Benefits of Being in a Book Club
If that stack of murder-mysteries on the beach leaves you with nothing but wasted time and sand in your shorts, then maybe it’s time you redefined your approach to summer reading. Just because you’re relaxing in the sun doesn’t mean you can’t be productively improving your state of well-being. Heck, maybe even that old Agatha Christie novel could teach you a thing or two if you had someone to talk with about it. The idea of a book club may raise the stigma of stale crumpets and debates over Ayn Rand protagonists, but the modern notion is to illuminate and expand upon your own personal connection with a work. I myself lead a club (http://www.meetup.com/Self-Improvement-Book-Club) that focuses on self-help and psychology books, which are not only ideal topics for engaging conversation, but are essentially designed for post-reading interaction. The benefits of being in a club however, transcend any and all topical boundaries, and I’ve found the potential for personal growth is within the pages of any author – even if you’re just looking for other people to share in your shameless passion for the Twilight series.
1) New Points of View
Alternate perspectives are the fundamental reason for all book clubs’ existence. Many writings will be intentionally vague about their intent, crafting a story that is designed for one’s own unique interpretation. Enlightening yourself with someone else’s take on a reading can open you up to angles of understanding that may have passed you by. What may seem completely obvious to you may be incomprehensible to others. Understanding their viewpoint will not only deepen your educated look at the world, but will also help you to see how your own views are unique to yourself and who you are. Irregardless of how open-minded you may be, we all sub-consciously craft an individualized and subjective picture of the world around us. The only way to truly understand the nature of anything is to combine and compare your perspective with those around you. The common threads that arise are the signs that lead to inherent truth.
2) Community Interaction
Book clubs allow the opportunity for like-minded individuals to engage in intellectual conversation that may have otherwise slid idly by in the grocery aisle. If you have a passion for 17th century Romanian poetry, your morning weather talk with the neighbor is most likely not headed in that direction. Unless you walk around wearing an “Ask me about the Ottoman Empire” t-shirt, you’re probably not going to have someone to talk about such topics with until you are in a book club structured around it. Book club members find themselves in stimulating conversations with people who may have otherwise been a nameless stranger. Likewise, once you are in a club with people you know and trust, you may be opened up to books or topics that you would have never considered engaging with. A common passion will connect people from all walks of life, and each person’s unique tastes can then branch the club in an array of other stimulating directions. In short, it’s a great way to meet unexpected new friends.
3) Freedom for Open Discussion
If you have a friend who loves a book that you utterly despise, she’s much more prone to explain why she loved it rather than try to understand why you hated it. However, the whole idea of a book club is to have a free-flowing discussion where you try to understand another’s perspective. It’s a situation where you are encouraged to openly express your opinion with no fear of judgment. The other members are willing listeners who want to understand you, not rabid fans who think you’re crazy because you didn’t like The Hunger Games. Not only is differing opinion accepted, it’s encouraged. Someone else’s appreciation of a book may even help you further understand what you didn’t like about it.
4) Improve Communication Skills
Not all of us are great public speakers, let alone public conversationalists. The stem of the issue arises from a lack of confidence – either in the topic being discussed, or in one’s abilities. By being in a book club geared towards topics you know and enjoy, you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded peers. There’s no possibility of your opinion being “wrong,” nor even a requirement for participation, so there’s no fear of failure or humiliation. And even if these aren’t concerns of yours, there’s not doubt we all benefit from being in a “comfort zone.” Finding a familiarity with open discussion and intelligent debate is something that is nourished by the book club, yet can extend into all aspects of social and business encounters. Plus, if you thought you didn’t connect well with a book or truly grasp it, there’s always just another one right around the corner.
5) A Regular Break
Book clubs serve as a scheduled and certified escape from the frivolous distractions of the world. It’s the one place where you’re guaranteed to not get caught in a discussion about which Hollywood starlet is pregnant, or about which Senator is cheating on his wife. It’s a way to fully immerse yourself in another structured reality for a designated time. Even in my self-help book club where discussion of personal experience is frequent, it’s comforting to know that the conversation won’t stray from that centralized topic. It’s like a planned time for group meditation where everyone’s minds are focused on the same central story.
With Laptops and Kindles and Smart Phones, it’s easier than ever to read whatever and whenever you want. And from the women in my Self-Improvement Book Club to the lovers of Romanian Poetry, the Internet can connect any potential network of like-minded people. If you can’t find a book club near you, or one’s that’s focused on topics you enjoy, then start one! Find one friend who likes to read as much as you do and go from there. Local libraries and bookstores are great places to find already active clubs, as well as to seek out members for your own. But remember, you only need the two of you to start. I lead the following book club: http://www.meetup.com/Self-Improvement-Book-Club in which we meet other women who are interested in the topic of self-improvement and psychology books. We discuss a variety of life topics that focus on improving the self, from personal strength to living authentically. We discuss the advice offered in relevant books. We dig beneath the surface, uncovering our vulnerable issues, dreams and desires. We then brainstorm and act on what we have uncovered. I like to write up discussion guides for my meetings – I find it can sometimes help things move a little smoother. Here’s some that I’ve authored: