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May Blog Post

07 May 2024 2:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Seven reasons to join a book club

In this Blog post, I (author, Maureen Osis) share seven reasons to join a Book Club. If you have never been a member before, this might encourage you to join one. If you are interested, you will find ideas and links at the end of this post. You can also check out the many book clubs offered by CALL interest groups.

Blog updated June 11, 2024


Let's start with a brief history of book clubs.

History of Book Clubs

The first verified book club was formed by Anne Hutchinson, who started a scripture reading group in 1634. In the next century, book clubs gained popularity in Europe, usually with members from middle and upper-class. Some were very formal. Those clubs included with officers and members were required to answer a specific set of questions. Others were formed by groups who worked together and wanted to explore relevant topics of the day; such as, political and social causes. For more on this topic, read The Long Legacy of Book Clubs, by Shelbi Polk. 

In the 1700s in the US, "book clubs" i.e. reading groups and literary societies played an important role in advancing women's rights. In the following century, these groups helped freed African Americans learn to read and gain an education; previously denied to them when enslaved. Lesley-Anne Longo describes this social phenomenon in The Radical History of Book Clubs: Connecting us through Literature.

In addition to discussion and social interaction some clubs have a larger purpose of community development. They build libraries; fund education scholarships for women; and take on other social causes.

The Ladies' Literary Club of Ypsilanti, was formed in 1878.
It continues today, with a Mission:

"The objective of the Club shall be the mutual enrichment of its members through fellowship in an environment that encourages learning. The Club also serves as an energizing for the good of the community and a caretaker of its historic clubhouse."

Canada's first book club  was started in 1928 when the T. Eaton Company LTD offered its customers "a selective literary service." A committee of literary authorities made a monthly selection of titles - sold to the membership at an average price of $2.

Update: June 11, 2024

Thanks to a reader, Sandra Ens, who informed me that this information from the Canadian Encyclopedia is not accurate. There were several book clubs established in Canada prior to the T. Eaton club. If you are curious about these clubs, find more information on Historical Book Clubs in Canada the at the end of the post.  Read about the oldest reading group in Canada.  Discover more about a reading group that was founded because women were banned from attending lectures at a male club.

Many thanks to Sandra Ens who also told me about the oldest book club in Calgary, established in 1906 and still meeting today (2024).

"I belong to the oldest book club in Calgary, the Calgary Women's Literary Club, established in 1906. Led by Annie Davidson, these women met to discuss books but also to petition the City of Calgary and then appeal to Andrew Carnegie for a library to be built. They were successful and the first Calgary Public Library opened in 1912. The library is now the Memorial Park Branch, and our book club continues to meet there. Our minutes, membership lists, presentation summaries, and the programs that the club followed each year are housed in the Glenbow Archives."
Sandra Ens, passionate book member

Curious to learn more about this long-lasting book club, visit their website. Calgary Women's Literary Club

New Interest in Book Clubs.

If reading is a solitary activity, why are book clubs so popular?  Maureen Osis

BOOKNET CANADA (BNC) published a comprehensive report on Reading Together: Book Clubs in Canada. They did this research because:

"The percentage of Canadian book buyers who belong to a book club or reading group jumped from 7% in 2018 to 14% in 2019. This sudden increase in book club membership drew our attention and made us want to know more about the enigma that is book clubs."

Some highlights of the report:

  • The most popular reason for joining a book club was to be exposed to new books; followed by the social reasons of meeting new friends and staying connected to existing friends
  • Adult fiction was the most popular subject - and mysteries/thrillers were at the top of this category.
  • Non-fiction was not far behind, including true crime, biographies, or memoirs.

Annie C., a member of a CALL Book Club Interest Group shared her personal story:

"I have loved reading books since I was a child. I would go to the local library every Saturday, come home with a teetering pile of books and go into the cave of my attic bedroom and be gone for hours, maybe for days especially in the winter. Sometimes as a child I would talk with whomever would bother to listen, about the amazing places I had been traveling that cost me $.25 a year. Later I became an English teacher and had my own little captive book club in the classroom. We would pick the books apart to my heart's content.

Being in a book club opened up a whole new world for me and I am so grateful that I intend to be a member of a book club for years to come---until my eyes give out perhaps and then I'll give in to audio books. I love the feel of a book in my hands where I can flip back a few pages to re-read as needed or just feel the book in my hands."

Qualities of a Successful Book Club

Not all book clubs survive. In her blog "Book Journey", Sheila explores reasons why  some book clubs thrive and some take a dive.

I asked some CALL book club members about their book club experiences. Here's what some members say about why their book clubs are successful and what keeps them coming back:

"The members of the book club share their perspectives respectfully, making book club a safe place to explore new works. Also, the book club members are knowledgeable and provide insights which enhance my understanding of the material."  Susan W.

"Feeling I am participating in meaningful dialogue about the stories rather than just saying I liked or didn't like the book."  Debbie B.

"I enjoy listening to the thoughts and feelings of other members. Other people zero in on and see things that I miss. They often have a different focus or catch symbolic references that I miss. There are times when my own half-formed ideas are confirmed by others." Annie C.

“I selected a book club that read short stories because while I wanted to be part of a book club, I did not want to commit to reading a whole book for the club each month. A short story is a perfect match for my time commitment. We have read a wide variety of stories and we always have the most interesting and thought-provoking discussions.  Marje. W.

Additionally, here are some of the qualities that help a book club succeed. 

  • Every member has the chance to suggest/choose a book - and to lead the discussion.
  • Structure: set a time limit and stick to it. People are busy -- they don't want to bail out early and feel awkward if the meeting often runs overtime.
  • Someone needs to lead the discussion; to handle awkward situations -- if the debate becomes too personal or critical -- to give everyone a chance to talk.

Seven Reasons to Join

One   To share a love of reading with others who have the same interest.

Two   To meet people from diverse backgrounds.

In her article on book clubs Shelbi Polk describes a young physician who wanted to "break out of her doctor bubble" and meet people "who are different from me."

Three  To share a common purpose.

For example, CALL has a book club for those interested in learning more about Indigenous Peoples in Canada and other countries: An Indigenous Literature Discussion Group.

Four   To meet new friends.

"Thanks to the book club I’ve met a number of interesting and thoughtful people."  Susan W.

Five   To learn from a discussion with a diverse group of individuals.

Debbie B., a member of the CALL interest group Short Reads: Great Women Writers book club, had this to share about her book club experience:

Participating in a meaningful dialogue about stories has helped me to:

  • appreciate how to evaluate what I’m reading,
  • learn more about the authors and the possible impact on the story,
  • to think about what I’m reading and look at things in more depth,
  • listen to other readers and their points of view and how the story can be interpreted multiple ways based on the readers own background, understand the impact of the story based on when, where and why it might have been written.

Six   To be introduced to new authors and genres -- books that you might not choose on your own.

Because members choose the books, they select from their own experiences or preferences. Many members commented that they have read books they would not have found on their own; sometimes being introduced to a new "favourite" author.

Seven   To benefit from an online book club.

"I joined Short Reads Great Women Writers first because I love literature; second it gave me an opportunity to chat on line and make new friends. Being introduced to new authors and their short stories is another wonderful benefit. Living out of Calgary, the Zoom meetings allow me to participate in the discussion. Having the stories online and available makes being a member easy and enjoyable."  Pat R.

Even those with a love of reading might feel a bit intimidated about joining a book club. As you can read above, learning new ways to see and understand the world is the great reward for stepping into the unknown. The unknown of a new author, creating a fresh and unique world in words and connecting with new ideas – all part and parcel of joining any of the many communities who come together to talk, share and learn from a world of words!

Author

Maureen Osis

Maureen retired from her career -- first as a Gerontological Nurse and then a Marriage/Family Therapist in private practice working with mid-life and older adults. Maureen has published numerous articles and books related to her professions. She is a member of CALL because she is passionate about learning. She is a volunteer with CALL, doing social media and the primary author of the blog, because she likes to face new challenges.

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If you are interested in joining one of CALL's book clubs, there are several to choose from.

Text Lifelong learning for the Joy of it Join CALL May 1 and enjoy 4 free months. Mar 1 to Aug 31 2025

Browse the website and learn about more than 50 Interest Groups. Many are accepting new members. Check out the Speaker Events -- if you are not sure about joining CALL, you can attend some of these events by paying $5 at the door.

If you are not a member of CALL, now is a great time to join. Your $50 membership fee will be extended until August 31, 2025. You can pay safely online or print the form and pay by mail.


Learn more about membership in CALL.

Questions/Feedback? Please contact us.

blog@calgarylifelonglearners.ca

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resources

Want to start a book club?

Here is everything any book lover needs to know about forming and enjoying a successful book discussion group.
Ellen Slezak
The Book Group Book: A Thoughtful Guide to Forming and Enjoying a Stimulating Book Discussion Group (2000)

The Book Club Guide 
Whether you're an avid reader or just getting back into reading, a book club is a great way to expand your literary horizons, meet new friends and share ideas!

Looking for recommendations for your book club?

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Canadian Book Club
Ideas for books to read and featured books clubs in Canada.

Check the list provided by Amanda Arbuthnot, Service Design Lead for Reader's Services at Calgary Public Library.
Amanda Arbuthnot's favourite book club books.

Looking for an online book club?

Senior Planet Book Club AARP
Senior Planet Community 
Make friends. Talk openly.  Age with attitude.

An alternative to joining a book club.  Looking for conversations about bestselling books?  Recommendations for your reading list?  Check out:
Wordfest Calgary


List of Historical Book Clubs in Canada

1870.  The Eclectic Reading Club in Saint John, New Brunswick.  This is the oldest reading group in Canada - and still active.

1876. Not really a "book club".  The Toronto Women's Literary Club was founded in 1876, led by Canada's first female medical doctor, Dr. Emily Howard Stowe. In addition to providing an intellectual and social outlet, the group was devoted to women's rights and the name was chosen as a disguise to limit controversy. Later in 1883, it was renamed, "Canadian Women's Suffrage Association."

1892St. Catharines Women’s Literary Club, founded in 1892 by a local author, Emma Harvey Currie. Met for 102 years, holding its last meeting on February 19, 1994.

1906. Calgary Women's Literary Club. Founded February 19, 1906 in the home of Annie Davidson.  She and the members were responsible for getting the first public library in Calgary. Read more: "How a 'woman with a dream' and her book-loving friends gave Calgary a library." 

1909.  In St. John's NL the Ladies' Reading Room was founded in response to women being banned from attending lectures at a male club.

1928. The Riverside Book Club in Medicine Hat was established.

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