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A bookish book – The Book Group Book by Ellen Slezak

I care about Kierkegaard

Several years ago I sat in a café with a friend. “The people I work with think Kierkegaard is a comic strip character,” she complained. “If I mention John Donne, they want to know what kind of rock music he plays.”

Sarah, fifteen years younger than I, was experiencing the post-academic depression that often envelops people when they discover that the intensity of the intellectual life they thrived on in college may have no counterpart in the world of work and marriage and children.

Her complaints resonated for me. I still read widely, but rarely discussed what I was reading beyond recommending a particular book. I spent years pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature, but even in graduate school, discussions were more about receiving opinions from professors than listening to the fresher, if somewhat tentative, interpretations of my fellow students. Academia, in large measure, seemed to be made up of people talking to themselves.

That is taken from one of the essays in this collection of uhm, not so brilliant essays. This is one of the better essays though, mostly because Kierkegaard is mentioned in the title. But really, the essay doesn’t have anything to do with the philosopher.

This book I borrowed from one of the moderators of our online-offline book club. After I was appointed as a moderator despite my out-of-topic comments, I know sooner or later that I should take this seriously. I want this anyway: a book club that meets in real life and hold book discussions about one book.

At first, I was averse to the idea of reading one book for the group. My idea was to have each attendee of the monthly book discussion to talk about the best book that he has read for the current month. It’s more of like recommending books to each other.

This has its pros and cons. The first advantage is that you still have the freedom to read anything you wish. The disadvantage, I think, is the lack of a heated discussion. Anyway, my idea did not materialize. It was decided that we assign one book for every month.

The essays in the book talk about the way the book clubs handle their own discussions. Most of them do the book of the month style. Very seldom did these groups do what I had first in mind. That style was, in one of the book clubs, an attempt to save the dying book club. Hmm. Interesting note for me.

The book clubs that sent in their essays in this collection mostly differ on two things: membership and book selection. For membership, there sex-based memberships, limited memberships, and come-and-go memberships. For book selection, there are female-only books, black-only books, and random books.

Selection process and rules also vary. I’d stop discussing these because I think you get the drift. I want to talk about the essays now, which are like rehashings of the previous essay. If you really want to know, you can just read three essays at random and chuck it out of your hands.

It’s not a great book if we only consider literary style. It’s something that book club enthusiasts would find amusing, but really, the lonesome reader will not find this very entertaining. It’s something that you can read while waiting for your haircut. Or while on a bus or train. Or with co-moderators, if you happen to be one in an online-offline book club like ours.

And oh, the second half of this book is composed of lists of books that the participating book groups have sent with their essays. We love book lists, but really, do we really have to go through each list?

A handful of book lists

A handful of book lists

I did. I can’t help it.

Date Started: February 26, 2012. 06:30 PM. Book #11 of 2012.



  1. “My idea was to have each attendee of the monthly book discussion to talk about the best book that he has read for the current month. It’s more of like recommending books to each other.”

    This isn’t actually such a bad idea.


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