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 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 .