You may think it all started with Oprah, but you’d be wrong. She certainly popularized it, but its origins can be traced to the eighteenth century. What is it? It’s the book club. By some estimates, more than five million people in this country sit down together every few weeks to discuss what they’ve been reading. They gather in living rooms, local libraries, community centers, church basements, bookstores and bars. From Boston to Seattle, in communities large and small, you’ll find groups of 5 to 30 discussing the finer points of Middlemarch or Mockingjay.
Though the book club was originally associated with educated upper-class women who had the leisure to read – not to mention the ability, today there are discussion groups for every gender, interest and age. There are book clubs for women, men, couples, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren, teens and tweens. There are single-author groups – think Jane Austen, and single subject or genre groups, such as of history, romance, science fiction, or mystery.
There are some book clubs you don’t even have to leave the house to join. For those who prefer online book clubs, you can catch-up on what celebrities are reading with Reese’s Book Club (Reese Witherspoon), Belletrist (Emma Roberts) or Our Shared Shelf (Emma Watson). You’ll find dozens of online books clubs on GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com), including groups for baseball, science fiction and the paranormal. If you don’t want to limit yourself to one genre, there’s the Book-Club-for-Any-Type-of-Book with 846 members. Whatever your inclination, there will be a like-minded group of people somewhere who share your enthusiasm. We have to ask, what is the appeal?
The appeal of today’s book discussion group can be described in two words, reflection and connection. In-depth discussion contributes to your knowledge and appreciation not only of the writing but of the world around you. You hear different points of view that either challenge or confirm your own thinking, helping to create layers of understanding that might otherwise be missed. Before voicing your opinion, you must take time to reflect on your understanding of the author’s characters and plot. Part of that reflection is connecting your own experiences to the story – to validate or reject the story’s authenticity.
Through discussion we not only connect to the story, but to each other. Book clubs are wonderful places to meet new friends. It’s a place where honesty and ideas are valued. It’s a place for self-expression and sharing. It’s a place for friendship, caring, laughter and fun. If this sounds appealing, consider joining one of the three book discussion groups that the library sponsors. Groups meet on the first and second Wednesdays of each month at 1:00 or the second Tuesday at 6:30. October reading selections are Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah, The Storied Life of A. J .Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin and The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen Kiernan. For more information, contact the library at 508-823-1344.