By Jodi A. Shaw
“Oh, what book club are you in?” the librarian asks.
“So, you’re just reading this on your own time?”
“Interesting.” The librarian then tells me to read the book, The Time Traveller’s Wife, in the given three weeks, as I will be unable to renew it. I explain to her that I own this particular copy and am just in the library for the quiet.
“That explains how you got a copy,” she says. She explains the long wait for books such as this, as several book clubs in the city have chosen it for reading. Book clubs, she tells me, have inspired many people in the city to renew their library cards and get reading. I’m sure book clubs have helped out Chapters, too.
If you’re interested, she tells me, any time you see a bulletin board stop and check it out, as book clubs are frequently advertised in grocery stores, community centres, and libraries.
I thank her and continue reading. So much for quiet.
So what explains this book club craziness?
In September 1996, Oprah Winfrey’s empire reached from television to books when she introduced a new segment of her popular show. Oprah’s Book Club selected one book each month from 1996 through to 2001. 2002 didn’t see a book club, but it was revived in 2003, this time selecting just three to four books each year. (Oprah was having a hard time keeping up with the demanding reading schedule.)
People (uh, women) all over the world grabbed hold of Oprah’s club, reading her selections, logging on for online discussions, and tuning in for the monthly panel discussions. Book clubs started forming at the local level and have remained, for the most part, popular. The Oprah Effect, as it has been coined, has been held responsible for making obscure titles into best sellers. Whatwith discussions on the show and the cover being branded with the Oprah Book Club logo, the books fly off the shelves.
Taking the librarians’ advice, I started paying attention to community bulletin boards. I found several posters for book clubs, including ones specific to mystery lovers, children, and stay-at-home moms. I called and spoke briefly with the contact listed on the children’s book club poster — with television and video games taking up so much time these days, I was pleased at the idea of anything that got kids reading. “It was Harry Potter that started it,” Joanne told me. “My girls were reading them and so were our neighbours, so I decided to put together a club.”
The kids met once a week to discuss assigned chapters in J.K. Rowling’s popular novels. While most of the kids read much more than the assigned chapters, they maintained serious and excited discussions about Harry and Hermione and wizardry. When the movies came out, they went as a group and, after the viewing, held a meeting to discuss what they liked and didn’t like and how the film differed from the book.
This surprised me. Didn’t they know that most book clubs don’t actually discuss the books? Or even read them?
A book club run by my coworkers tries to meet once a month, and, as I’ve been told, try to read the book. “We discuss it for a bit,” one of the members told me. “But then we just eat and gossip. We have a great time.” When I inquired about the point of having a book club where the book doesn’t get read or discussed, she simply replied, “Do any book clubs actually do that?”
On the contrary, my mother-in-law is in a book club where they do actually read the books. Not only does she discuss the books with her club, she also gives me the head-up on what books to read and, more important, what books not to read.
Anything that increases the popularity of reading is a good thing, I suppose. We all watch too much TV and spend too much time on the computer, and it’s good for us to sit down, put our feet up, and crack open a book. But, really, you don’t have to join a book club to do it. In fact, you might actually finish the book if you don’t.