I’ve finally done it—I’ve joined a book club! After years of having my only bookish friends be on Instagram, I decided it was finally time to start talking about books with other people IRL.
Book clubs can take on tons of different forms. There’s the simple idea of “buddy reading,” where a group of people (as small a group as just two buddies!) decide to read the same book at the same time. There are online book clubs like Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, where readers follow prompts to help them stretch their reading wings and read more diversely, or the likes of the Belletrist Book Club or Girls Night In, where the whole community reads one selection once per month. There are celebrity book clubs, where books are selected and endorsed by the likes of famous readers like Oprah and Reese Witherspoon.
And then there are the classic: in-person book clubs.
In person book clubs, as pop culture would like us to picture them, that are made up of groups of retired women gathering together to read the “big book club books” (Where the Crawdads Sing, Gone Girl, and other similar titles).
I think book clubs are an amazing opportunity to gather with other book lovers and talk about what we love most—our precious books! But would I be able to find a book club in my small Midwestern community where I don’t stick out as a millennial sore thumb? I’m not retired, and I don’t particularly love a murder mystery, so would there be a place for me in these groups (at least as I perceived them)?
This made me think, I wonder if book clubs struggle with a bit of an echo chamber problem. Do we naturally glom onto reading groups with others who have similar tastes and demographics to ourselves? This idea is common across tons of kinds of social groups, not just book clubs, and there are many reasons why this could be. Online we gravitate toward those with whom we share like interests. In real life, we gravitate toward our neighbors, co-workers, graduating class—people who are physically in close proximity, making them convenient buddies for social gatherings, but not prime candidates for breaking down demographic boundaries, typically.
But could we be challenging ourselves to stretch our reading tastes more and expand our conversations about reading by attending a book club where readers and tastes are more mixed and mingled?
I recently joined a book club through my local public library and I’m loving it. The way this particular club functions is that the group picks a topic or theme, such as “foodie book” or “book by an Irish writer” or “book in translation from a country you want to visit,” and each reader selects their own text under this theme—in some ways this format is similar to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. It pushes me to to pick up the occasional mystery, or to read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII. And that’s good for me!
The book club group gets together once per month in a local bar to enjoy a glass of wine and chat about our selected books. And the amazing thing, the thing that has happened completely organically, is that our group is very multi-generational, with readers ranging from age 25 to approximately 75.
In part, I think this is because the club is sponsored by the public library, a space that serves people of all backgrounds. In part I think we just got lucky.
But I adore this reading group. Everyone talks about the books they love with such passion, and each of us have a completely unique taste. In one club meeting someone read and shared Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, alongside another reader who shared their favorite cozy mystery. Both books featured women facing hardships. And we all take down Goodreads notes and recommendations from each other, and often get exposed to completely new writers, genres, or ideas.
Though I am a literary fiction–loving millennial, I plan to pick up a romance suggested to me by another member of the club because she knows I love gardening and gardening is a prominent storyline for one of the characters in this novel she loves. And in the month where we read graphic novels—a topic suggested by a member of our group who is a teen librarian—our club members who love historical fiction but “have never read a comic” learned that there is a whole new world of historically based literature out there for them to enjoy in graphic novels.
There is such value in meeting and discussing ideas with people of different social groups, and I don’t feel we do enough of that these days. What do you think? I know I personally have benefited greatly from being a part of this book club that pushes me outside my reading boundaries and my typical social sphere.
Please note: My particular book club is diverse in terms of generations, but it certainly has room to diversify in other ways, so we can be exposed to different ideas across other backgrounds. Every step is a step in the right direction, and our group is in no way perfect.
Do you belong to a book club? Do the other members push you to explore new ideas or read outside your comfort zone? I would love to hear about other examples of this!