REWRIT­ING THE RULES OF THE BOOK CLUB

The rein­ven­tion of read­ing groups

Vocable (All English) - - Culture -

When Kim Kar­dashian an­nounced the launch of her read­ing club last year, the Amer­i­can re­al­ity TV star’s fans were a bit sur­prised. It is proof, how­ever, that read­ing groups are no longer the re­serve of the el­derly. Wel­come to a new gen­er­a­tion of book clubs…

Every month a group of mil­len­ni­als gath­ers at a pub in Lon­don to dis­cuss what they’ve been read­ing. The 20- and 30-Some­things Book Club was founded in 2014 on Meetup, an event-shar­ing site, and claims 2,000 fol­low­ers. Par­tic­i­pants sug­gest themes and a book is cho­sen ac­cord­ingly: this month, on the sub­ject of banned books, they have pored over One Flew Over the Cuck- oo’s Nest. Though there are only 20 spa­ces per event—which get snapped up well in ad­vance—users con­trib­ute to the dis­cus­sion be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter on Meetup’s mes­sage boards, with those who at­tended the meet­ing of­ten com­ment­ing on the is­sues raised dur­ing their con­ver­sa­tion.

2. De­spite the myr­iad dis­trac­tions of Net­flix and so­cial me­dia, lit­er­ary chat still has a cer­tain ap­peal for young peo­ple. On­line net­works have helped, not hin­dered, book­ish en­gage­ment, with What­sApp groups and on­line hang­outs en­abling real-time dis­cus­sion be­tween in­di­vid­u­als across the globe. Those with a par­tic­u­lar fondness for ro­mance fic­tion, say, or sport or bi­og­ra­phy, can find like-minded read­ers eas­ily through web­sites like Goodreads. As the dis­cus­sions take place on­line, it in­vites those who may not nor­mally speak up in groups of strangers to of­fer their thoughts.

PUB­LIC FIG­URES

3. Celebri­ties and pub­lic fig­ures have played a sig­nif­i­cant role in this mod­ern it­er­a­tion of the book club. Af­ter 15 years of rec­om­men­da­tions dis­cussed dur­ing her prime-time tele­vi­sion show, Oprah Win­frey’s book club now hosts on­line dis­cus­sions for the cho­sen texts. Reese Wither­spoon cu­rates a monthly book club on­line to tie in with Hello Sun­shine, her me­dia pro­duc­tion com­pany fo­cused on fe­male-driven nar­ra­tives. Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s fem­i­nist book club, has been se­lect­ing texts for on­line de­bate since 2016. Any mem­ber can pose a ques­tion to the wider group, write a pub­lic re­view or sim­ply ex­press an opin­ion.

4. Where book clubs were once made up of long-time friends, and con­vened at each other’s houses, if these new, looser groups meet at all, they do so at restau­rants or bars. They have the feel of a net­work­ing event, says Tanya, who founded and runs the New Cross Book Club. “I used to live in Is­tan­bul and was part of a book club there,” she says. “I re­ally en­joyed it, and

al­most ev­ery­one was in their 30s…It’s def­i­nitely be­com­ing a new trend.” Rachel, who is part of a group in Lon­don, says that from these as­sorted groups, gen­uine friend­ships are struck up.

DI­VER­SITY OF OPIN­IONS

5. Some ar­gue that the mod­ern book club boasts a new di­ver­sity of opin­ion. Steve, who has been at­tend­ing the 20- and 30- Some­things group for two years now, says that he has en­coun­tered a range of back­grounds within the group. “Our choice of books is gen­uinely eclec­tic, and while we’re aimed at younger peo­ple, we have mem­bers from so many dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties and eth­nic­i­ties.” Rachel agrees. “There’s a wide range of ca­reers...which can be dif­fi­cult to find in your other friend­ship groups.”

6. Sur­veys con­sis­tently re­veal a thwarted de­sire among adults to read more, with work emails and mind­less so­cial-me­dia scrolling be­ing the main thieves of time that could oth­er­wise be spent on a good book. Yet it is pre­cisely these tools that are also en­abling vast numbers of peo­ple to en­ter into di­a­logues, dis­cover new writ­ers and instigate friend­ships. The In­ter­net pro­vides a never-end­ing stream of in­for­ma­tion, dis­in­for­ma­tion and ru­mour. There is some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about hav­ing ev­ery­one, for the length of a book-club novel, on the same page.

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