I recently hosted a virtual book club, which went pretty well considering it was for a work event, we weren’t drinking or imbibing other tongue-loosening victuals, and it was the first such event we had done. Being part of a book club is a concept that has always intrigued me, but being a shy person who desperately doesn’t want to accidentally offend anyone, not an activity in which I had previously partaken. Now that I’ve done it, I would recommend, especially if it’s something you can do with friends in a casual setting. And since I’ve already done the research on how to host one, starting from scratch and being slightly type A, today I’m going to share how you can (& possibly should?) host a book club.
To foster discussion, it helps to have a book with material for discussion (you could also pick a book that really sucks to pick apart, if that suits you and other club member’s fancy). My starting point was genre (adult contemporary) translated books. A Google and Goodreads search later, I had 5 potential books that I personally thought sounded interested, and then those interested in joining the Book Club voted. We ended up reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (a very good novel that I highly recommend, whether for a Book Club or personal reading pleasure).
I feel like this one’s pretty obvious.
In general, I recommend over-preparing rather than vice versa. Also, people get busy, and so the chances that someone won’t actually be able to finish or someone might have forgotten some details doesn’t preclude them from attending and participating. I would not put a lot of time into this summary, and would present it with the disclaimer that everyone brings his/her/their own perspective to every reading, so it is biased. Here is the summary I put together for Convenience Store Woman:
Narrator/protagonist: Keiko Furukura
- Keiko has always been different from those around her.
- Dead bird (food vs. funeral)
- Break-up fight… with a spade
- When Keiko started working at the convenience store, as a college student, it was a relief to her family and to herself.
- There was a very specific guide on what actions to perform in pretty much all instances, from the greeting to give a customer when they walk in the door to the farewell message to customers when they leave.
- The novella is set when Keiko is still working at the convenience store as a middle-aged woman, and the relief initially felt by those she knew when she began working part-time at the store has metamorphosed into concern that she is still working at a convenience store.
- As Keiko comes to realize that, in spite of her careful observations of and attempts to mimic the people around her, she still does not fit in, she begins to wonder how she should “fix” her life.
- She agrees to let former co-worker Shiraha, a man who took a job at the convenience store with the sole intent to find a wife, stay with her, when he is drunk and has nowhere to go. He convinces her that society will accept her if he is living with her in her apartment.
- It seems to work.
- As Keiko’s family, friends, and workplace acquaintances accept her now that they think she is “normal,” Keiko begins to question her life, and her own judgment.
- Shiraha insists that the next step, to continue being normal, is that Keiko quit her job at the convenience store and get a job that pays more money.
- Keiko and Shiraha have arrived too early to the building where Keiko has an interview, and Shiraha needs to pop into the convenience store to use the restroom. Keiko follows him, and through encountering the familiar environment once more, has a self-realization.
Having some discussion points ready is generally a good idea. You can often find some potential questions via Google search. You can also ask participants to come prepared with a question or favorite quote for discussion, but again – people get busy, so it might be easier to take a more low-key approach and have questions in your back pocket. Here is the discussion guide I came up with for my meeting:
- Opening line – “A convenience store is a world of sound.”
- A movie w/o a soundtrack is nothing. What do you think the sounds of the convenience store represent to Keiko?
- What is the soundtrack of your life?
- Convenience store – similarities & differences
- Greeting – same concept, different words, seems universal
- Unisex uniform
- Corporate culture
- The specific, everyday food for sale is different from American popcorn/nachos/pizza/hot dogs.
- Co-workers – mothers looking for part-time work, very young people, people with social disorders
- Co-worker who wants to be a singer
- Seem polite in a way Americans might not be
- What does Keiko’s status as an outsider, and her observations about the people she interacts with, tell us about Japanese culture?
- Bird story
- Work-life balance
- In Japan, it is not uncommon for someone to work the same job at the same company for his entire life
- However. Keiko, who has worked the job of convenience store worker at the same store for 18 years, is considered “weird/odd”
- Is it really that different to work on one part of the car, for example, for your entire life vs. running a convenience store for your entire life?
- Keiko doesn’t think that she is like other people – she makes references to people that indicate she almost feels like a different species (although she doesn’t like when others make it clear they think the same way
- However, although she wants to be accepted and to have friends, she doesn’t otherwise seem unhappy
- Why are her friends and family so uneasy about her ability to be comfortable leading a life that is different?
- She doesn’t mind the simple food – she is very rational, and cares about food only as fuel
- She doesn’t mind that she has an old apartment, there is no indication, overtly or implicitly via word choice, that she desires more
- She seems absolutely fine with the fact that there are cockroaches in her apartment
- What do you think of Shiraha’s role in Keiko’s life?
- In a rom-com, he would be the love interest they get into a wacky agreement and then end up falling in love
- In an indie, they might end up becoming friends
- In a thriller, he would end up being dangerous and Keiko would have to run for her life
- The phrasing that Keiko uses about the convenience store makes it clear that she thinks of it as more than a mere workplace
- She seems to almost revere it
- What do you think of the significance of this seeming thinking that the convenience store is Keiko’s religion?
- Ending –
- In an American book, I feel like the ending would have been that someone observed Keiko identifying what changes needed to be made at the downtown convenience store, and implementing those changes efficiently, and offering her a job as a manager at the convenience store.
- However, this novella ends when Keiko has her self-realization, and allows the sounds of the convenience store to once again become the soundtrack of her life.
- How do you interpret the ending? Is it happy? Sad? Ambivalent?
Do you have any book club tips/tricks you would like to share?