The pleasure and process of book groups

I have been part of a book group for over 20 years, way before Oprah made it almost a household norm. Over time it has evolved quite dramatically although we still meet once a month. We were so serious at first. To propose a book, you had to have read it.  The host of book group was the emcee or chair of the meeting. The meeting started with an introduction on the author. Sounds a bit like an English lit class right. Oh and of course, you did not come if you had not read the book- the only reason I struggled through Portait of the Artist As A Young Man. Our group is and has always been small- less than 10 members-  and that membership has changed quite a bit over the years. Nowadays the best part of the book group is less the discussion of the book -since we no longer indulge in or force the more scholarly analysis- and more the choice of books. It is astonishing to me how such a small group has such a vast variety of interests. We read everything. Novels, biographies, history. Ok, not everything, no textbooks so far. And we have spirited discussions about the selections. Sometimes the voting has to be blind.

I know of book groups that always have a moderator- be it a teacher, professor or the author. More on that in a different post. I know of book groups that are much larger.  Our town has even started a town wide read together project. I know of book groups that focus on only one subject- Victorian novels, American history. I enjoy  the diversity of our readings. I have read books I had never heard of prior to the meetings on topics I would never have approached. This exposure has expanded my horizons and interests. Did I love all the selections-no way. But even when I did not, I came out of the meetings with a long list of other books to read that I did enjoy. Finally, in all fairness, book group also got me to read, finish and find pleasure if not enjoy books I would have stopped after a few chapters on my own.

This month we agreed to read Being Mortal and When Breath Becomes Air. As I was already reading My Life on the Line, I feel surrounded by illness, death and a small amount of hope as I read.  Pains, any pains cause a paranoid fear of cancer that my brain has to actively settle with yoga breathing. Stupid how suggestive the mind can be as you become engrossed in a tale.  But I also feel surrounded by the amazing strength of character, amount of energy, life, power and love of the writers. All of the books, which are beautifully written, sad and enlightening, address the importance of friends and family.  They also emphasize the importance of understanding what your values and beliefs are, what the vales and beliefs of the people you love are. They indirectly deal with the importance of good medical care, doctors and treatment since everyone in these books had access to the top practitioners in their respective fields.

Oprah started her book discussion club as part of the Oprah Winfrey show, in 1986, selecting a book, usually a novel to discuss every month. The club lasted 15 years and recommended over 70 books during 15 years. The first book recommended was The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 was launched in 2012. The first selection of Oprah 2.0 was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. The current book is much broader, operating more like your favorite small independent  bookstore

Bill Gates publishes his list of books on his blog Gatesnotes. He has been recommending books since 2010 with his first recommendation being Understanding Energy Use and Technology by David MacKay.

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook announced the creation of an online reading club that would read a book every two weeks. He said that he had decided on the titles based on their ability to ” emphasize learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”. This reading club was only supposed to last one year. It had 140,000 members although unclear how many read all the books. As with both Oprah and Bill Gates there was a Mark Zuckerberg effect on the sale of books. Although I think the Oprah effect is/was the strongest. That may also have to do with the titles that are selected and their readability for a large and diverse audience. Mark Zuckerberg’s first suggestion was Moises Naims’ The end of Power.

Do you use social media to find books? @TelegraphBooks has 133,000 Twitter followers. #fridayreads, “amreading offer recommendations. I have mixed feelings about Goodreads now owned by Amazon, though I love the sampling option available on the Kindle so I can read more than just the jacket on a book to know what a book is about.  The most important part of being in a book group for me is the exposure to book titles and authors I have never heard of or considered. So what are you reading?



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