I started writing about my experience with book clubs, because I really love book clubs. While on the journey, I came across some interesting history about how they started.
According to an article found on www.mcsweeneys.net, and information found in Harvey Daniels, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (2002), Katie Wu talks about what she calls “the Book Club Phenomena”. Her article and his book talk about how Book Clubs, first known as “literature circles”, were founded in 1634 by a Puritan settler named Anna Hutchinson. They started as a woman’s bible study circle but they moved into discussing literature. They were later banned by suspicious Puritan men because they thought the women were discussing inappropriate things in these groups. Thus, they stopped talking about literature and went back to a more religious based conversation. For many women, discussing the books they enjoyed reading was something they did while completing the daily chores, knitting or sewing together. I wonder what books they actually read and discussed. I may have to dig a little deeper into the research and see what I can find out.
In 1840 Margaret Fuller, author of the essay, Women of the Nineteenth Century, founded the first book store sponsored club in her Boston shop and from there the idea started spreading into the Midwest. A book of the month club, founded by Harry Scherman in 1927, distributed the book selections to thousands of readers by mail.
Another thing that libraries do with the love of books is promote reading through joining a book club. There was a sign at the library advertising their monthly book club meeting and what they were reading. I have participated in a few library book clubs and all city reads, but when I think about our neighborhood book club, The Countryside Readers Guild, it brings a smile to my face. We have been meeting since fall of 2007. Just like writing is a journey, I feel like I have been on a great reading journey with these ladies over the years. They were also some of beta readers for my first manuscript, “The Hard Way”. I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to present it to them as one of our monthly book choices.
The library offers book club kits with ten copies of the book and some sample discussion questions that can be checked out just like you can check out a single book. It’s an awesome alternative to have to purchase a different book every month, which can get pretty expensive and have the reader wind up with a library full of books they may or may not enjoy. Our book club has used book club kits almost exclusively for our meetings. We’ve had a couple of occasions when a hostess has gone onto amazon.com and bought ten books at $1.00 a piece or less. We read and discussed them at the meeting, and then the hostess donated the books to the library so they could create a kit with them. Some of our book choices were done on purpose. The hostess got the book they wanted the group to read and other choices happened because it was the only book still available for that particular month. I’ll admit that we have wound up with some great books and discussions that way. I realize this may be counter to what some authors want to do, which is sell lots of their books to readers. Where other authors just want to get their stories out there. But, I think this is an awesome way to keep the reader reading.
I’ve seen many threads in my writing groups discussing the importance of reading for those of us who practice the craft of creative writing. Reading not only provides valuable information about different writing styles, but it can show the things that just don’t work. In some of the books I’ve read, I have come across places where the editing has missed the mark with either a spelling or grammatical error. These types of things make me as a reader stumble which takes some of the joy away from my reading experience. This is where good editing makes a big difference. I know when I’m working on my writing, I read my story out loud to make sure that it sounds right.
Having your book in a couple of those kits, what a great way to get a book out to the reading public! Can you just imagine if your book gets chosen by Oprah as a read for her book club? Just watch your book sales soar through the roof and the increased number of readers’ eyes on your story.
I’ve found that being involved a book club really makes reading a fun and social event. Be sure to check it out online or at your local library.