Join a Reading Club
The Kohler, Wis., American Club Hotel was alive with the sound of book chat, and that was music to the ears of Milwaukee patent attorney Jean Baker. She was one of the 100 book devotees gathered there recently for a readers' retreat organized by Milwaukee's Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, and the spontaneous sense of kinship that immediately sprang up was proof, she says, that "book clubs are a lot more than a group of women with a glass of wine."
For one thing, they're not just for women. Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, for instance, belongs to a men-only book club. "We read lots of politics and history and argue with each other," he says. For another, the exponential growth in the popularity of book groups means that whatever your age, gender, profession, or faith, you can find the book club for you. Your focus can be to socialize or to network; to foster understanding of your own or other faiths; to feed a passion for mysteries, a yen for romance novels, or a desire to study Proust or Shakespeare.
Diana Loevy, author of The Book Club Companion,estimates that close to 20 million Americans now belong to book clubs, many to multiple groups.
Transition. Book clubs seem to appeal as much to intellectual curiosity as to the need for community. When Elaine Silver Baron moved to Orlando, an invitation to join a book group of other professional women eased the transition. For her part, Baker says she "wouldn't know what to do" without her book club chums.
Whether a group loves or loathes a given book is almost immaterial. It's the discussion that counts, inevitably bringing out members' sensibilities and opinions-and perhaps their personal stories. "Your innermost feelings can get stirred up and come out" when the group clicks, she says. "Deep friendships develop."
And groups themselves can emerge from events. In the wake of 9/11, some Cambridge, Mass., women formed a book group composed of women who are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Choosing books from each religion, they see their discussions as a way to build bridges as well as relationships and mutual understanding. In a similar vein, three New York women-a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew-founded a "Faith Club" and have inspired others, through a book and website, to do the same. Because the faith they all share is a faith in books.
Of the many websites that provide information about joining, forming, and running book groups, Lisa Casper of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver recommends bookreporter.com, readinggroupguides.com, and goodbookslately.com. And you can find out more about interfaith book clubs at daughtersofabraham.info or thefaithclub.com.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.