As part of my general effort to get out more, I joined a book club.
Book selection is pretty democratic. From what I've heard, this is a necessary part of a successful book club. If one person chooses all the books, then there is certain to be grumbling by people who routinely do not enjoy the selections. In our group, we hold periodic nomination evenings, where everyone brings a book, talks it up, and then the gathered group votes on eight favorites. Then a poll is posted online for the whole group to pick what we'll read for the next four months. I've never been to a nomination meeting, since I've only been in the club for four months. I'm a little shy about what book I would bring and also about having to give a little report to the group about why they should want to read it, too.
The selections have been hit-and-miss for me. It was maybe lucky that I really enjoyed the book we read for the first month I joined, because I wasn't impressed with the two after. It's funny how the reactions to each book are different. When I go in feeling pumped about a book, I find that a lot of the other women couldn't even get through it. And then when I go in ready to rip the book up, there are people there who give it the highest ratings. And that is why you need a democratic nomination process.
Even when the book doesn't do much for me, the discussions are routinely great. The one thing we've got in common is being women who like to read and then talk about it. There are so many backgrounds and a very wide age range. We all bring our own perspectives, without even meaning to. By doing that, we expose the others to the myriad of ways to approach life. Sometimes it's amazing to me that we actually read the same book, because I came away from it feeling completely differently.
The variety of perspectives is great, but it wouldn't work if the group didn't also have a very open and accepting atmosphere. You can tell that there is disagreement, even if no one really says anything, but it's all taken in stride. And people do disagree, but they do it in a just-my-two-cents kind of way.
Aside from meeting new people and being exposed to ideas that I might not come across otherwise, the book club is giving me practice in discussion. I am rotten at it. I tend to just sit by, maybe crack a joke or two, but I never join in to say anything of substance. I get very anxious and upset, so much that I can't speak without my voice shaking. It's a highly physical reaction, like an allergy. I hate it, and I am tired of it. So my first step in getting better is participating in discussions in these open and welcoming environments. Then, eventually I'll be ready for more aggressive ones. I don't seek those out, but I would really like to not freak out when they happen. I would like to be able to say something if I feel compelled to give an opinion. I do not want to be trapped by my own anxiety.
It's goofy, I know. I want to get over my discussion anxiety so I joined a ladies' book club. But I think it's working. We are all coming to the table with the same amount of knowledge, because we read the same exact book. And I know that the women will be nice about disagreeing. I can be nice about disagreeing with them, even though sometimes they say some crazy crap. That gives me permission to say my own crazy crap. Each time I go, I feel more confident about speaking. Pretty soon, I'm going to be obnoxious! I can't wait.