Book clubs are the go-to places for readers to spend time with fellow enthusiasts, discover new literary voices, step outside their comfort zones and read something they would never normally consider. I’ve belonged to several book clubs over the past twelve years. All have been wonderful in their own way.
My first book club was the rowdiest. Dubbed the Drinking Women’s Book Club, we spent long evenings swapping bawdy stories, gossiping about local events, discovering where to buy the latest must-have accessory, devouring cheese platters and sculling fishbowl-sized glasses of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Occasionally, we mentioned a book.
My latest book club is just as enjoyable, even though it involves less alcohol and substantially more earnest discussion about books we have actually read. Each month we appoint a discussion leader, who is responsible for presenting a potted history of the author, posing questions and keeping us on track. During the pandemic, we moved our gatherings from local cafés and members’ gardens to online.
We endeavour to include in the mix a novel by a well-known literary figure from a past era, such as Edith Wharton, Graham Greene or Elizabeth Von Arnim. Non-fiction and biographies are also included, such as Simon Montefiore’s tome on the Romanov dynasty, and biographies covering the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft, Nelly Ternan and Constance Markievicz.
Given that our members come from different countries, we try to read authors whose books were first published in languages other than English. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Norwegian author Lars Mytting was a favourite.
The number of virtual book clubs has grown exponentially since the world first entered lockdown in early 2020. The Stranger’s Quarantine Club began in March 2020 to discuss The Plague by Albert Camus, pertinent today as it was in 1947 when written. My favourite is Tolstoy Together in which 3000 people from across the world, from Brazil to Norway, read 12 pages each day of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, and participate in discussions. A marvellous way to join with others to read an extensive literary masterpiece that many would find too daunting to read alone.
However you participate in a book club, I hope it is thought-provoking and fun.