I've seen a lot of stuff online recently about how book clubs are just an excuse for middle aged women to get together and drink wine, like that's a bad thing in itself. It's as if coming together to talk books (with or without wine) is a far less noble pursuit than going to the pub and talking football. Going to the pub to watch and talk football is just fine and forms an important cultural role. Let's face it, you don't see your local getting a huge crowd in to watch the Booker Prize on telly, but you do, on occasion, find book clubs gathering in shady corners of pubs and hotel lounges in every county. They're not just confined to some "good room" in the aspiring suburbs. They’re in schools, libraries, men’s sheds and as I found out recently, women’s sheds. They’re on Twitter, Facebook and thriving among bloggers. They’re in hospitals and prisons. It’s not all about the wine, you know.
I was going to say that book clubs get you to read stuff you mightn’t have come across before and that you meet new people, but we already know that. I do know someone who joined a salsa group to meet women after he found reading books too tiring, but he’s in the minority. I know someone who spends more time picking out the wine than reading the books, but she’s in the minority. I also know people that have found their book club to be their link with the undiscovered, the wonderful and their own sanity. So taking all of this into account, there may be a few more reasons to join a book club, other than finding new books to read.
You Can Be You
I remember discussing a book with someone after work when another colleague piped up “I didn’t think you read”. For some reason at the time, I thought I should list off all the books I’d read in the last month. I stopped at two when I realised that I’d be silly to humour them if I kept going. I had also only read two books that month. A book club crowd wouldn’t rag you over whether you had read the “classics”, whatever they are, or lambaste you over how many titles you’d “consumed” recently. A book club crowd wouldn’t assume your ignorance. A book club crowd would just like that you like a book. No re-invention. Just a common interest that’s assumed and without the sneering. A lot of us have friends who we converse with on a range of topics; it’s just reading isn't one of them. Book clubs are a place where it’s OK to be you. It’s a bit like having friends you watch Bake Off with and friends you listen to indie pop anthems with at three o’clock in the morning (bad example; indie pop fiends like an aul pear and almond frangipane tart too, but you get the idea). You can be you in a book club. In it together.
It's Good to Talk
Sometimes when you finish a book that strikes a chord, you want to talk to someone else about it. Did they feel the same? Why did or didn't they like it? Find me someone I can talk to about this or I will crack up. In a book club you know that, for the most part, you can talk to other people about a book that you have all read. This can be cathartic in its own right.
You May Not Need to Leave the House
If all the talk of meeting up with strangers to talk about books fills you with dread, there is also a book club for you. From high profile television book clubs to some great online communities; you don't have the babysitting or travel excuse not to join. You can get book recommendations and join the discussion without leaving the comfort of your sitting room.
I will own up to have never knowingly read a women’s fiction book. I’m not sure I have now. I have no idea what women’s fiction is. If you can tell me what men’s fiction is, I might have a comparison to work from. Since joining an online book group, I think I have figured out that that “women’s fiction” is another name for fiction that I hadn’t read because it was deemed as “lesser” in intellectual terms; a bit like how we used to think that emotion was lesser than intellect. That was before we knew that emotion is intellect. Online book groups have shown me that the snobbery of a colleague about my reading habits, in a pub after work, has nothing to do with my love of reading. In the online book group I engage with (mostly by reading and liking other people’s posts) there is no snobbery.
Book groups are not the arena of the smug or empty. They are simply a place where people who like a book, get together. And if they have a glass of wine along the way, what of it?
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