The Jenkins' Ear Book Club is a group of far-flung friends who like to read and like to talk about what we read, but have a hard time doing that with each other because of distance. So we're turning to the Internet!
Our goal is to read and discuss one book a month. The leadership of the group (such as it is) will rotate amongst members from month to month. In practical terms, the way this will work out is that in one month, one person will select a book and lead the discussion; the next month, the job falls to another person; and so it goes down the membership list.
The monthly leaders should aim to choose a book that is generally stimulating...interesting...pleasurable...but beyond that, almost anything goes. We're not limiting ourselves to fiction or biography or any genre like that. It would be best, however, if the person selecting a book tries to avoid anything so specialized only an expert, or a "fan," can enjoy it. Also, try to choose books that are readily available around the country, as the club members as so dispersed. (Particular attention should be paid as to whether it's easy to get the book from a library. A brand new book by a popular author that's gotten rave reviews may have a waiting list that makes it worth while to wait until the hubbub has died down and it's easier to get.) Format--i.e., e-books vs. hardbacks--shouldn't be an issue, though there may be times when we should agree on a particular edition or translation; or, agree that it's not important that we all read the same edition or translation and in fact there could be something to gain from comparing notes about the differences we encounter. Either way, we should decide before we start reading.
If those are the responsibilities of the discussion leaders, the main responsibility of the other members is to keep an open mind and be willing to expand our horizons beyond what we might normally read. Though we should aim at consensus in selecting books, I don't know that any one person should have veto power. It is perfectly acceptable to sit out a month, because you really hate the book that's been decided upon, because you know you're going to be too busy to read it, or for whatever reason. If it turns out that everybody is going to be too busy to read the assigned book in a particular month--say, everybody's going to be on vacation in August, or Christmastime is too crazy--then we can suspend things or essentially skip a month, but we shouldn't make assumptions and we should discuss this before any final decision is made.
So...how do we do this? I've taken a few classes lately that have on-line components. What seems to work best is when we have a date-certain deadline to submit thoughts on the reading, answer problems, etc., followed by another pre-established deadline a few days later for making replies to each other. Then, if we want to, discussions can keep going from there. I think that could be a pretty good model for us, with the hopes that discussions will indeed keep going. The thing is, though, when it's for a class, and you're required to comment and your grade is influenced by how many people you reply to, the discussion can be kind of forced. We should try to avoid that. We should also feel free to disagree with the consensus of opinion, to say, "This book really sucked!" and that kind of thing, but to flesh out our opinions beyond that--say WHY is sucked, etc. (We should probably flesh out our positive opinions, as well, if we want to get a real discussion going. A discussion that's made up of nothing more than, "I really liked this book!" isn't going to go anywhere.) I like the idea of the monthly leader, who's the one who selected the book, maybe kicking things off with a question or two for the rest of the members.
(I foresee how we actually do the discussing being subject to change as we work out the kinks, and it may vary from month to month, depending on the book, because some may lend themselves to one kind of conversation and another may lead to a different form of conversation.)
As of right now, we're what Facebook calls a "closed" group. That means, depending on your individual privacy settings, anybody can read what you post, but only members can reply or make their own posts. The other options are to throw it open to everybody, or make it a "private" group that only we can see. If people feel strongly about it, I can change the settings. Personally, I'd rather not have random strangers leaving drive-by comments, but I don't think we need to go so far as to hide our existence. Because....
New members! Any group like this has to do a balancing act between being too insular and too unwieldy. I'm open to new members, but I think maybe we should limit them to people we actually know. And I don't mean we all know every potential new member, only that somebody who's already a member can vouch for them from personal experience. We may want to have a cut-off--no more than (pulling a number out of my hat here) 30 members--but I think we should cross that bridge when we get to it and not worry too much about it now.
And for a few random thoughts:
1. I like the idea of the different rounds (and by a "round" I mean everybody doing their turn as leader before we start down the list again) having different themes, keeping the themes vague enough that they can have different interpretations. For instance, I'm thinking of "Old Favorites" as the theme for this first round; an "old favorite" could be a book you've already read and enjoyed, a new book you haven't read by an author you do like, a subject you're particularly interested in...or whatever. That may be a little to precious, though, and may not work out. Seems worth a shot, though.
2. I think there ought to be a way we can post comments that aren't actually related to the monthly
book. If this were a different type of social medium, we could have sub-chat-rooms, like one specific to non-book discussion, or another where we can just slap something up about a book we've read lately, or paste a link to a review of something that sounds interesting. I don't see how we can do that on FB, though.
2.a. Which means we may want to think about getting away from Facebook and creating a blog or use bulletin board/forum software or something, but let's get started with Facebook and see how it works out first.
3. If you as leader want to, feel free to put throw out two titles for members to vote on, or something like that, to make sure there's a consensus in favor of a book. . On the other hand, feel free to essentially say, "By golly, I've been wanting to talk about this book for a long time, so I'm going to tuse this opportunity to throw it out there!" The advantage of rotating discussion leadership, as I see it, is that that way, each of us has the chance to ensure that at least once, we get to talk about a book we really want to talk about!
4. The group's name: It seems that to create a group Facebook page, you have to have a name for your group. I was grabbing at straws and thought maybe I'd use some event that happened, historically, on the day I created the group. Wikipedia told me that the day I created the group page was the anniversary of an important battle in the War of Jenkins' Ear. The whaaaaa? It seems there really was a war, between England and Spain, that started out when members of the Spanish coast guard boarded and English ship (I think piracy was involved) and in the melee that followed, one Captain Jenkins and his ear were parted. I was punchy and goofing around when I picked that, but now I'm getting rather fond of the name. And, it seems, though the war gets short shrift in discussions of European history, it was pretty important to a couple of the North American colonies, notably Georgia and Florida. If somebody has a better idea, though, I'm all....ears.
(For more on the war and Captain Jenkins: