Last night was Book Club night. Our club's first since the new year started and there was a real buzz as we set out choosing what we'd be reading for the coming eight weeks.
Reader, I want to pause here and take a moment to address the sceptics who sniff and snort at the mention of book clubs, who wrinkle their nose in disgust looking down at such gatherings as a sorry excuse for women to drink on a school night or engage in idle gossip. Yes, there is drinking involved with alcohol being only one of the beverages on the table and yes there is food (cheese, crackers, crisps and hummus if you really want details) and a big yes to absolutely heaps, loads, tons of speech going on with gossip at the botton of the night's agenda (apologies for dispelling any illusions on that front!) but there is also much more to a book club than meets the eye.
To a great extent, I believe that reading is one of the few activities one can fully enjoy in one's own company. However, there is an intimacy to be had with reading to our children, sharing passages with partners, or reading out literary works to small groups or even larger audiences. The act of collectively sharing the same experience creates an atmosphere that is ripe for conflict and that may not always be a bad thing. All groups are made up of individuals with inherently different traits and with personal experiences that have had an impact on the ideas and beliefs they live by. Discussion groups - book clubs - present a platform to test out those beliefs, ideas, theories, (whether old or recently acquired) and to learn a few things about oneself along the way.
So without further ado, here are my own 5 reasons why I think it's a good idea to join a book club:
1. A chance to meet new people: We are all creatures of habit and would rather socialize in settings that are familiar to us and preferably with people we already know. Stepping out of your comfort zone has its own buzz and gives you the opportunity to meet people that wouldn't normally be a part of your social scene. Still feeling intimidated? here's something to think about: the fact you've chosen to join a book club already gives you something in common with everyone there.
2. A chance to read books you wouldn't pick yourself: This has to be my favourite reason for joining a book club. I do get stuck in a rut sometimes choosing titles that often get bracketed in the same genre. So it is great when a book choice comes up that I wouldn't have chosen myself and an even bigger bonus when I find that I've actually enjoyed it.
3. A chance to discuss, discuss, discuss: Sometimes as soon as you've finished reading a book all you want is to find someone who has also read it so you can discuss a point, or two or ten with them pertaining to a certain character or event in the book. Was it the butler? Was the book about religion or did it carry a subliminal message? Was that scene really what I think it was and is it just me who hated the protagonist? Sharing these questions and listening to the answers from different members of the club who each have their own personal experiences that they rely on to judge the events of a book can be very refreshing and a window into how other people live and think.
4. A chance to improve your communication skills: If you are the type of person who dreads speaking up during boardroom meetings or presentations, then joining a book club could be just the thing to consider. We are usually more vocal when we talk about things we love and enjoy. Everything in life is about practice and book clubs provide a great platform for just that. You already know you're in the club because you enjoy books so you are more likely to engage in activities at the club - such as voicing your opinion to the group about a certain character or what you believe Jane really should have done to make it all OK in the end - that are bound to have a mirror effect on your working life in terms of finding the confidence to speak up loud and clear. Book clubs are also great platforms to observe how other people put their points across by observing the techniques they adopt and body language they exhibit to make them appear more confident and relaxed.
5. A chance to have fun: It's not all about the book in a book club (gasp!) as there is always room for idle chit-chat before or after book discussions. Members of a book club who meet regularly soon develop friendships that translate outside into the real world. Relax, have fun and enjoy the experience. Besides, if you haven't managed to finished the book in time for the meeting (gasp) you can always google the ending (double gasp!!).