Friday, October 12, 2012

Why Belong to a Book Club?

In years past I've posted about how to start a book club, tips if your book club has issues, lists of books for a book club if you're out of ideas, and yet I've never answered the most basic question of all: Why belong to a book club?

After college, I truly missed having a group of smart, interested people to discuss interesting books with. Sure, when I read a light, fluffy, superficial book, I wasn't thinking that. But when I read something more weighty, controversial, confusing, or just one that baffled me, I wanted someone to bounce ideas off of. I wanted to know what other people thought about the character/ending/decision. I also wanted to have other peoples' interpretations. I've always loved to see things from other angles and from other points of view (which is why I love covers of songs, and retellings of classic stories like Wicked or A Thousand Acres.)

Personally, for my work (in the publishing industry), I also appreciate very much being forced to read books I otherwise wouldn't have, many of which I've actually loved.

Last month I was interviewed for this article on book clubs and although it didn't make it into the article, the reporter asked me why book clubs seem to have been more popular in the last 15 years. The truth is I really don't know, but I do have some guesses. They were already starting to grow a little bit before the Oprah Book Club but Oprah obviously brought awareness into pretty much everyone's home. And I have noticed that the late 1990s also coincides with when Americans became truly mobile and stopped staying in their hometowns so much. I have an aunt and uncle who still live within 50 miles of where they grew up, and yet my three siblings and I have all moved away (and our mother did too!) The closest sibling to our hometown is about 5 hours away, and she's hoping to go abroad for graduate work next year. Book Clubs are a way to connect with a new community, it's one of the first things I did when I moved to Charlotte, and I was thrilled one of my local friends belonged to a book club I could join. And it is also unique in that unlike other clubs you can join, say a knitting club or a gardening club, you're not working with your hands and therefore you can't just gossip the whole time. Granted, plenty of book clubs do gossip before or after the discussion (mine certainly does) and I've sadly heard of some that have devolved completely into gossip without any book discussion, but that's not the point. The point is to actually have an intellectually stimulating conversation for a short while, even if your day has otherwise been filled with mind-numbing work, screaming children, traffic jams, and the other tedium of daily life. Thanks to book club, for one evening each month, I feel as smart as I did in college. I have made friends through book club, found great new books, and hung out with other people who love reading as much as I do. What other reasons do you need?

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