One of the reasons we start or join a book club is to share the experience of reading. Characters we care about, and the conflicts and obstacles they face, keep us interested and moving forward in our reading: will Ifemelu reconnect with Obinze? Will either of them find peace in their new countries? What about Ifem ghosting on Obinze? What is he thinking, and is it possible for her to resolve this with him after so many years of silence? While this flow drives the story in fiction, we probably want a less dramatic scene for our book club discussion.
We can probably all relate to conflict here and there in a book club setting – you didn’t like a book that someone else adores, one person dominates the conversation, another doesn’t contribute. Most can be managed by establishing a meeting structure. Others require more attention.
Remember Freytag's Pyramid – identifying the rising and falling action enjoying the sense of resolution and finality as we close the book after the last line, maybe even saying, “The End,” in our heads?
Picture a book club on a random Tuesday. Most people show up and everyone is Getting Along, pouring the coffee or wine, settling in and getting comfortable. Conversation is flowing. The book sparks some connections to childbirth. Several women share their stories and one woman begins to share her views on home birth. A friendly discussion follows between all members of the group until eventually it’s time to close. Goodbyes are said all around, and you head back home.
The next morning, you’re up early and see an email from one of the book club members. It came in at midnight, sent to the 7 in attendance at the book club and 2 who weren’t able to make it. She communicates how upsetting the conversation was for her and that she is extremely angry about some of the things said, specifically that they are in direct opposition to what she thinks and feels, and that these comments were disrespectful to her and her housemates (who overheard the discussion from another room). Conflict it is. She calls you out in particular, saying that you should have known how she felt and yet you didn’t stop the discussion.
The opinions expressed seem to be the Inciting Incident, although at the time it wasn’t clear there was a problem. Since she did not express anything in the midst of the conversation, it seems there was an Internal Process in which she realized her feelings of anger.
What to do next? Now that all of the book club members have been made aware of the situation, an External Process seems fair. Perhaps you Reply All with your response. Perhaps you contact her directly to discuss the issue. Whatever your choice, if you don’t already have a strategy for conflict resolution, reach out for a tool like Conflict Resolution Skills as you consider next steps. Each person in the book club will likely deal with the email in their own way. Ultimately, finding a way to resolve the issue will keep the club healthier than ignoring it.
Resolution can begin with a simple invitation to continue the discussion for those who wish to listen and be heard. Set a time and location to meet. Practice your own ways of stress relief before the meeting – go on a run, meditate, take a yoga class, or journal to calm your mind. Keep it light, remembering that this is merely a conflict. Yes, feelings are hurt. Also, midnight emails are often seen differently in the light of day, especially by the author. Making space to talk and to listen can meet the need to respected and valued. Before scheduling the next book club asking, “Is there more you want to say?” can be helpful. Clearing the way will allow book club to Move On. Conflict resolved in a healthy manner is key to deepening trust and building strong relationships.
Happy reading and resolving!