Start a book club and make new friends.
Is a book club the antidote to the loneliness of a virtual life?
It is a worrying fact that we are all becoming much more isolated, more solitary, than we once were. I mean this in a physical sense. Many of us are in danger of becoming 'virtualised'.
We may have 500 friends on Facebook, 300 followers on Hubpages even but only 1 friend to go to the pub with.
We may not even go to the pub anymore, finding it just too easy to slob out on the sofa in front of the TV with a can of Coke and a burger. Going out means having to get tidy, maybe even having to shave ... and that's only the women.
Gone are the days of community when we all stood outside or sat on the front porch on an evening talking until dark whilst the kids played all around us.
And if you move to a new home where you do not know anyone this situation is made even worse. You may find that the Women's Institute or the belly-dancing classes on offer are really not for you ... and that's only the men.
But if you are an avid reader the solution is obvious. Join a book club. And if there isn't one near you already, start one.
Finding the right book club.
To find out if there already is a book club in your area ask at your local library if you live in a town or watch out for mention of one in any local newspapers.
Some villages in the UK even produce their own newsletters in which local groups advertise so keeping your eyes and ears open may well turn something up.
But locating a book club is not all there is to it. Once you have found one it would be advisable to make further enquiries as to the criteria required to join.
If you have unearthed a rather discreet book club you may find that members are selected by invitation and then only when they have a vacancy.
This was the case in my particular book club and, as I was new to the village, it gave my self-esteem a boost to have been asked to join. Not that having my self-esteem boosted should have been the aim of joining a book club, obviously.
Some book clubs may also be a single sex club i.e. not your particular sex.
Or it could be mixed sex but you might find it intimidating because they are discussing classical literature and you prefer something less cerebral. A sneaky peek preview at their reading lists will give you a clue as to whether it’s for you or not.
Starting your own book club.
If you find there is no book club in your locality the obvious answer is to start one yourself.
You are probably just what your area needs and again local publicity is the key to setting one up.
Place adverts in the post office, on the village noticeboard, in the local paper and library. Decide on what your criteria is - ladies only - men only - mixed - and at this stage you don't need to decide on a reading list. This is just an exercise to get others to join you in forming a book club.
Once you have a core group of readers you can either continue to expand your numbers by continuing with your advertising or keep it small and select if you prefer this, inviting others to join only after you have democratically put their nomination to the other members to get their reactions.
It is important to make sure that you do not have too many members overall as that makes it difficult for everyone to get a chance in discussion. In my book club around ten to twelve members seems to work best.
Choosing a reading list for your book club.
This is probably best done as a democratic decision between the group members as it will foster amicable relations between your new members from the start.
Suggest that you all try to be as ‘omnivorous’ as possible in your book suggestions so that you don't limit yourselves to too narrow a reading field.
This may mean however that you read the types of books you do not always care for as they have been suggested for inclusion by other members. At this point it is as well to remember why you started the book club and decide what your priorities are.
A good place to begin is with the club’s member’s personal favourites as people often like to share their choices in the hope that others love them as much as they do. This will no doubt result in an interesting and very varied list although all of you will need to be prepared for critical comments as well.
Another valuable resource for reading lists is the internet (see the links below), a browse through www.amazon.com and, of course, a wander round your local bookshop.
Again, this is best if it is kept simple. Although the main reason for meeting up is to discuss the books you have read, having a drink and some nibbles on offer makes it more of an informal occasion and less like a seminar.
If you keep your membership to a manageable size it is much cheaper, and usually more comfortable, to have a monthly rota of hosting the group in a member's home with the host providing biscuits and tea or coffee.
For a little more sophistication, either a small kitty can be gathered from members to provide nibbles and wine or everyone can bring some small offering to share.
In these cash-strapped days it seems only common courtesy to take some small token to help with the hospitality, and wine, if offered, always helps the flow of conversation and conviviality.
Again, the rules about hospitality should be something agreed upon at the outset of forming your group. Once you have decided on venue, hospitality and reading list you are all set.
What questions to discuss about books and where to find them.
Now, the only thing needed is a list of questions pertinent to the book being read and again the internet can provide these though they often read a bit like the exam questions set for school children.
Discussion is the time when it is vital to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and to realise that set questions about books should only be used as a starting stimulation for any discussion. They do not need to be rigidly adhered to.
If you are a control freak then maybe a book club is not for you as discussions and points of view can sometimes wander away from the subject altogether. It is up to the host for that book/venue to judge how far off-topic is allowable and gently guide the discussion back on course.
The etiquette of discussion.
Similarly remember that if you are easily upset, some discussions could get heated and occasionally quite contentious. You may have to agree with your fellow readers at the outset exactly what the ethos of your particular club is going to be.
I believe it is important that book clubs should also be about sociability, about meeting other people and learning their points of view. Although it is not always possible for us all to agree on interpretations of a book’s characters or the motivations of the author, being allowed a fascinating insight into another person’s mind should always be recognised as a unique privilege.
Further help on setting up a book club.
As I have only touched lightly on what can be the rather varied subject of book clubs, I am including the following links and a video to help you explore further what setting up a book club can involve. Happy reading!