Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sharing the Joys of Reading

by Jeanette O'Hagan

As an avid reader, I am always looking for new books. Not that there is a shortage of available books – with hundreds of thousands of new ones published each year, libraries with overloaded shelves and old classics available at the click of a mouse. But how does one sort through the chaff to find the precious grains of wheat? For me, new releases by known authors, trusted publishers or genres, reviews on Good Reads or elsewhere, Blog tours, recommendations from friends and browsing the aisles of bookshops or libraries are all good ways to discover new treasures.

And then, over the last couple of years I have discovered delightful, challenging, poignant books and new authors amid a whirl of laughter, conversation, coffee and delicious food. Why? I joined two book clubs, both meeting monthly.

One of the book clubs is more traditional in format. It is the smaller of the two – about eight to ten people each month with one brave male. Our leader (with some consultation) decides which book the group will read. Mostly this is determined by what book club offerings are available at the local library though on a few occasions we will all buy the set book. We (endeavour to) read the book during the month and then, over hot drinks and cake, we discuss what we think about it. We have covered a wide range of genres – literary, romance, science-fiction, detective, historical, memoir, comic, inspirational. While a couple of titles have been a drag to read, I have found many gems and have been enriched by the experience. We don’t have any trouble discussing the book and it is fascinating hearing everyone’s responses. Where one may love a particular title, another might hate it. And everyone sees different things in the story. This enhances my understanding and appreciation of the book and author. Our group is fairly diverse – ranging from 40s to 70s in age, from different walks of life and interests.

I have to say though, that the other group is my favourite. I was saddened when, due to the time commitments of the leaders, this group finished up at the end of the last year. This was a larger group with usually fifteen or more women coming together the hostess’s lounge room. There was a range of ages from young mums to grandmas. Instead of having a set book, we would go around the group and talk about the books we had read that month. If we wanted, and most did, we could bring the books with us to lend them to anyone intrigued by the owner’s review. Some books circulated through almost the whole group as the succession of readers were enthused by it. The whole night was casual and relaxed. Everyone understood when someone hadn't managed to read because the month had been busy. This was a very lively group and the spirited chatting before we settled down to share our treasures was just as much fun as listening to each other talking about the books we had loved to read – and the few we had hated. I discovered many books and new authors I liked this way. The advantages of this format was that we were not restricted to what the local library had chosen to provide in multiple copies nor were we committed to buying a particular book. We did a few different things as well. One evening we had a local author come to speak to the group about her book, another we went to hear a well known author at a public speaking event. We also went as a group to see the latest movie version of Jane Eyre when it came out, we talked about our childhood favourites and we had a pyjama party to support the Pyjama Foundation. At the end of the year we would have a Christmas party, bringing along a gift wrapped book to be exchanged.

Both book clubs were associated with a church as a way of connecting with people.


There are certain logistics involved in running a book club – who should be invited, where to meet, what format to run, how often, how casual or formal it should be, how books are chosen, and who leads. Yet these decisions are not too onerous and a book club can be a great way to share your love of reading and favourite authors with fellow book lovers. It is also a great way to discover books and authors you might never have considered reading before. 

Have  you ever been part of a book club? Would you consider it?
Jeanette O’Hagan
Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her  children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad fantasy fiction series.  She is actively involved in a caring Christian community. You can find her at her Facebook Page or webiste  JennysThread.com .

22 comments:

  1. I've never been involved with a book club. I've always been a little nervous of the idea - of not liking the book that was set (and possibly having bought a book I didn't like).

    I like the idea of talking about books we've read and recommending them in a group. That sounds like fun!

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    1. Iola it does sound like fun! We need to talk on this further since we're in the same town. I like the second format. :)

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    2. HI Iola and Catherine
      I I had a choice of format, I'd definitely go for the second. It didn't add to the reading pressure - that I had to read a certain book which sometimes just wasn't a book I liked by a the end of the month, I didn't have to buy books you hadn't already decided to buy and in fact I could borrow the books I caught my interest.

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  2. Jeanette, great post! Thanks for sharing your book club experiences :) Both book club formats sound fun, especially the choose your own book option.

    I haven't been involved in an in-person book club but I've belonged to a couple of groups online. ACFW has an online book club, open to members and non-members. It's interesting to hear the different perspectives from the book club members. I was also a member of a Facebook group that operated as a book club. They had interesting book discussion chats in a forum. Both online groups included the author in the discussions.

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    1. Thanks Narelle.

      An online or facebook book club does sound interesting. I could imagine it might have some lively discussions and involving an author would be easier to arrange.

      I loved the face-to-face book clubs as a night out and socialising over supper.

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  3. Hi Jeanette, I really enjoyed your post. I've been invited to join a book club this year, and I'm really excited to become a part of something I've not experienced before. My new book club sounds like your first example, but your second group sounds fascinating, too. Shame it had to fold.

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    1. Thanks Dotti. Yes, I was very disappointed when it folded and was tempted head up one myself along the same lines. Have fun with your book club this year.

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  4. Hi Jeanette, what an interesting post. I've never been part of a book club, but after reading this I think it is something I would love! I recently found myself caught up with a friend talking about books we had read and it was so enjoyable. Perhaps I should approach her and a few others to see if they would like to start a book club? I like the sound of your second group as more books would end up being discussed.

    Now I have a guideline if I decide to go ahead so thank you.

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    1. Hi Catherine. The second format was easily my favourite. We did get to discuss a greater range of books and had more freedom in deciding what books to read. There is some benefit though in discussing a book that the whole group has read. I do hope you go ahead and enjoy a book club with your friends.

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  5. Thanks Jeanette. I've never been involved in a book club as I don't like the idea of having to read a book I am not interested in. So that second book club which shared favourite books sounds a much better way to go.

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    1. Hi Dale, it does give more flexibility :)

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  6. Jeanette, I enjoyed reading your post. I've never been part of a Book Club. Has anyone heard of one that includes men? I love that my 80 year old mum still meets regularly with her club. I often receive recommendations from her group.

    Do all just cover fiction?

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    1. Thanks Ian. I'm sure there are groups that include men. My first group is open to both and one couple attends. In this group we have read both fiction and nonfiction. And in the second, what is shared depends on what everyone is reading which includes a wide variety of both fiction and nonfiction. For instance, I borrowed and read Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee and Ben Carson's Take the Risk (I reviewed both these on Good Reads). I found in the second group, we were very much reliant on what the local library stocked in multiple copies (for the purpose of lending out to book clubs) - otherwise everyone would be committed to buy the books each month.

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  7. I've been a member of a book club which was similar to the first type. I got a bit tired of it, as I didn't really like some of the books. The second type sounds very interesting and fun. I'd never considered anything like that before but would be willing to give it a go. Some of the recommendations would be great, I'm sure.

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    1. Hi Paula
      I know what you mean about not always liking the book with the first style. And I most book clubs I've heard of seem to take this format. There were a couple of books I didn't particularly like, one I almost didn't read - though I did in the end and I did learn through reading it.

      till, I enjoyed the format of the second group much more - and I found so many new authors and books this way.

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  8. I have been a member of a couple of online bookclubs and join in when I have read the book set for the month but its sort of like the first bookclub.
    I love the sound of the second one although I read a lot on the kindle now.

    I tried to start one at the church. I know we have readers as the church library gets used alot.
    but not one person showed any interest. I was thinking maybe I should ask if other churches had people interested. I thought it would be a good way to be in a small group at church.

    I know Rel has an active bookclub and even has author chats in it.

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    1. Hi Jenny
      Online book clubs do sound interesting though I love the social contact with the face-to-face ones. Also you get to pick up the book, look at etc. Of course, sometimes the books were on Kindle or were library books so it was more difficult to pass them on for others to read. There is a way to lend your books on a Kindle but it's not something I've looked into. Even when a book couldn't be shared - I still got to hear about it, learn something about it and often that was enough to know if I wanted to get it out of the library or even buy my own copy.

      Both the Book Clubs I went to were small groups in two different churches. In the second one, lots of school mums also went so really only the core went to the church the club was attached to. In the first one, it was attached to the coffee shop (& thrift shop) the church runs and half of the members actually joined through the coffee shop.

      I'd imagine that one could start small and build on the enthusiasm generated - though hard to do if no one is interested.

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  9. Thanks, Jeanette, for giving us a great glimpse into two different sorts of book clubs. I have often wondered, however, what it would be like to be a fly on the wall when a book club was discussing one of my own books!

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  10. I've often wondered just how book clubs operate so a big thank you for this, Jeanette. I'm afraid that my reading time varies considerably. It usually depends at what stage my current writing project is and these days how often my dear family need a grandma to help look after children. I hate being a member of anything and not being able to be a regular attender.

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    1. Thanks Mary. I like to be a regular attender too - though with the second group the expectation to be there each month was less as most had busy lives and it was a larger group.

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  11. I loved this post! I'm a passionate reader, and I confess I belong to quite a few book clubs, both online and in person. I also set myself a goal on Goodreads (this is the second year) and enjoy that tremendously. It always interested me so much when people bring out their different opinions and arguments about the books - so helpful to see others' points of view. And book clubs take you in wider fields than your own chosen reading. I do love the sound of the one where you all met and discussed the books you'd read. How wonderful!

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