Want to join a bookclub?

Having been back in Australia for over 18 months I’ve been thinking of joining a bookclub – not that I need it… I still have squillions of books that I shipped back from Singapore that I’m still reading my way through! There’s something, however, about the easy blend of the cognitive and social benefits of bookclubs that particularly appeals to me. So how can I start?

There are many ways of running a bookclub.  The first and only bookclub I’ve attended was about 25 years ago, and I loved it!  I was asked by a friend to join and I liked the fact that I didn’t know everybody.  Some bookish conversation is a great way to meet and connect with new people, and get exposed to some different reading.  So that is first on my list of ‘how tos’:  have some people who ask others, so that you can all meet new people.

At the time we were ‘sweet young things’, each with an interesting job and no kids, so plenty of time to read a book or two.  We met approximately every 6 to 8 weeks.  We found a lovely bookstore where we bought books and returned those we didn’t want within a week.  Whoever was hosting visited the bookstore and bought approximately 4-6 books that appealed to them.  It was pre-Kindle days.  We rotated ‘hosting’ and everyone brought ‘a plate’ of food to share so it wasn’t too onerous on the host.  There was no judgement – homemade or bought – all food was welcome, as well as a glass or two of wine and copious cups of tea and coffee.

After a brief catch up we started.  Each person discussed the book they’d read while others joined in, offering viewpoints or asking questions.  It took some time with plenty of stimulating discussions along the way.  At the very end, the host held up each book they had bought on spec.  Someone read the first page, the back of the book and any reviews.  We voted for the books we wished to add to ‘our library’ and the host returned the others.  As you can imagine, before long we had quite a library, so that was something we found we had to manage.  We typed up a catalogue and each had quite a collection at home that we’d bring in when requested. I loved this format because you got exposed to a massive range of books you wouldn’t normally encounter.  My repertoire of reading was greatly expanded.

I found that, because you knew you’d be talking about a book, you tended to read a little differently.  I became more conscious of aspects of such as key themes, style and relevance, which normally I might not articulate. The cognitive processing was more intentional, and I enjoyed discussing observations and ideas when we met up.  I found this sharpened my brain more than simply reading for my own sake.

The social interaction was also enjoyable. I enjoyed relating to people about books they’d read and how they’d been impacted.  Whether you agreed or disagreed with what was being said, it was always a stimulating discussion, and relationships prospered. It was easier meeting people having something interesting you were there to talk about, rather than just relying on small talk.  Such cognitive stimulation and social relationships have been found to be good for your ongoing health as you age, and can even reduce the risk of dementia. 

A more manageable way of conducting a bookclub is to choose one book that the whole group reads. You can borrow it from the library, purchase it on kindle, or buy it first or second hand. You rotate one person each session, to facilitate the discussion any way they wish.  They can send questions they’d like people to reflect on or be organic, letting the conversation evolve in the moment.  You can do this on many levels. What did you or didn’t like and why, what you saw as the key themes, what stood out about the author’s style, how does it mirror or impact on society.

And in these COVID-19 times, it’s also important to consider virtual meet ups.  This is an excellent way to connect with people from afar and have some stimulating discussion.  Bring a book, your beverage of choice and your observations and opinions to your Zoom or Skype call.

Regardless of how you decide to go about your bookclub, one of the main things is to agree beforehand what balance everyone wants from the bookclub.  What’s the mix of people, structure, type of books, intellectual and socialising, talking and snacking etc that all you want to achieve from the process.  How disciplined are you going to be or is it OK if someone turns up who hasn’t read the book?  All of this ‘contracting’ is important to make sure that you all know what’s involved so that you can enjoy it.

These days, it’s so easy to join a bookclub.  Many societies and social clubs run them, and you can search on the internet for a group that appeals to you.  It’s a great way of meeting people over something you’re interested in.

So read up, meet up and have fun!