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Book Clubs: Reading as a community experience

May 14, 2014

“We read to know we are not alone.”

 — C.S. Lewis

I don’t know about you, but when I used to hear the phrase “Book Club,” I did not get excited.  It brought to mind the image of an elite group of people, reading the same book at the same time, so that they could get together and “talk smart” about the book, the characters, and the author.  It was an opportunity to showcase their intelligence or their superior understanding of the book’s subject matter or plot.  And it sounded a little too much like school.

That’s certainly not to say I didn’t love school, or that I don’t love reading.  But when it came to discussing literature in class, I was the student who felt like I might have something valuable to say, if only I could get around my shaky voice and sweaty palms long enough to express my thoughts.

Perhaps you can relate?

Thankfully, adulthood has encouraged me to be more confident with my opinions (as well as encouragement from a few college classes that required consistent participation in order to pass…gulp!).  And also, I’ve had the opportunity to discover that there doesn’t have to be anything elite, superior, or overly intelligent about “book clubs.”  They are simply places where reading becomes a community experience.

Reading a book can be personal.  Intensely personal.  I’ve read books where tears streamed down my face (An Embarrassment of Mangoes, a travel memoir by journalist Ann Vander Hoof, comes to mind).  And I’ve read books where I’ve been compelled to read the last few pages over and over again because I found the ending to be so superbly satisfying that I couldn’t get enough of the words and images themselves (Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, this time).  I’ve also read books that I hated, and even (gasp!) books that I couldn’t finish (that list is too long to publish).

But when I read a book that I enjoy, I just want to talk about it.  And the wonderful thing about book clubs (or book discussion groups, or whatever you’d prefer to call them), is that they are designed to do EXACTLY that.  Reading becomes more than just me and the book.  It becomes me and the book and these other people who have read the book.  And we can talk about it to our hearts’ content.

We are each alone when we crack open that cover page, but soon we find ourselves in the very real company of the cast of characters.  And then, at a book club, we begin to talk about these fictional characters with real people, and all of a sudden, the characters come to life even more.  It validates the experience we had while reading and makes the book even more precious to us.  And, quite incredibly, it opens the door to a whole set of different interpretations of the book.  American literary critic Edmund Wilson said about reading, “No two persons ever read the same book.”  Never is that more apparent than in a book club.  And unlike school, there is no wrong answer.  Every different “reading” of the book is acceptable, and welcomed!

Developing a sense of community, over a shared experience, while expressing our deepest opinions and reactions?  I can’t think of a better activity before putting a book back on the shelf, or returning it to the library.  

If you are interested in participating in a book discussion group, you are in luck!  The Auglaize County Libraries offer several at the central location and branches.  Please contact Andrea Burton, Adult Services Coordinator, at 419-738-2121, for detailed information about all of the groups, including dates, locations, and reading lists.  You can also find the information by visiting our website at http://auglaize.oplin.org, and clicking on the “What’s Happening” button.

— Andrea Burton
is the Adult Services Coordinator
for the Auglaize County Library

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