DEAR ABBY: "Pennsville, N.J., Reader" (May 15) complained that her book club members don't always read their current book and want to socialize instead. I can add nothing to your thoughtful answer. Still, her letter troubles me.
As you know, literacy is under siege in America, and many people can't follow the directions on a box of cake mix. Years ago, I heard Margaret Mead speak. She warned us against turning into a "machine-worshipping society," and that is precisely what we have become. It's killing off a part of our brains. We are wired to electronic messaging most of the time, at our peril. Reading serious books helps to reclaim our brains.
Each member of my group has a voice in selecting the book. Most of us do read the monthly selection, and the moderator -- friendly but firm -- keeps us on track with our discussions. No one ventures too far afield, ever. If someone comes to the meeting and hasn't read the selection, she simply listens and takes notes while the others discuss the designated chapters.
I feel strongly that if anyone wants to socialize instead, he/she should arrange and host their own meetings at home and make it clear that the gathering is a social chat. -- BOOK CLUB MEMBER IN NEW YORK
DEAR BOOK CLUB MEMBER: Readers agree that the reading and socializing should be kept separate and were quick to offer solutions to the problem of mixing the two. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: For years, I have led three book groups in three different states. Our monthly meetings are two hours long; the discussions are 60 to 90 minutes. Socializing comes afterward. We choose books by ballot, voting from a list submitted by members. Each member leads discussions on a rotating basis of a book that particularly piques their interest.
If the non-readers of the group mentioned in the letter (who should not be attending a book group just to socialize) were discussion leaders, they would read the book. If they choose to attend without reading, they should remain quiet during the discussion and wait to socialize later. Give those lazy nonreaders a task! -- SERGEANT-AT-ARMS IN SOUTH DAKOTA
DEAR ABBY: I have discovered the joy of audio books. Most of them are classics long out of copyright, but classics are classics because they are good. My local library has a way to access current books by best-selling authors. I get all of these treasures on my cellphone and listen to them no matter where I am or what I'm doing.
Being "too busy" is no longer an excuse for not being well-read. I'll bet the women in that club would get with the program if they were introduced to audio books. -- WIRED BOOKWORM, STILLWATER, OKLA.
DEAR ABBY: Here's how our club handled the problem of members not reading the books: We started charging $5 for failure to do it. The money is held by our unofficial treasurer, and every summer it is used to pay for meals during our yearly summer outing. It's a simple system that has cut down on people not doing the assigned reading. --BOOK-CLUBBER, TOO
DEAR ABBY: Our group has every member take a turn to host for a month. The leader chooses the book we read and leads the discussion. Once this plan was adopted, several people dropped out. But we have now grown to 18 members and have a waiting list, so we must be doing something right. Sure, there will be books not everyone cares for, but variety is what a book group is all about.
Socializing is fun, but being a member of a book group is about reading. -- LYNN IN LILBURN, GA