books

Sharing Ideas and the Modern Book Club

interior-benson-greyroom

Though we often talk about reading as a solitary act, meeting and discussing books has long been a way to exchange ideas. In the 17th and 18th centuries, these literary gatherings were high class affairs. People named them after the rooms in which they were held, which is why they were often called “cabinets” and “salons”. Aristocrats would even hold these forums in their bedrooms, and people would lounge while discussing the artistic and intellectual movements of the day. Of course less wealthy individuals also read together. People studied their religious texts in groups, and they often spent evenings reading items aloud from newspapers or the latest novels.

Modern day book clubs function a bit differently. According to a survey by Bookbrowse, typical book club attendees are educated women over forty-five years old. The book clubs may exist solely in electronic form, may have a base in someone’s house, or may meet in a public space such as a library or coffeehouse. Oprah’s Book Club, perhaps the largest example of a current book club, engaged hundreds of thousands of readers. For example, after Oprah added Say You’re Not One of Them to the Club’s reading list, the book’s print run went from 77,000 to 780,000.

Though there is a financial barrier to them, we can also think of literary subscription boxes as a type of contemporary book club. After all, subscribers to many of the these boxes receive the same or similar titles, and often people share their experience of opening their boxes on the internet via blog posts or vlogs. The boxes themselves may not be communal, but the way people interact with them often is. (The book a month subscription service is not an entirely new idea. Harry Scherman began his “Book of the Month” club in 1926, and you can still subscribe to it today.)

I have never officially participated in a reading club – I enjoy having control over my reading materials to much – but they seem like a wonderful way for people to engage in books. What has your experience with book clubs been like? With all of the connections that technology has given us, it seems like there is more and more potential for new types of literary circles, and I’d love to explore that more.

800px-StateLibQld_1_132733_Two_women_reading_on_a_verandah_at_Ingham,_ca._1894-1903.jpg

 

Image Attributions: 

Frank Weston Benson, “The Grey Room,” 1913.

Harriett Pettifore Brims, “Two Women Reading on a Verandah at Ingram,” ca. 1894-1903, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

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30 thoughts on “Sharing Ideas and the Modern Book Club

  1. I haven’t either and not keen to do so with an actual physical book reading club. Yes, it does seem more prevelant in women over 50 and there’s nothing wrong with it, but somehow as a writer too, I wouldn’t feel free to be myself and offer my real opinions as I’d be coming at it from a different perspective altogether. And yes, Kristen, like you I prefer to select my own reading material. Having said this, if it was a reading club comprised of writers, then I’d give it a go. Sooo, very mixed feelings like Simon.

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    1. Having a reading group full of writers would certainly be interesting. I agree that we often do approach books differently than other readers do, and it could be valuable to be in a space where we feel more able to share some of those ideas.

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  2. I’ve been guests at a couple book clubs, Kristen, and they were very different. One was focused on self-help, spiritually based books with a lovely group of women. That was interesting and quite intimate as the women related the reading to their lives. I visited a non-fiction group at a library and it was interesting, but the reading was too much work for my brain. My favorite group, the one I joined, was a random fiction group. We met once a month at a cafe so no one had to clean house. I was exposed to a variety of books I normally wouldn’t choose for myself, and it was very social. A great excuse to read and go out to lunch with friends. Your post makes me want to start one up again (I left when I moved.)

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    1. That’s some fascinating insight. It’s wonderful how much groups vary depending on the types of people in them (and the types of books they read). If you do choose to start one up again, I hope it is a success, and I would love to hear about it.

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    1. Having one on one chats about books can be so rewarding; it allows you to dive into the meat of the work.

      It is great to hear that your wife manages a reading group though. I bet she has a lot of fun with it.

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  3. I’m usually more an ereader person, but I nabbed a trial run of Book of the Month club and it kind of feels like Christmas when I get the package of a new book! It also picked out a couple that I wouldn’t have found myself, which was pretty cool, but I’m fairly certain that when the trial ends I’ll be going back to my own book club of one (I’m just a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my book selections). I see the merits in it though! But my coworker is in a legitimate, meet once a month book club, and she was telling me how they’ve hit a run of books that haven’t appealed to her (the downside).

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    1. Having a run of not so great reading choices is part of the risk of book clubs, I suppose. Hopefully your coworker’s group will choose some better ones soon.

      As for the book of the month club trial, I’m glad you have enjoyed it! I’m a cheapskate, so I’ve never tested any of them, but they certainly seem to have potential. (I do understand you returning to your book club of one though. After all, it’s in your name. You are fated to happily read alone. 😉 )

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  4. Never been involved in a formal book club. My wife attends one, and for the most part the books they choose, for lack of a better word, suck. Not my opinion, simply what I’ve heard from the first-hand reports. I prefer to read on my own, and form my own opinions after careful thought. I enjoy most books I read. I rarely begin one that I don’t finish. Either I’m a very good judge of back cover/flyleaf blurbs, or hesitant to badmouth another author’s work. 🙂
    –Michael

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  5. I’ve tried book clubs and they’re definitely a great way to get a taste of how readers think, what questions they ask, what nits they raise. All writers should give book clubs a try!

    The problem I now have is finding enough people interested in reading 1920s-1950s era mysteries. While I’m writing, I can’t read anything outside my genre, otherwise my writing suffers from weird influences…

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    1. Reading while writing is such a tricky task! Sometimes if I’m at a rough spot during the writing process, I have to take a break from other books.

      I have to admit though that a book club focused on 1920s-1050s era mysteries sounds intriguing. Hopefully you’ll be able to lasso a group soon. (Maybe there is a space on the internet for something like that?)

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  6. I’ve been a member of two book groups. One read the latest bestsellers, which led to strong books on a variety of subjects, which led to lack of interest.
    The other would ask people to nominate books, and using votes to determine which was read. In that case the voting took so long that the group only met a couple times a year.
    I’ve actually been thinking that it might be fun to survey what people have already read, and alternate between discussing a “new to us” book and an “already read” book, to ensure that we can meet once a month. I think regularity is key. If something happens less than once a month it becomes less of a routine and more of an “eventually”.
    I often like to read reviews of books I’ve already read. It often feels like I’m having a conversation with the reviewer.

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    1. Scheduling can be such a bugbear for groups like this, especially if you are waiting for people to choose books. I also am in the habit of perusing the reviews of books I’ve already read. It’s fascinating how differently people respond to the same work.

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