For my piece this week I thought I would take a look at the role of the ‘book club’: why do people join? What do they hope to get from being a member? How do such clubs influence the literary world? And by ‘book club’ I mean a gathering of people, either physically or online, for the purposes of reviewing and discussing books.
I first began thinking about this article some weeks ago when I was in the midst of a flurry of coffee dates with friends. Several of them separately mentioned their attendance at ‘book club’ and it got me wondering whether this was something which was on the rise. So I did a little digging and I became intrigued.
It seems that meeting up with friends or family to talk about books is going on all around me: behind closed curtains, through cafe doors, in large groups which welcome strangers and in small, intimate parties of two or three.
I had no idea and it pleases me greatly.
You have probably gathered by now that I am not a member of a book club. It is something I would have embraced at almost any other time of my life but, right now, it is just not practical and so I have had to satisfy myself by peeping through curtains and hiding behind sofas (metaphorically, of course or it would be creepy) as I vicariously experience three very different examples of the ‘book club’.
Can I say at the outset a big ‘thank you’ to the groups who have shared their experiences.
First up, let me introduce to you to The Book Club at the Neighbourhood Cafe, Liverpool.
The Neighbourhood Cafe is located in Allerton, the suburb of Liverpool where I grew up (although the cafe did not exist back then). It is owned by Lynn and she throws open the doors for book club once a month, with a break during the summer holidays. Two of my family members attend (‘Hi’ to Aunty Chris and Cousin Mary), along with between 20 and 50 other people. There is a charge of £5 per session and this includes nibbles. All ages are represented but the clientele is predominantly female. The set up is informal. Attendees form smallish groups, made up of people who may be strangers, and they talk about the chosen book while Lynn does the rounds and stimulates discussion. A sheet of questions is made available at the outset to give groups a good starting point.
The selection of books is usually made by Lynn, although she is open to suggestions. Some members borrow the chosen book, many buy cheaply on Kindle or second-hand and some buy new copies. The books vary in genre, age and tone ranging from classics penned by Aldous Huxley, Edith Wharton and George Orwell to contemporary works by Angela Carter, Maya Angelou and Jeanette Winterson. Stephen King and Gillian Flynn have also made the cut in recent years. A recent book to be read and discussed by the group was The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, a 1950’s ‘rites of passage’ story which Cousin Mary thoroughly enjoyed.
This wonderful club has been providing stimulation, companionship and stories for around ten years. Long may it continue.
For our next stop let me take you into the living room of one of the lovely ladies of the circle which gathers in North Leeds once a month on a Thursday. The group comprises around 10 women who met, on the whole, via their young children. The group was established by Zuzana McMillian and each member takes turn to play host. Zuzana co-ordinates the calendar and the person who hosts the meeting selects the book. Recent titles have included The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Members try to borrow the book wherever possible, although some do buy copies, either in paperback or as an e-book.
The host opens the meeting by explaining why she chose the book and what she thought of it. Each member then states whether or not, on balance, they enjoyed the book and the discussion generally goes from there, although sometimes questions lifted from the internet are used as a basis for the conversation. The host provides nibbles, perhaps in line with the period or country in which the book is set and, importantly, everyone brings liquid refreshment! The book club forms a basis for wider social activities and the group may have a Christmas meal together, or visit the theatre or cinema, particularly if the production relates to a book which has been read by the group.
This is a group of good friends who enjoy reading fiction, sharing their thoughts in a challenging discussion and spending time in each other’s company.
For our final stop we are taking a journey South. To Watford, in fact, where we can find book blogger Sarah Watkins cuddled up in her living room with her cats together with her nephews and nieces chatting about whatever reading material they fancy. They call it ‘Book Chase’.
‘I’m an aunt to three nieces and two nephews, aged between 8 and 14 years old,’ says Sarah. ‘A couple of years ago the girls and I thought a monthly book club would be fun; the boys were more non-committal at that point. My nieces came up with the name, with a little help from my dad – chase is an old printing term (both my dad and granddad were printers in Watford’s glory days as a print town) and coincidentally contains the initials of all the kids!
The premise of Book Chase is that we meet up and talk about anything that we’ve enjoyed reading over the past month. There’s no set book, in fact it doesn’t even need to be an actual book; magazines, comics, football sticker albums are all welcome. If it has a reading element then it ‘counts’. This rule is important for us because we have a wide range of reading ages as well as abilities and no one should feel excluded from the club. Until recently the girls have been more bookish than the boys, but Beast Quest and Alex T. Smith’s Claude books have turned one nephew into a reader, and the other one has always loved having stories read to him.
We take it in turns to present our reading matter to everyone else, in reverse age order! Sometimes people bring a stack of things, other times just one. My eldest niece is quite strict that everyone pays attention whenever someone is speaking; when the kids tell each other off for not respecting each other’s turn I can’t help but smile. I read lots of children’s and YA books (I was a children’s bookseller for years) so I always talk about a book I’ve read too. Sometimes we read a story out loud. We also occasionally go out on trips, to a bookshop or library, or do book-related craft activities.
We’ve been doing Book Chase for over two years now and I love it. If we miss a month at least one of the children will nudge me about the next one. The two older girls keep notes of each meeting! I hope we keep having them for years to come.’
I love the idea of this club: an adult encouraging reading in children without imposing restrictions or snobbery on their selections.
Sarah’s opinions about books can be found on her blog at www.andthenireadabook.blogspot.co.uk and she can be followed on Twitter as @janesharp1671.
So there we have three accounts of the ‘book club’. Each offers something a little different to its members whilst doing a wonderful job of keeping the art of telling and sharing stories alive.
Thanks again to everyone and happy reading!
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I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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