I’d never been to a reader’s group. The last Saturday evening in August – I imagined folding chairs and a clamshell of store-bought cookies. Bottles of water, maybe some coffee.
I was wrong.
There was food and drink. Really good food and drink. A wide variety of delights – homemade and homegrown, savory and sweet. (I shouldn’t have eaten dinner before I went.) And the seating was permanent, complete with throw pillows and end tables.
In writer’s groups/workshops, we approach the work we’re discussing in an effort to make it better at doing whatever it is trying to do. We strive to support the work according to the author’s intent. Our focus is on production, not consumption. We’re in design and construction. We might talk about a potential reader response, but we’re focused on the process and mechanics of creating good writing. It is a technical conversation. This is the world I know.
Then I went to the reader’s group. Immediately they began to personalize the book we were discussing. These readers were educated, successful in their careers, and sure of their perspectives. They talked about how the book related to their own experience and about the author’s effort – whether it rung true based on what they’d seen and lived. Sometimes they talked about the book and sometimes the book was simply a starting point to talk about larger issues or personal concerns. They sought to apply the book to their worldview and determine if there were any previously unseen rocks they needed to kick over due to having read it.
Hearing readers discuss writing was like being on the inside, in the back room, behind the closed door. It was imagining, for a couple of hours, what it would be like to be only a reader – the joy of consuming writing. And it was thinking about my own work and how it might fare in such a setting. It was to sit with those who might be my readers someday. And listen.
I plan to go back to the reader’s group.
Please don’t tell them that I’m a mole.