"Book clubs evolved into so much more, expanding our literary range and introducing us to works and ideas to which we might never have been exposed."
Book clubs exploded onto the reading scene in the late 1990s and have become a global phenomenon. There are neighborhood book clubs, online book clubs, library book clubs, celebrity book clubs.... It’s almost impossible to find someone who does not belong to a book club, and many people belong to more than one. We first joined them for the social time with friends and to have a pleasant discussion about a book we’d all read. But somewhere along the way, book clubs evolved into so much more, expanding our literary range and introducing us to works and ideas to which we might never have been exposed.
Since each member chooses a book to be read for the year, (depending on the size of your book club), pretty much everything you read is chosen by someone else. We’ve been in the same book club with the same women for over 25 years. We can’t count the number of times over those years that we’ve looked at a selection and sighed in dismay at a book we had no interest in reading, but we're hard pressed to think of even one time we were sorry to have read it.
Book clubs introduce us to genres we thought we weren’t interested in and compel us to read authors we might never have considered. This serves to broaden not only our breadth of reading but also our knowledge in general. We learn things we might never have learned. We read more closely and carefully in order to participate more fully in the discussion. When we delve into an author’s biographical information and the time period in which the book was written, we get a more layered understanding of the book itself. We listen to other people’s interpretations and analyses that sometimes reinforce our own takeaways and sometimes contradict them. It gives us insight into why certain books touch one person and not another––we don’t all love the same things.
Our book club begins every meeting by having each person rate the book on a scale of one to ten. That’s before we even begin to discuss the book. The last time we met, we changed it around a little. We asked everyone to only think of their rating without sharing. At the end of the discussion, we asked each member if their rating had changed. Without exception, all the ratings went up after the discourse. We believe that’s because the varying viewpoints, perspectives, and observations of the group bring a richness to our reading that we don’t achieve in isolation.
The very first book club we belonged to consisted of my sister, my mother, and my aunt. Of course, we didn’t call it a book club back then. But we’d all read the same book and pass it along to each other and then discuss it. Our favorites were sweeping family sagas written by authors like Pearl Buck and Susan Howatch. Occasionally an outlier would come along, and we still recall the laughs we shared when reading Potatoes Are Cheaper by Max Shulman. These conversations took place in more informal settings, over dinner, taking walks, a part of our lives. There was no wine or book-themed appetizers. That would all come later as we began to participate in formal book clubs. But these early discussions laid the foundation of our love of reading and desire to discuss and analyze literature.
What better way to spend an afternoon or evening than with other book lovers who are excited about what they’ve just read?
Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Lynne and Valerie are Wall St. Journal and USA Today international bestselling authors with over one million copies sold worldwide. They are Library Reads Hall of Fame authors. Their books have been translated into 28 languages, are available in 33 countries, and are in development for both television and film. Their debut novel, The Last Mrs. Parrish, is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection.