It started when two Czech friends happened to visit around the time my local book club was going to meet. The two young women had enough time (and enough English) to read the month’s selection and attend; A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and of course this group in Eureka does it up right. The woman who hosted the book club in September prepared a delicious Iranian meal. We had a very good discussion and towards the end of the evening, one of the Czech women lamented it was too bad there weren’t book clubs like this in her country. I felt surely there must be but when we did a cursory Google search as one tends to do when such questions are posed, we saw book clubs aren’t nearly the phenomena in the Czech Republic that they are in the US.
While looking at articles and such about book clubs in other places, I read about book clubs in the US, the millions of members and wide variety that have developed here over the years. I realized this was a force to be considered. Not that the demographics are identical across book clubs or even within book clubs. Actually it is one of the factors that makes the local book club here so awesome – we have a variety of political views, religions, ages and formal education, and yet we manage to have respectful discussions on all sorts of topics ranging from marriage to immigration to education to death. There is a core element that keeps us meeting (this club started back in the mid 1990s!). Perhaps its the thirst to learn, a love for reading and an interest in sharing ideas.
Recently while attending a Humanities Montana meeting, the idea was raised to find ways to exchange information across book clubs. I realized this was a great idea but how many book clubs have a public presence to make something like this viable? I began to ask around. Most book clubs don’t even seem to have a name. One woman who belongs to three clubs described them as the one that meets the first Tuesday and then there is the library one and…. And even with a name, how would they be contacted? In many ways this makes the phenomena of book clubs even more remarkable. They aren’t often started by a formal entity although there are plenty that take place in libraries and bookstores. They don’t usually have a name, tax ID number or even a web presence (some do seem to use Facebook for exchanging information). So here is this significant group, millions and millions of readers according to some studies, who attend book clubs, who are able to hold civilized discussions and there isn’t an easy way to track them down. Despite this, I believe book clubs make a significant difference. Not only do they help book sales, they enhance communication in communities, they provide a vehicle for people to share stories and views. They help us think and, yes, they give light on others’ points of view.