I Love Book Club

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book Club

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.

  • techeditor

    I never joined a book club because I didn’t want to be told what to read.
    Then some of the members of an Internet mailing list for editors, which I belong to, started a separate group on Yahoo for editors and friends of editors who want to discuss what they’re reading. I love it. We’re from all over the world, all English speaking.
    So that’s my book club, although we no longer discuss just one book a month. We talk about whatever we’re reading, have read, or want to read.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Another great example of a different kind of book club – thanks for sharing!

    • Kathy Sherrick

      I could handle this type of book club.

  • Kathy Sherrick

    I am not in a book club because I prefer to read what I find intriguing on any given day, not what a group decides I will read. Also, if I hated a book club selection, it would kill me to have to force myself to finish it!

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Thanks for sharing, Kathy! Maybe the “recommendation club” is for you!

  • ceblain

    Yes, I am in a wonderful book club for quite a few years now. All of the members except for one live in the same neighborhood, so it makes it really nice and very convenient to get together. We choose one book selection a month (a year in advance) and no one HAS to read the book to go to a meeting. In addition to our 12 yearly choices, we all swap books or book titles that we have liked and think others will want to read. This makes for a nice interactive group of friends which is the best part of being in the “club” (plus the reading of a good book each month!). Reading one book a month leaves plenty of time to read anything else that we choose ourselves for our personal reading. I would recommend a book club to anyone who likes to see friends at least once a month and who have a common interest for the love of books.

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      Sounds like you have the best of both worlds! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tatyana Kasima

    Hi, I run a book club and it is a great experience, have a look at what we do, you can follow our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ready-to-Read-Book-HUB/275639965873606 or here is our short video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ifY895N_fE and we also have a blog http://lechatyouknow.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/looking-for-new-books-to-read-aka-restarting-a-book-club/. I would love to see people sharing their experiences on our page and to see people from all over the world talking about what they are reading! We are based in Tallinn, Estonia, so maybe will see you in this part of the world!

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      How wonderful! What a charming video. We look forward to following your book club. Thank you, Tatyana, for sharing!

      • Tatyana Kasima

        Thank you for your time and I am looking forward to networking

  • Linda

    I am in two book clubs. I love it. Both are a great group of girls and I read things I wouldn’t normally read. It has opened my eyes to more books.

  • Cheryle

    I belong to a bookclub sponsored at my local library. The library has quite a few “bookclub kits” that we choose books from. These kits include both fiction and non-fiction, but the group chooses what looks good for our group. We have an eclectic group of book lovers including a couple of men. I have had the opportunity to read some very interesting books that I probably would not have chosen for myself. We seem to get in a rut of choosing books by authors we know or the same type of books unless we are challenged by something or someone else. We don’t have to like the book to attend the monthly meeting. In fact, it is more interesting the months that we have some opposing views. I have not always lived in places where bookclubs were available, so I am really enjoying this. The internet has opened the possibilities to bookclubs that don’t “meet” in a conventional place and time.

  • Em Maxwell

    I am in a book club, because the local library asked me to run it, so I get to pick the books. It’s a challenge, though, to find books enough for the group that are old enough not to have 300 holds on them, and new enough so the library still has enough copies. Our rule is that you don’t have to finish it if you hate it! I did break that rule once, though, and it stiffened my resolve. Too bad Kathy is not in our neck of the woods! We are on Facebook, too: https://www.facebook.com/SahuaritaBookAndFoodieClub. We usually talk about what else we’re reading, and we have a great time. This post of yours was doubly interesting to find right now, because our inaugural book was The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society–where they had to read one person at a time–and our current book for Saturday discussion is The End of Your Life Book Club–where they read and discussed kind of concurrently. I like the idea of a group where you just talk about what you’re reading. I blog about books on Miss Em Recommends, http://missmrecommends.blogspot.com. And if you can get a grouping of books, it’s fun to post a list on the new Riffle site, and of course review on goodreads. It has taken all these things to substitute for the joy of working in a bookstore! What a pleasure it is to share a wonderful book or author with someone!