I can’t remember the last time a couple of movies got me thinking and writing, but the past week or so has proven a goldmine. I’m not one of those who will go to just any movie and Hollywood in general has me feeling a bit “thanks but no thanks,” but as I wrote about just recently, “Always at the Carlyle” was a delightful little film and this week “Book Club” did the trick. Although the movie is unrealistic in many way and Jane Fonda’s role of an aging sexpot is excruciating to watch at times, the movie itself was way more enjoyable than I expected. In short, it’s about four aging friends going through life’s little peccadilloes as they keep their years long Book Club alive. I won’t go into any details but I will say it made me think about book clubs in general.
I’m in a neighborhood book club and was in one in our former neighborhood. The two are vastly different in that my current one is large, meets at a clubhouse and has a sit down dinner before discussing the book but my former one was much smaller and intimate. I love to read but am not a big crowd person. For me, the smaller the book club, the better and my perfect book club is one in which close friends gather at each other’s houses to discuss a book that they take turns choosing. I’d prefer a quarterly club, but monthly seems to be the norm.
I favor meeting quarterly or maybe every other month only because I’m not one of those who can read a book a month and I also want to read one of the many books I have stacked up and read it just for myself. In any book club, my MO is to look at the list of upcoming books, choose a few but usually not all, and read them at my leisure and on time for the book club meeting. My worst nightmare? A book club that picks the next book at each meeting. Not joining. Not happening.
So yes, I love to read but I don’t want to spend time reading something I have zero interest in when I have that stack of books I’m anxiously waiting to delve into. Doing so just feels too much like an “assignment” and I’m past that. Will I read something I didn’t pick but kinda piques my interest? You bet. I’ve done so many times and have been grateful many times.
What is it about book clubs that makes them so popular? They haven’t always been a thing, but today they are everywhere. It’s estimated more than 5 million Americans belong to one or more book clubs. Most are “anything goes” groups regarding what books are chosen to read but some are more targeted toward specific audiences, authors, and subject matter. In any case, it’s all about the book but some clubs, depending on the size and scope of the group, can even morph into support groups, longtime friendships, and much more. Book clubs are so popular now, there are books on book clubs!
I watched the most wonderful documentary a few months ago that demonstrated this perfectly called “Book Club.” It’s about eight women who started a book club in 1944 and those still living still get together today. They met each other in Washington, D.C. when their husbands were government employees and they wanted to read to feel important and improve their minds. Along the way they had babies and grandbabies, some divorced and remarried, one went back to school and got her Masters, and they all put things on hold during the war. The women couldn’t all afford to buy the same book so only one would purchase each month’s choice and read it to the others. They took turns buying subsequent books and all agree when one said “This book club is the most continuity in my life. The people are more important than the books we read.”
Love it. And, so true.
It is all about the people. And the books. Ironically, as author Gretchen Rubin wrote, reading is really a solitary act but one that society has transformed into a group activity. She quotes journalist Robin Marantz Henig and talks about how by reading, you enter another world and that discussing a book is kinda like gossiping, only your gossiping about fictional characters.
So popular are book clubs right now that a new job title has emerged: Professional Book Group Facilitator. No lie. And they make pretty good money; so good that authors are jumping on board the book group leader bandwagon and supplementing their incomes by leading groups on the very books they wrote. How cool would that be to sit and listen to JoJo Moyes give you personal insights into her books? Even better, how I’d love to step into Nashville’s Parnassus Books and run into owner and author Ann Patchett, whose recent bestseller was “Commonwealth.”
Which takes me to my current dream: to own a quaint little bookstore on the quaint little town square in the quaint little town I currently live in. I’d host wine and cheese nights, children’s story time, girls nights out, and of course a book club. The club would be, yes, about books and reading and authors, but it would also be about community. In today’s society of strangers, we all need community: the community you live in, the community of readers in your area, the community of joy and pain.
Those are the things I believe at least half of all book club members are really attracted to and why, on any given month, roughly half of my current book club attendees have actually read the book. You may enjoy reading and discussing Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” and will be amazed by Yeonmi Park’s “In Order to Live,” but if you don’t like or connect with the people you read and discuss them with, is it really worth your time and does it delight and inspire you?
As the ladies in the “Book Club” movie learned even while reading the “Fifty Shades” series, who you read with is really as important as what you read. It’s just one of the many things you learn at a book club.