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The Ongoing Popularity Of Book Clubs

Updated on February 25, 2010

You've got your preschool moms, your computer guys, your married couples, your seniors, your 30-something coed singles, your foodies, your classics lovers, and, well, the list goes on. They meet, in linoleum-floored church basements and cozy family rooms, at library meeting alcoves and the tables of neighborhood coffeehouses, for the same purpose.

To read. And discuss amongst themselves. They are members of a book club.

Although it's hard to believe in an age when everything is available on the internet, book clubs are booming. These literary fests have become a staple of American life. "Not in a Book Club Yet? Everybody Else Is" declared a New York Times headline.

Historically, book clubs, or the idea of talking about tomes, have been around for as long as the Gutenberg press. But formal book clubs really took shape around 1875, when the Chautauqua movement (an education and recreational summer-school program, featuring lectures and discussions) was popular. Of course, academia has always focused on classic books, and around many college campuses, reading groups flourished. But they weren't the domain of everyman, or woman, for that matter. After all, what credentials did a housewife, working at home to raise her children, have to critically read and review the likes of Dante's Divine Comedy?

However, now there are more than 500,000 book clubs in the United States. Membership goes as high as 10 million and reaches into every community. It is thoroughly amazing to realize just how many avid readers of books are out there and how much they all love to share their experiences with each other. It not only warms the cockles of the soul of any book lover like myself, but stands as a testament that even at a time when literally trillions of words are available on the internet for free, people will still choose to buy and love a book made out of paper, although a growing number of book club members are using Kindles and similar to read their literature.

If you're in one, you know the drill. A book is chosen. Everybody has a week, or a month, to read it. The members reconvene and voice their opinions: thumbs up or thumbs down. At this point, the discussion takes off, ranging from exploring literary devices such as the use of flashback and first-person narrative to questions about whether author Wally Lamb adores or despises women.

Book club leaders realize that it is important to figure out a policy for title selections early on. Examples include: majority rules; host/hostess picks the book; Oprah selections; award-winners (Pulitzer, Booker, National); and library lists. Whatever the selection, the books must lend themselves to in-depth quality discussions. (In other words, you'd be hard-pressed to spend an evening talking about a formulaic bodice-ripper.)

After you determine what types of books you want to read, you must decide how often you will meet. Once a month for three hours? Every Monday evening during dinner? How many members do you want in the group? The average book club membership hovers around 10. However, at a library near my house, a monthly book club of roughly 25 people gathers, facilitated by the head librarian.

Continued In The Ongoing Popularity Of Book Clubs Part 2


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