I went to a book group the other day. We read 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. I was the only person in the group (and from the reaction I got, possibly the world) who hadn't read it before. Having read it I am now certain that racism is a bad thing.
I found that a funny joke.
The rest of the book group didn't. I'm not sure if I can go back again.
What I enjoy and find amusing about book groups and to an extent English lessons at school is the level of detail you have to go in to. The majority of the time you just read a book and think either 'I liked that' or 'I didn't like that'. Throw a book group or an English teacher in there and it turns in to a full on exploration in to the author's psyche. It's the literary equivalent of a 14 year old girl explaining a crush to her best friend.
"Then he touched my hand; which I think means he wants to marry me." "Then he asked if I wanted a water. What do you think that means?"
In most cases the answer to these questions is "no" and "nothing".
I know that books have sub text. I know that detail makes the book. I also know that occasionally it just is what it is.
As you sit there picking a book to pieces someone will inevitably ask 'Do you think that the setting is important to the book." And everyone will turn to the text and go 'Oh yes, definitely - the moors reflect his character' or 'the sterile environment shows that he is separated from the real world' and you nod along but there's a bit of you that thinks 'Yeah, maybe or maybe that's just where it's set.'
I had two years with an English teacher reading Jane Eyre (a book I now loathe by the way) and banging on about the 'symmetry of nature'. You couldn't read a paragraph without her reflecting on how the constant driving rain reflected Jane's despair or Mr Rochester's sorrow. We all dutifully wrote this down and regurgitated it in our exams but there was always a bit of me that thought 'maybe it's always raining because it's Yorkshire. It rains a lot there.'
I suppose the questions are meant to make you think more deeply about the text. To make you examine the motives of the characters and discover meaning. I certainly found the book club enjoyable and I do quite like the fact that there are no wrong answers. If you can make an argument for it then no one can prove you wrong. Unless the author is sat there then you can claim what you want. I would just love it if the author was sat there and occasionally could chip in and say 'Where did you get that from?'
Oh and as a blatant plug, my book is out now. Feel free to discuss it in book groups. I can tell you now it's set in London as I know the city and Tess gets the bus everywhere as she doesn't have a car, not because it symbolises her being carried through life on pre-determined routes. Although now I think about it that's rather good. Scrap my previous explanation, that's exactly why she gets the bus everywhere.