Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman book

Book Club Meet Up no.1

Last Thursday I hosted my first ever book club meet up… the physical manifestation of something that I’ve wanted to do for months. I actually wasn’t that nervous, even though I am “the leader”, and that’s not a position I usually hold – not by choice anyway!

Interestingly (interesting for myself anyway), I think I would have been more nervous if I had been just a member and not the leader (I’m making myself sound like the book club queen – I am a just member too of course) and had the prospect of joining an chatty group, tentatively asking “Is this the book club?” and then trying to find a seat and wiggle my way into the already flowing conversation… you know what it’s like.

As the leader (at some training I went on a couple of weeks ago, we did behaviour profiling to find out what our personality and communication style is classed as. I came out as a blue, which is the exact opposite of a red – and reds tend to be leaders and be dominant. But with all this leader talk, I’m beginning to think that a speck of my blue-ness has gone so extreme that it’s been tinged red! A bit like how if you go so far left in politics, you end up on the right…), I arrived early so I could find our reserved space in the cafe and post it on the Facebook group… and it just seemed like what the host should do. The man at the counter asked how many people I was expecting. Now, this has been a subject of soon contention due to people not responding to my posts on the Facebook group, and the general culture of people joining things on Facebook with no intention of ever actually attending any of the events. (I’m ashamed to admit that I too am guilty of this.)

Originally, around 22 people said they were coming, but I was now expecting about ten. I don’t know why the man bothered asking and let me witter on about not being sure on the numbers, as his response was just “Oh, well yours is the big table as the back anyway so there’s plenty of room.” Sigh.

The table was certainly big, and I deliberated about where to sit for a couple of minutes. I wanted to make sure I was facing the entrance so I could keep an eye out for members arriving, but I didn’t want to position myself somewhere so obviously leader-y and head of the table-y.

After everyone arrived, we halved the size of the table anyway and made it a much more cosy square so that it felt balanced and we could all hear each other – I really wanted to make sure that everyone could have their say.

I hadn’t prepared any questions as my main objective of the club isn’t actually to have super intelligent discussions about books (as counter-intuitive as that may sound!)… I mainly want to make some new likeminded friends after finding meeting new people incredibly difficult after graduating. Also, I was aiming for a relaxed, chatty and open atmosphere, so formal questions didn’t seem to way to go. I just took note of the little overviews of the book people had said as we all introduced ourselves, and then drove the conversation from there.

What stood out most about being the organiser is that everyone tended to make eye contact with me. At least that’s what I thought they were doing… I hope I wasn’t intensely eyeballing them all and mistaking it for friendly eye contact. Sometimes I think I must avoid looking people in the eye, particularly if I’m in a group scenario and don’t want to be picked on to answer a question. But, as the leader, I could hardly avoid it, so I went with it and it was nice to feel so included.

(I think the phrase “fake it till you make it” applies here… I don’t feel I’m a natural leader, but I had to act like one as I was the organiser and founder of the book club, and in acting more confident, I felt more confident.)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman with notebook

As group dynamics go, it was a balanced as it could have been. There are always more dominant people in any group who say more than others… and this isn’t always a bad thing… we needed people to steer the conversation so we weren’t stuck on one topic. But like I said, I did want everyone to feel like they could have their say.

The meeting was actually a very good people watching opportunity, and I can imagine that if you were writing a book, it would be a great thing to attend to get some inspiration for building/fleshing out characters and making them more believable.

For example, some of use our hands/arms to express ourselves much more than others. Some people may move their hands around every now and then, whereas others move their whole arms, right from the shoulders. And then there are people who keep their hands firmly tucked under the table and rely on their facial expressions (and body language) to get their emotions across.

Another little observation is that we humans cannot help but form little cliques, even within an already small group. As the book conversation drew to a close, we naturally created smaller groups and chatted about what we do for work and where we are from. I was conscious about wanting the dynamic to feel balanced however, so tried to wiggle into the conversations that were going on around me and get us talking as one group again to conclude the session.

Overall, the first meet up was definitely a success. It was always going to be slightly awkward as we were all figuring out the dynamic and the way that sessions will flow, but awkwardness was definitely kept to a minimum and I’m satisfied that everyone managed to have their say.

Now all there is to do is pick a book, place and date for the next meet up… although thinking about it, there’s another fifteen or so people in the Facebook group who didn’t or couldn’t make this one, so the next gathering may have a whole different dynamic! We’ll have to wait and see… although either way, I’m still the leader. 😉


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