Rumpus Book Club members were and no doubt will be again. For $25 a month ($35 international), members are mailed advance copies of an upcoming book and get access to the password-protected parts of the Book Club Blog. There are online author discussions, and The Rumpus will publish its favorite reader review. Whether or not you sign up, every month is action-packed and a lot of fun to follow.
The book under discussion this month is is Tao Lin’s Richard Yates, and September’s is Lan Samantha Chang’s All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. In addition, Stephen Elliott has just announced a special one-off non-obscure Freedom Book Club with Jonathan Franzen at the end of September. You can order it from The Rumpus and get free shipping, or buy it from your local indie after the September 28 laydown date; Elliott notes that “Books purchased from Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon are ineligible.” I’ve been looking for a good reason to crack open my galley, and this may be it. And if that all isn’t enough to float your boat, there’s a Rumpus Poetry Book Club too.
Over at HTMLGIANT Roxane Gay is talking about getting together a Literary Magazine Club; another excellent idea. There are an awful lot of publications floating around the literary universe that we don’t know about, just by virtue of sheer numbers and their small, sneaky scale. This is a great way to see some of what’s out there and get some conversation going as well. The October pick is New York Tyrant #8, which features work by Michael Kimball, Andy Devine, Sam Lipsyte, Ken Sparling, Noy Holland, Breece D’J Pancake, Padgett Powell, Daryl Scroggins, Brandon Hobson, Ken Baumann, and Sean Kilpatrick. Future choices will alternate between print and online magazines, so there should be something for everyone.
Look at it this way: Not only are there some great options here, but you don’t have to clean your house or make a casserole. Plus nobody will notice if you bring cheap wine.
(Image is a poster for the Illinois WPA statewide library project by Shari Weisberg, c. 1936-40.)