Monday, August 9, 2010

In Praise of Book Clubs

I went to a book club last night with a friend who invited me along at the last minute. I met some great people, made some new friends, and got some tips about good books to look out for.

The book club seems to be a relatively new social phenomenon. Here in the UK it is largely connected with popular TV couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan who added a book club spot to their daytime talk show, sending sales of the books they recommended into the stratosphere. But even before Richard and Judy picked up the baton and ran with it, book clubs were springing up all over the place.

When I was a student doing my degree in English literature book clubs didn't exist which was a pity because I'd have loved to meet up with others as enthused and eager about Vanity Fair and Tess of the D'Urbervilles as I was. Instead my appreciation of these books was tempered by dry tutorials, long lectures, and essays which analysed all the magic out of them.

The book assigned for September's meeting of the club I just joined is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger which is, I am told, on sale in Sainsbury's for £3. That's $4.50. It probably helps that we don't have sales tax on books, but this is still a wonderful price when I factor in the hours of pleasure (assuming it's a good book) it will give me, not least of which will be the two hours spent eating cake and chatting about it at the book club. But despite a book club being a cheap form of entertainment (compared with, say, a restaurant meal or a cinema ticket) I don't think it's price alone which is making it such a popular social custom. For one thing, the rise of the book club predates the global recession even if it, annoyling, postdates my degree course.

Book clubs are great for authors too. If there are, say, ten people at a book club and they happen to choose your book for the reading list, you're going to sell ten extra copies. Just the fact that these clubs are getting people reading again, going into bookshops and recommending books to their friends is great news for those of us who scratch out a living writing those books.

My next book comes out later this year, and my publishers have asked that I include questions for book clubs to consider at the end of the book. I really enjoyed coming up with the questions; it gave me an opportunity to think analytically about the characters and plot, and I think it very much improved my understanding of my own manuscript.

I'm not really seeing any down side to a book club here. It sells more books, it gets people together to have fun and appreciate literature, it even helps writers with their craft. So if you're not a member of a book club already, I can highly recommend it, and if you are a member, I salute you!

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