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Commentary: The joy of book clubs

Connie LaRue with a few of her favorite books.
Rich Egger
Connie LaRue with a few of her favorite books.

McDonough County is a county of readers. We are fortunate to have local libraries and we also have bookstores that carry both new and used books. And, just take a look sometime at the huge offerings of used books for sale at some of our festivals around the county! Lots of books and lots of readers! Many of these McDonough County readers belong to book clubs.

Although sometimes book clubs are dismissed as “chick lit” or “wine happy hour” or “places for juicy gossip,” that is not usually the case. Although the social element is important, clubs do make significant use of their time as they read and prepare for their club meetings. Most book clubs enjoy their discussions - in fact, statistics show that the majority of book clubs usually spend at least 40 minutes in discussion and most spend 50 or 60 minutes, on average.

Overwhelmingly, book club members want to read books that will provoke conversation. Interestingly, we find that sometimes books that are fun to read might provide very little discussion. And sometimes, books that are not liked at all generate great discussions.

One of my best happy places is a comfortable chair surrounded by book friends who are discussing a book we’ve all read. We appreciate each other’s insights, the laughs, the cries, the heartfelt stories that we share, the anger of the narratives of social injustice, and the various other topics and themes that we explore.

I lead several book clubs whose members read a variety of books and discuss a wide range of interpretations and observations. We value our engagement; it’s an essential part of our club meetings.

One of the book clubs I lead is a WIU LIFE book club - the We Need to Talk Book Club. Before every discussion, I email a list of reviews, video interviews, comments by authors, and discussion questions. And many other book clubs and individuals do the same. Book club members can expand their reading by going beyond the book to read those items if they’d like. The statements that authors and reviewers share make us appreciate things we wouldn’t necessarily examine. And, we don’t always agree with them!

When we discuss topics such as those, we find a sharper understanding that may become more powerful when we are all able to share and comprehend those views together in our book club.

There are many other advantages to book clubs. Book club members read genres that they might never find on their own, helping them to expand their choice of books. Usually book club readers are compelled to read quality books. Also, reading conscientiously encourages deeper critical thinking. Exploring new book choices and the concentration of reading books will help keep our brains sharp. Don’t we all want that!

And, sometimes, we just want to simply enjoy discussing and sharing our love of books with each other.

We also know there are many readers who want to read on their own and are not interested in book clubs. We applaud their choices as well. Most book club readers also spend special solitary time reading their own choice of books.

My book club priority is bringing people together in community. Books clubs create important social connections that are vital to our society. They help to build and reinforce relationships. There’s a common purpose that enhances and creates a feeling of shared community, large or small. The mutual purpose of the books we read together builds strong relationships that can stretch beyond our books to generate true friendships that can last a lifetime.

Recently, I’ve been collecting the book clubs of McDonough County. So far, I’ve identified seventeen book clubs – some public, some private, and some that are literary societies. And I’m still searching.

I encourage anyone who is interested to investigate joining a book club. You can contact me to explore.

I’ll leave you with this – most book club readers:

  • Respect each other’s opinions
  • Look for exposure to books they otherwise wouldn’t read
  • Choose books that challenge them as a reader
  • Enjoy lively discussions
  • Enjoy socializing
  • Feel like they belong
  • Feel a trust for shared personal information
  • Cherish their book clubs’ personal friendships 

Connie LaRue is a retired high school English teacher.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or its license holder, Western Illinois University.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.