Book clubs have been around for about as long as there have been books. Historically, people would gather to discuss the latest book they read. Women especially honored the tradition of book clubs because in years past, women were not allowed in colleges or in men’s discussions. A timeline created by Audra Otto, who wrote for minnpost.com, a website that provides news and analysis based on reporting by professional journalists, shows that in 1634, on a ship sailing toward the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Hutchinson organized a female discussion group to examine weekly sermons. The Bay Colony eventually condemned the practice, but “the gatherings inaugurated a tradition of women’s analytical discussion of serious texts.” Book gatherings were a natural evolution, and by the 1800s, women would come together at each other’s homes, light a few candles, and sit in a circle to discuss a book.
Many readers bring to a book their personal experiences and build an understanding of the book based on a reader’s response type of criticism. By joining others on a regular basis to discuss books, people discover more depth and breadth to a book than from their own interpretation and also come to know the other reading members. This is especially so when members meet at each other’s homes, or even in a group that meets regularly at a senior living facility.
Today readers of both genders have come a long way. And that’s a good thing, because reading is just as creative an exercise as writing. However, even with a report of about 5 million book club members in the United States, “70% to 80% are all women’s clubs,” according to minnpost.com/books. Considering that women have been great homemakers, it’s not surprising that book clubs held at member’s homes are still so popular, especially among women and seniors.
Book club members share interpretations and experiences that make the book more than a single reader’s response. Those who prefer to read privately might miss the underlying themes and messages that other readers bring to the table. Reading never grows old, because it transports the reader to places he or she might not have known or perhaps to a place never imagined. However, sharing diverse thoughts on a book unites as well as enlightens.
The warmth of being welcomed into a fellow reader’s home for the sake of friendly literary discussion goes well beyond just a social experience. It’s as historic and traditional as reading. Often when young and middle-aged readers join such a group, they spend years with the same readers, becoming friends and maturing together. That’s an experience you can’t get with occasional library walk-ins.
Book clubs with mature women will often have lunch at their gatherings. Local groups have been together for many years. Members meet once a month to discuss a particular book. Everything from elaborate snacks to simple luncheons are served, and respect for each other’s differences adds to the delicious reading experience. Groups that include male and female members enjoy discovering how differently genders can view a work.
Nancy Kennedy, a Monroe senior resident, belongs to three different book clubs. “I love to read,” she explains. “Book clubs introduce me to books I might never have picked up on my own. I think book clubs are particularly popular among seniors, because nothing is scandalous to us anymore. And we have the personal freedom to say what we really think. Also, we have the time to read three books a month.” This, she suggested, bodes well for friendships that are more likely to exist among members who meet at each other’s homes and come to know each other well through the years.
Kennedy jokes that she enjoys book club meeting held at members’ homes because of the wine, but adds, “I know when I go to someone’s home, there’s more chance for camaraderie.”