Bookish Discussions

Hosting a Book Group When the Book Was Just Ok.

We all know that when a book is dishy, has twists, unlikable characters, and controversial elements, they are easy to talk about. Some of the best books to discuss at book groups are not always liked by everyone, which makes for interesting conversations.

But what if the book you are reading is not “loved” by the hostess? What then?

Mister Owita

I just finished reading Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall and I was so excited to read this book when our library book group list came out in July 2015. A librarian chose the books and made the list for ten months. I host a small group at the branch and when the list came out I was excited for several reasons: a.) I read most of them already b.) there were a few on my TBR list that I was excited to finally read and c.) the list was better than the previous year (IMO).

There have been many books I’ve read for book groups (present and past) that have left me feeling “meh”. But for the past two years, I’ve been the host each and every time, which makes the discussion (of a not-so-great-book) a bit more nerve-wracking.

In my experience of book groups, we would all pick books that we want to discuss and share with others. Readers make a list of books and that becomes the reading for the year. Locations change each month and the host of that month gets to chose the book. It gives everyone a chance to have a month off of “required” reading since it’s a book they’ve read before. They get to steer the conversation or start it off and the discussion takes on its’ own direction. In this particular group, my tone sets the stage for discussion and I don’t want to bias-I have a terrible poker face.

It’s not that this book was terrible. It was a fine memoir. Seeing praise like “profoundly moving”, “a perfect spring awakening”, “a must read” and the lovely synopsis made me eager to read it. But something about it didn’t gel with me. I’m not a heartless cynic, appreciated the relationship between the writer and gardener Mr. Owita and all that they learned from one another. So why am I nervous about the discussion this evening? Right now I can only focus on what I didn’t like:

  • The redundancy in the writing
  • Focus on Mrs. Wall and not enough depth into Mr. Owita
  • Reminding the reader time and again  that she is not a racist
  • The build up of “secrets” stated on page 1 and the reveal(s) were not that revealing
  • Metaphors, metaphors galore

In all fairness the ending (final third) was much better but I couldn’t even appreciate it because the beginning felt tedious. It would have ended up on my DNF list if it wasn’t a book group book that I have to talk about. I’m curious to hear what other readers thought tonight and will update this post. Maybe I missed something.

Ever hosted a book group where you didn’t love the book?

How did you steer the conversation aside from the given questions by the publisher?





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