An excellent queer book section at Elliott Bay Books on Capitol Hill. Photo by R. Barron.

Book Groups for People Who Actually Want to Read the Books

Discover great new reading and connect in person, with three book clubs built around shared interests — in this case, arts, theatre, and queer studies.

 

SCENE

A community event at a branch location of an independent bookstore. All chairs are filled with eager ears, and many other people standing, too. Attendees have declined the invitation to split into two groups, where everyone can sit and conduct an actual conversation.

This past-capacity group is gathered in anticipation of sharing their thoughts on this, the first book they’ve all read together, in a new reading series set on processing the 2016 election. To kick off the discussion, a White man, age 60, seated in the front row, raises his hand.

OLD WHITE MAN: “I didn’t read the book, but. . .”

END SCENE


And so it begins. A conversation of entitled space-taker-upper people about their thoughts on a book none of them read.

This shit is so Seattle.

That actually happened; and though I had read the book and was interested in talking about it, I quickly left. And it’s the reason I avoid supposed “book clubs” and similar feedback-based events around Seattle — because everyone loudly has an opinion, or maybe several all at once, but not very many of them are responsive to what was asked. (I avoid theatre talkbacks too, for the similar reasons — you can read my rant on that here.)

A winning tote bag at Elliott Bay Books on Capitol Hill. Photo by R. Barron.

Specific to literature, for all it is an “educated” town, Seattle often seems more in love with the idea of reading than with the actual work of it.

I am not immune to this. I have approximately 4 bazillion books, piled and shelved in states of order (or disorder) that would make mess-fan Marie Kondo overcome with glee. I want to read them all. And in the meantime, while I don’t have time to read them, I might buy just a few more to add over to that shelf there, because I’ll certainly read them eventually. . . right?

The purpose of me seeking out—and going to—bookclubs, though, is to encourage me to overcome these tendencies. To actually read. And then to take that a step further, by discussing the mental fruits of my labor with others who have done the work, to trade ideas, to think more deeply about what I’ve read because someone else who read the work saw something I missed, or whose knowledge base or life experience illuminated the text for them differently. Or hell, maybe we saw and thought exactly the same things—but sometimes it’s nice to bond over taking in the same knowledge. To cogitate over art and ideas. To move beyond the screens and the small talk, and just connect.

The people who show up at these Seattle book clubs, having done none of the work but hogging all of the stage, rob others of those experiences and connections. They’ve decided that their surface-level interest in a book they’ll never read entitles them to negate the efforts of those who have. They want to engage, but in an unsatisfying format that requires the readers to provide the summary and facts, and they interlopers providing the hot air and opinions. It’s an entitlement that sucks the air out of the place —and doesn’t encourage me to read or to connect, which was the whole point.

Sometimes it’s nice to bond over taking in the same knowledge. To cogitate over art and ideas. To move beyond the screens and the small talk, and just connect.

If you’ve ever felt any shades of that rant, there’s good news: in this arts-and-literary town, there are bound to be some options. If you’d like to dive in and engage with the reading (by actually doing the reading first), below are three book clubs to give a try. The below groups are on specific topics and may not interest everyone — but they’re up my alley. And if you, too, want to feel inspired and discuss, and decide to start your own — feel free to email and tell us about it.

 

Bunty the staff Staffy assists with homework for book club. Photo by Chase D. Anderson.

 

Book Clubs Worth Checking Out

Arts Leadership Book Club
Seattle University MFA – Arts Leadership Program 

First Hill — 1401 E Jefferson St

View calendar and info here
RSVP required: email Rachel Betron

This is a book club for socially and artistically engaged community members who miss being in school (and even some who are still in school). Meeting approximately monthly, the book club involves reading arts-centered works that engage themes of race, queerness, identity, and social change; and participating in workshops springing from the readings.

Upcoming Readings:
Disidentifications: Queers of Color & the Performance of Politics by José Esteban Muñoz (April 29)
How Racism Takes Place by George Lipsitz (May 20)

 

Past Readings:
The (M)OTHERS by Nikki Yeboah
Cultural Struggles by Dwight Conquergood
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

 

Seattle Arts Leadership Team Book Club
Seattle Office of Arts & Culture  

Various locations

View March meeting info here
RSVP requested; register on Eventbrite at above link

This occasionally-meeting club engages themes around social change, race, and artistry.

Upcoming Readings:
Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives interviews by Nia King (March 18)

Past Readings: 
Undocumented: The Architecture of Person Detention by tings chak
The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

 

LGBTQ Book Club
Rainbow Center of Tacoma 

Tacoma — 2215 Pacific Ave.

View calendar and info here

The monthly club meets on Saturday mornings and discusses novels, memoirs, history, and more.

Upcoming Readings:
Logical Family by Armistead Maupin (April 13)
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (May 11)
Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht (June 8)

Past Readings:
White Houses by Amy Bloom
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley