I’m a big fan of book clubs/groups- whatever form they take: in-person with food, library led, on-line, thematic, water-cooler types, or telephone based. Though right now I am a sporadic participant in two book groups, and chat about books on the phone with an old friend monthly- not technically a group at all- I am still an avid proponent and vocal supporter of the activity.
Professor Jenny Harley, author of The Reading Groups Book, thinks there could be as many as 50,000 reading groups nationwide. They come in all shapes and sizes: There are groups devoted to specific genres such as football, horror or crime. There are groups in prisons, groups for men, groups who cook for each other, lesbian groups, religion-based groups, radical groups and groups for mothers and daughters.
The first known literature circle in America was founded in 1634 by a Puritan settler, Ann Hutchinson, as a women’s Bible study group. By the 1800’s, book clubs were spreading throughout the Midwest both as social events and intellectual opportunities. In the 1920’s the Book-of-the-Month-Club and the Literary Guild were founded, distributing book selections to thousands of members by mail. It seems that Book Groups saw a renaissance in the nineties after Oprah launched her television book club.
So what’s the attraction of book groups for me? The prospect of a book discussion gives me an incentive to shut down the computer, settle down and read; there’s the choice of provocative new books that I wouldn’t ordinarily select; it’s great to have a forum to exchange ideas about intellectually challenging topics; the actual meeting gives me the impetus for getting out and socializing with interesting people; plus, I find that book groups help build and cement friendships.
What’s more, I read differently when I know I’ll be discussing the book- more carefully and critically. I underline and star important points. Prior to the meeting, I type up the notes just to refresh my memory. It’s easy to print out book reviews to get different perspectives and learn a little about the author’s biography. If there is a reading guide, I find it. If there is a podcast about the book, I listen to it. Instead of a private act of reading, the book group helps me turn my reading into a communal project. After a book group discussion, the facts and incidents of the book are more firmly latched to my brain so that if someone mentions the book in the future, I’ll have a few factoids or recollections to share, even though I am dealing with the typical post- 60 sieve-like brain.
Books I’m reading now:
Good Books, Good Times
by Lee Bennett Hopkins