Sunday, December 9, 2012

[TSS] On the Soapbox: Being a Book Snob


I attended my first real book club meeting this past week.  We discussed Gone Girl, though we didn't really discuss Gone Girl much at all.  That was fine with me.  I have all of you to discuss books with and I don't really need a book club to fill that void.  It was fun to sit and drink wine and chat about life and gossip about work.

When I voiced my thoughts on Gone Girl, I said that I thought both the husband and the wife were insane and defended my reasons for thinking the guy was just as horrible as the woman.  People seemed to think I was really "anti" the guy(This is true.  I was.  I was "anti" both main characters in this book.)  I said that I don't read books like Gone Girl very often, and then later in conversation said that I hadn't liked the book The Pillars of the Earth, which another girl loved.  And then somehow it was decided that I was a book snob.

Then it came time to pick next month's book.  I didn't put forward any suggestions, mostly because it was only my second book club meeting and because I was sensitive to being considered a snob.  I didn't want to come up with a book suggestion that was completely out of the range of scope.  As the conversation continued, I was relieved that I hadn't made any suggestions because I came to realize that almost any book I would have suggested would probably have fallen out of scope. 

Someone came up with two suggestions, both non-fiction.  Both received a lukewarm reception because many girls just "don't really like non-fiction.  Someone else said that she'd be up to read a classic.  And that was shot down because people "don't want to read a difficult book."  And then there were a few more suggestions, but nothing really was decided.

And this is what bothers me so much.  Yes, I'm a book snob.  I will most definitely judge you if you tell me that your favorite book is Twilight or that you only read young adult dystopian fiction or that you really like to read light chick lit and nothing else.  I'm sorry, that's just the way I am.  I will also judge you if you tell me your favorite restaurant is Chipotle.  There are some things that matter to me a lot, and food and books are two of them.  You have your stuff, too, I'm sure.  You can judge me for my horrible taste in music and the amount of time it takes me to see the movies everyone else has already seen and my inability to finish a beer while it's still cold.

Snobbishness exists in many forms.  But you know what?  I don't think I was the only book snob in that room.  If you  make such blanket statements as "I don't like non-fiction" or "I don't want to read anything too difficult" or "That book sounds a little too deep for me," then you are a book snob, too.  At least I was open enough to try reading something out of my comfort zone.  No, I generally don't read thrillers, but I did read the thriller you chose for book club.  If you completely rule out all non-fiction (which is as arbitrary as ruling out all books that have red covers),




and then also rule out all classics (which is as arbitrary as ruling out all books that have blue covers), then I am not sure what makes me a snob and you normal.  It sounds to me as though you have your own preconceptions that you aren't willing to challenge.

I still don't know what our next book club pick will be.  I am pretty sure, though, that I'll attend more for the wine and gossip than for the book discussion.  And confine all of my passionate reactions to books for all of you :-)

66 comments:

  1. Hmm, it's like treading on eggshells, isn't it? I can't wait to see what you will choose for your book group as I think you have impeccable book taste.^^

    I keep trying not to judge people regarding the books they read but I'm afraid I've realised that I just can't. I read all sorts too and some books others may shy away from but I'm not particularly bothered about what others think of my taste - it's always been slightly off-side.

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    1. Yes, God forbid I even bring up a fantasy novel there! :-)

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  2. This post reminded me why I'm glad not to be in a regular book club anymore.

    I've been accused of being a snob too, and I suppose I am if having preferences and not liking a lot of things that are popular counts as snobbishness. But the same people who consider me snobby write off a lot of things I like, sometimes really popular things. Yet they don't see that as snobbery. It's a puzzle.

    The thing is, though, I really don't judge people for liking different things from me, but I think people assume that I do. If after a while it becomes clear we don't like any of the same things then we won't have much to build a friendship on. But acknowledging that isn't being a snob, I don't think. It's just recognizing that we can't be great friends with everyone.

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    1. That's a really good point, Teresa. Thanks for commenting :-)

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  3. Jeez. I think you should find another group. I belonged to a book group that was willing to take on all kinds of books including classics. Not everybody made it through everything --like Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, but at least they tried. They also spent plenty of time gossiping and eating, but all were serious readers. What I liked best was that I read books in that group that I would never have chosen myself -- and ended up finding most at least interesting.
    We didn't read thrillers as far as I can remember. I love thrillers, but I'm not sure one needs a book group to discuss most of them.
    My current problem is I have attended an open to all book group that has too many people. I find I have little tolerance listening to inane comments. I guess that's the same thing as being a book snob, but I just haven't continued to attend.
    As for Gone Girl, I liked it while I was reading it, and did think Flynn made Amy out as creepier than her husband, but he was creepy too. Mostly I think it was an exercise in twists and turns,.

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    1. Well, it's a work book club, so I don't know if I can really leave it, but I probably won't invest much in it ;-)

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  4. So true!!! (The reverse book snob argument.)

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  5. LOl - I don't think the problem is that you're a book snob, but that you're in a group that - well, rather than cast aspersions and be thought of as a book snob or an intellectual snob or a "liberal" (that one is the latest I get for thinking education is valuable), well, yes, I agree that maybe you should find another group! LOLOL

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    1. You horrible elitist educated person!

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  6. So what kind of music do YOU like? ;)

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    1. Well... I have a hard time getting that One Direction song out of my head ;-)

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  7. It is okay. Maybe start out slow and suggest something short and contemporary and wonderful.

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  8. Book clubs are funny things. In both of mine (which both died a sad death this fall) we read really good books, but often spent most of the meeting having a "woman's group" meeting. For me that was nice since, like you, I have a book blog where I can talk about books.

    I am not a book snob, but it does drive me crazy when people rule out an entire genre without even being willing to try.

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    1. I KNOW. And non-fiction and classics aren't even "genres."

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  9. It's interesting that you would consider those other participants book snobs because I associate a certain level of pretension with snobbery and absolutely NO pretension with reading Twilight or claiming, "Hey I don't read non fiction or hard books". I would judge THOSE people but in a different way...like, comfortable or intimidated easily. Mainly because they joined a book club, and my assumption is, you joined the club to be exposed to others viewpoints and books.

    I went through this lit snobbery in undergrad because I was studying literature and I felt compelled to. Nowadays I tend to read all over the place, although it appears these past couple of months have been limited to YA fantasy/paranormal/science fiction.

    I'm not sure where my opinion with book snobbery actually falls on the spectrum. Part of me thinks that there needs to be snobs out there; it's why we can enjoy debate and discussion. Another part of me understands the individual that uses books merely as entertainment and escapism. I think there's a purpose for both types in this world, and I suppose I happily fall in the middle.

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    1. Well, the book club is actually just a big group of women from work that get together, but most people don't even read the book so I think the term book club is pretty loose.

      I don't really care if people read and enjoy Twilight as long as they don't turn around and do the same judging of me for NOT reading Twilight. It's kind of a back-handed compliment.

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  10. I agree with you. I try not to be a snob but there are just some books that I look down on. Although if people are not willing to try a genre I look down on that too.

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    1. Yes, people are open to new types of food, so why not new types of book?

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  11. Ha, not everyone is open to new types of food either. "Book snob" is such a loaded term, particularly for those of us who have read widely of genres not normally considered "fine literature." I don't like the term, it is so derogatory, when perhaps someone who has discriminating taste should be complimented on that. (That said, one can really only have truly discriminating tastes if one has sampled widely enough, I think.)

    I do think it's a shame your group isn't open to trying non-fic or classics... good non-fic is just as gripping as a good thriller. I can understand the reticence about classics, though; I used to share it. Most of us have experienced "classics" through high school and that is not always the best forum for realizing we can love old books.

    I have kind of an opposite group with the book club I run at the library; they're open to everything and anything. This month we're reading a western, which is a totally new experience for me. Except they won't try romance novels. They refuse to even attempt something that has even a whiff of romance novel about it. I am seriously considering pulling out Georgette Heyer and calling it "historical fiction" and seeing what they think of that...

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    1. Maybe I should join a library book club instead of a work one - but I don't think I can drop the work one as it's a "networking opportunity."

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  12. I can sometime be a slight book snob, although I don't consider myself a wholly book snob because there are a lot of "harder" books that I stay away from. But then I remember there were times when I only read chick-lit (in college) and try to just recognize that others are just into different kinds of reading for various reasons or are in different places in their lives. But I'll admit I can't help but feeling so much more well read than a lot of people around me who read but only read books like Twilight, lol.

    As for Gone Girl, yes the guy had his issues too!!

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    1. Yes, I understand that people read different things - I get it. People do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. But the level of defensiveness that raises up is ridiculous. I mean, yes, I think Twilight is silly, but I also can't run 3 miles in like, 25 minutes. So if you spend more of your time training for a marathon and therefore want something light and fluffy to read, then go ahead and do it - but don't act as though you're too good for other types of books.

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  13. I completely and open admit that I am a book snob. I read a lot of genres and am not afraid to read outside of my comfort zone. But there are some books and genres that I refuse to read because to me a great deal of the books are crap.

    I was lucky in the fact that I started my own book club and sort of dictated the overall "mood" of the club. Those that didn't like the books we were reading didn't come back. Those that stayed became my core members.

    I think that they are in it for socialization more than anything else. Which is great because that is what my book club ends up doing after we read the book.

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    1. Yes, there SHOULD be some social aspects involved!

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  14. You should have told them that. ;) I've never been a part of a book club, but I can definitely see how it could be more about the drinking and gossip than discussing books.

    I don't consider myself a book snob at all, but I am definitely a music snob and an art snob. And possibly a cheese snob and drink snob. :)

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    1. Haha, you would TOTALLY judge my drinking and music habits, then!

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  15. That is a tough situation. Book clubs can be hard if the readers have different taste, but it seems like everyone should be open minded enough to try books that others suggest. Isn't that the point? I consider myself a recovering book snob, since I am trying to judge other readers less :)

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    1. Yes, I think I have gotten less judgmental as my own reading broadens, but I still can't see the appeal of some books.

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  16. The weird thing is that it doesn't sound like you were called a snob for only reading classics or non-fic or "literature" or whatever (which you don't -- you're a rather well-rounded reader), rather you were called a snob for reading books that are just arbitrarily designated by these gals as "hard" or "boring". That would totally stick in my craw. Because what are you supposed to do instead, right? You've basically been damned for actually reading, well, books. And $20 says that the ones that don't read non-fiction sit down with a People magazine every week. They do read non-fiction, just not about anything important. :)

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    1. This is a really good point! Apparently, the books I read and enjoy are totally dry and uninteresting to others. That could explain a lot... ;-)

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  17. I'm trying to find a book group that works for me at the moment. So far I have tried two and neither was right for me despite really liking the people at both. The books at the book group really matter for me. I read a lot, I am willing to read just about any genre/era/author but I want to get something from the opportunity for discussion. I love wine and jabber but I really don't enjoy reading three or four bad books back-to-back as a trade off!

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    1. This is my trouble with book clubs, too - I don't like to commit to a book that I previously had no knowledge of or interest in and giving up the books I *do* want to read.

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  18. From what you've described from the meeting I wouldn't say you could come across as a book snob. Unless being a book snob means having an opinion. At the risk of sounding bad, this doesn't sound the best book club for you, if you don't feel your suggestions will be accepted and so forth. Especially given what you've reported about non-fiction and classics.

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    1. Yes, I should probably stop referring to it as a book club and start referring to it as a wine and gossip one.

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  19. I guess that makes me a book snob too! It definitely sounds like you're the victim of reverse snobbery. I always thought the point of a book group was to try something different. I think people who simply refuse to try a classic or nonfiction are really missing out -- there are so many of both that are real page-turners. Especially non-fiction -- I was just thinking the other day how great it would be to have an all-nonfiction book group.

    I just looked back at my Goodreads list of books for 2012 -- so far this year I've read almost exactly 33% classics and 20% nonfiction. I think I'd love to be in a book group with you!

    And I agree about the husband in Gone Girl. They were both pretty awful people, but she was worse. I do applaud the author for her great plotting skills, and I'll probably end up choosing it for a book group if the library waiting list ever gets short enough -- I can't possibly reserve enough books if there are too many holds. If nothing else, there's plenty to discuss in that book.

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    1. Ooh, I am excited to look back over what I've read this year - I think it will be one of my most diverse reading years. And I think we'd be great in a book club together, too! Maybe we can do it virtually...

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    1. I realize you've removed this comment, but I don't really mind you calling me a snob as I called myself that above. I honestly don't think there's anyone out there who isn't a snob about SOMETHING or other. If you're not, though, then you're a much nicer person than me. I've never claimed to not be judgmental.

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  21. Are you sure that's the right bookclub for you? I love mine because our tastes are very eclectic and the girls don't mind going outside their comfort zone either way: the more "snobish" reading "The DaVinci Code" the ones looking for something "easier" trying "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". It's so much fun like this.

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    1. Yes, that sounds pretty ideal! I want that one :-)

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  22. I am a book snob, and I readily admit it. I did like Pillars of the Earth, mostly because I like historical fiction, but Twilight? Never. I also liked Gone Girl, and thought that both of the characters were insane. Does that make me a book snob? Well, then, so be it. I think Flynn writes characters who we are supposed to hate, and then gets us to care about them anyway. It's her gift. None of her books have had likable characters; not one. It's ok to be a book snob. I am glad people are reading, but seriously, I do judge you for what you read. I just do. And I am that way about food too. You can just come over here and sit by me. We will be snobs together!

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    1. I would LOVE to sit by you and be snobs together but I would NEVER consider you snobby by any stretch, Heather!

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  23. I'm a book snob too. I don't see the point of reading if you're not willing to challenge yourself a little, right? And like you say, book snobs come in all shapes and sizes and preferences. I hear you! :-)

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  24. one more thing. it's sad that someone nixed a classic because she didn't want to read a book that's "difficult." some classics, like austen and dickens, are a lot more accessible than people think!

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    1. I agree - sometimes I think books that are marked as classics are at a disadvantage because people assume they are really hard!

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  25. Taking or leaving my thoughts on book snobbishness, let me say that I think a book club meeting where people don't have very different feelings about the book is boring. Someone has to like it (at least a little) and someone has to hate it (at least a little) to get a good discussion. Actually, everyone hating it can be pretty enlightening. But everyone loving it is the most boring meeting!

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    1. Yes, that's a good point. Though I guess it doesn't matter so much if the book isn't the main discussion point :-)

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  26. Great post! I am a book snob too, and proud of it. My snobbishness exists towards people that only read one genre - there's a whole world of books out there!

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    1. I know! And they deserve to be read!

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  27. In our book group, each person has an opportunity to pick a book for their particular month and the others just sort of have to go with the choice. But usually the books are pretty decent. I guess in ways it's opened my mind to books I wouldn't have necessarily chosen to read myself. So I'm trying to keep open-minded about what other people pick because on some occasions I've been pleasantly surprised that I actually liked it. At first I was totally a book snob -- I only wanted to read types of books that I wanted to read but that's not exactly what you get in some book clubs. good luck with it. http://www.thecuecard.com/

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    1. No, and as my sister pointed out, the POINT of book clubs is to diversify your reading. So I'm fine with that, as long as people are open to it!

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  28. Ha! I love this post. It's all an issue of perspective, for sure. Luckily, I am in a pretty open-minded book club. They'll choose anything -- though they may not like it once they've read it. It's always a crap shoot.

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  29. I try so hard NOT to be a book snob, but I'm afraid its impossible. I don't really like horror, or crime novels with serial killers that torture people, or SF dystopia, or certain types of so-called 'literary' novels ... that said, I do read very widely, and I try to read books outside my preferred genres at last once a year :)

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    1. Yes, I dislike certain types of books, too, but I would read one for the sake of the discussion and at least give it a try - I don't think I'd just say no because I dislike the genre.

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  30. Everybody has their snobbish areas, that is for sure. I know I have some book snobbish tendencies. Now I wouldn't judge someone out of hand if they said their favorite book was Twilight because we all have our favorites. Books touch us at different times in our lives for different reasons and often my favorites are not the "best" books I've read and certainly not the ones that are the best examples of the art of novel writing. But that shouldn't matter when it comes to favorites. Now if someone said that Twilight was the "best" book ever written, then I would just sniff disdainfully and walk away. Something that silly doesn't even deserve the wasted breath to argue.

    But I also don't believe a person has to read a wide variety of works to be considered a true reader, but that is because I read for pleasure and entertainment. When I venture out of my comfort zone I'm honestly doing that for pleasure too, not to challenge myself. That's just me being honest. I'm a snob in that sense, lol!

    If someone wants to just read one genre, where is the harm in that? I read several genres but often lament that my favorite two, science fiction and fantasy, pace on rapidly ahead of me and I cannot keep up with all the latest books while also dipping into the classics and learning more about the history of the genre.

    Some snobbishness is certainly okay, and it is probably all okay when we don't hurt anyone else with it. But I can't agree with the idea that one must venture outside what they like reading to be a valid reader or that those who do are in any way "better" readers than others. I think it all depends on why one reads.

    Sorry you had a bum experience at the book club. Everyone's opinions should be considered at these kind of things but we all know, even from our experiences online, that this is not often the case. If you don't agree with the consensus it is easy to be ostracized and put down. It is ridiculous but that is the way some people are.

    Sorry, this is a lot of babbling! Hope I made some degree of sense.

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    1. I don't think there's any harm in reading just one genre - I admit I find that short-sighted, but then I read only histfict and fantasy for a really long time before getting out of my comfort zone, so I know how hard it can be to expand when you are so committed to a certain type of book.

      It's more the idea of "I don't read that kind of book so let's choose one more in my comfort zone" that doesn't fly with me. I don't see why I am considered a book snob because I admitted I don't often read thrillers, but someone else is NOT a book snob because she doesn't ever read non-fiction.

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  31. I could have written that fifth paragraph myself!

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  32. I think the idea of other people choosing whether or not one is a book snob is wrong on the face of it anyway. There are too many factors that we don't know about people, and that they don't know about me, to make that judgment...unless of course I am feeding them reasons to do so (which I probably do sometimes). And I agree, when it comes to joining a book club, unless it is genre specific, like the classic science fiction book club I belong to, the whole point should be that any recommendation should be given proper consideration and everyone should be willing to try a variety and not just be looking out for their own wants and needs. Heck that is part of what being a group is all about.

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    1. I totally agree Carl. Sometimes is just one individual that doesn't like anything and before you notice all the decisions are made to comply with this individual preferences. What is the point of it being a group then?

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  33. I only recently joined a "book club" (The Sword and Laser) and one of the reasons why I joined was to expand my reading horizons, to go out of my comfort zone. I have to say, I am also happy that there are not real meetings, because I've rolled my eyes so many times to certain comments that I'm sure I would've been marked as a snob too. That said, I don't think is a snob thing to know what you like and express it. Is sad when people choose to stay inside a bubble, with books, food or anything...Very nice post :)

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  34. I was just about to point out that one person pronouncing that they don't like non-fiction also makes them a book snob! Good gracious, my reading preferences have been changing so much lately that I don't even know what I could call myself, but I'm pretty sure that having a preference only means that. I would stick with the wine and gossip, too. Depending on the type of wine served, of course :) Oops, wine snob here!

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    1. Part of it may be a maturity thing too. At my age I hesitate to say that I don't like things in broad statements because there is always an exception to the rule. I could easily say I don't like the "romance" genre and yet I both like romance in other genres and I've read books from the romance section of the bookstore (most recently Colleen Gleason's early vampire series) and enjoyed them very much. I may have genres that I actively stay away from and are not my 'go to' places for reading but to say I don't like a genre in general seems to me to be an immature statement rather than a truism.

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  35. Book clubs seem very difficult to sustain to me. That said, my work book club lasted a year before taking a break (we're on a break now but are reconvening in January), and we used the following system: Whoever's turn it was to pick got to choose three books, and everyone would do a blind vote, and whichever book got the most votes was the book for next book club. And then whoever disliked that book the most got to choose the next set of books. It was very checks-and-balances-y, and nobody was ever solely responsible for a crappy book.

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  36. Lol! I think I'd enjoy being in a book club with you. By the way, I didn't enjoy Pillars of the Earth either. :)

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  37. Oh, I judge your book group. I judge.

    I'm sure they'll get over it.

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