My first Facebook experience was a literary one. My senior year of high school, Facebook first opened its user-base to high school students. Like every new Facebook update, no one really knew what to do with it just yet.
Pair this internet innocence with the itching for something more from my literary experience, and it dawned on me to start a message chain. I reached out to a few of my close friends on Facebook and asked for their top three favorite books. I wanted to read something the people I cared for were passionate about,and climb out of my literary rut.
The outpouring was immediate, and it soon spread to other friend circles and became a Facebook group itself (for those who remember when Facebook groups existed).
Despite the glazed over looks that sometimes populated my high school English classroom, I learned that people still loved reading and were eager to share what moved them when presented with the right opportunity. And I may never have come to love Heart of Darkness unless my friend Ian insisted I pick it up.
We all know the wonderful feeling of reading a book at the same time as a friend or family member. To say, “remember that scene!” and hear someone else’s reaction. It’s intriguing when someone dislikes a book that hit us as an emotional gut-punch. It’s satisfying to gush over a passage that someone else found enthralling, heartbreaking or uplifting too. In essence, it’s the joy of turning a solitary activity like reading into the realm of the shareable and the social.
The adult equivalent of recreating the English class (or Facebook group of yore) is the book club. I know people who are devoted to book clubs as the highlight of their month, and I also know readers who are shy to try or have never really considered the book club as a way to explore their own reading.
I was of the latter category. But just like in high school, the best resources came to me in an unexpected place. I started a new job in February, and my co-workers got to know each other in standard ways: going out for drinks and sharing our weekend plans over break, snacking on communal granola bars.
One day at lunch, I saw one of my co-workers reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a book I (embarrassingly) hadn’t gotten around to yet. We struck up a conversation, and before long several others had walked up to join in. Books are contagious that way, and readers beget readers.
Soon everyone was sharing their own reading habits, and incidentally divulging other facets of their personality we wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.
Jo was the die-hard Bronte and Austen fan, Brian surprisingly preferred only non-fiction and confessed an addiction to a website called Longform, and Suri was all about the latest bestsellers (and had a secret penchant for graphic novels, which she soon admitted as well.) Nuances to people’s personalities inspired us, and soon we started a unique kind of a book club at work.
In high school, I simply asked for friends’ favorite books. With my co-workers, we recommended books we enjoyed ourselves, but we did something more. We chose books we liked specifically for each other, based on what we thought that person would love. We all starting growing a personalized reading list.
It’s fascinating to decide what books might compliment someone’s taste. Are they a Nabokov or more of a Vonnegut? Is Anna Karenina too imposing? Can I open their eyes to the romance genre?
There are so many versions of the book club, it isn’t just a matter of whether or not you’re a “book club” person. I think for those of us who are wary of committing to a monthly book club, this “recommendation club” is a good way to get our feet wet.
Make something happen with people you’re comfortable with, and cater it to your own schedule. In a way it’s like book networking.
Explore with your best friends, with your family, with co-workers. Each rung you dive into tells you a lot about yourself, the people around you, and of course, you get some great reading out of it. The results may surprise you.
RIFers! Do you belong to a book club? Why or why not? Tell us in a comment!
In a book club? Check out novelist David Klein’s essay on what makes a good book group book.