October is National Reading Group Month!
Soon after moving back to the Newcastle-Gateshead area in 2015, I posted in my new neighborhood’s Facebook group to find out if there was a local book club. It turned out there was a lot of interest in the idea, and very quickly a small group of us had set a date for an initial meeting. I may not live there anymore, but helping start the group was one of the best things I did during those years.
Book clubs offer a lot of benefits. For example, people often talk about how being part of a group makes them feel more accountable for finishing the book, so they’re less likely to fall behind or give up partway through. And since they know they’ll be discussing the book, participants often feel encouraged to think critically and engage more deeply with the book.
Here’s three things I love about book clubs!
Strengthen your support network
Whether you join a neighborhood group or sign on for a virtual meeting, reading groups offer the opportunity to expand your support network.
Your support network includes the people in your life who help you achieve personal and professional goals, work through issues, advocate for yourself, etc. They’re your village, in the “it takes a village” sense, because you didn’t stop needing one after you grew up!
When you join a book club, you already know you have one thing in common. If it’s a genre or another theme-focused group (e.g., business management, creative development), that’s another shared interest. As time goes on, you’ll be investing not only in your reading or development goals, but also in the relationships you have with others in the group.
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to an area or just got less social during the pandemic. Everyone needs a strong support network!
Try a new genre or style
Maybe you like most books on the “Recommended Fiction” shelf at your local library, or maybe you only want to read nonfiction books like Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. (I mean, it is an awesome book.) Unless your reading group limits selections to a specific genre, you’ll likely have a set book at some point that doesn’t jibe with your typical TBR list.
And that’s good!
It’s fine to stick with what you know you like, but sometimes it’s good to dip a toe in another style of writing. When was the last time you read a play? A collection of short stories? A nonfiction book? You might find a new genre to love!
“Engaging with diverse content — fiction, history, biography, social science — can pull you out of your day-to-day routine and help you make connections between ideas from other fields that might be relevant to your work or life. Further, discussing these books with a diverse group of friends or colleagues can expand the way you think.”
— John Coleman, “Why Businesspeople Should Join Book Clubs”
Gain new perspectives
Books do not exist inside a vacuum, and reading shouldn’t either. As you’re thinking more critically about what you read, you’re processing the book based on your own context, experiences, and preconceptions. And so is everyone else!
Reading fiction (and often nonfiction) offers opportunities to see through another person’s eyes and better understand what their lives are like, and when we talk about books, we get to experience this twofold. By engaging in discussion with a diverse group of friends or colleagues, you can learn about different perspectives people bring to any discussion and expand the way you think.
In fact, some research suggests a link between reading fiction and experiencing empathy:
“Fiction has the capacity to transport you into another character’s mind, allowing you to see and feel what they do. This can expose us to life circumstances that are very different from our own… And taken together, this can influence how we relate to others in the real world.”
— Megan Schmidt, “How Reading Fiction Increases Empathy and Encourages Understanding”