The real purpose of a book club? Camaraderie, writes author Sinéad Moriarty.
When people think of book clubs, they imagine groups of women coming together to discuss books. They have no idea what book clubs are really about.
Book clubs are not just about books, but are also support groups and life-lines for women.
Book clubs are safe places where you can talk about anything. Literally. Book club gatherings may begin with a discussion about the book, but after that, the conversation can go anywhere – illness, grief, politics, religion, worry, parenting, marriage, sex and occasionally celebrity gossip. Most of all you laugh – a lot.
Author Sinéad Moriarty pictured in her South Dublin home. Photograph by Brian Farrell
No subject is off the table. My mother has been in a book club for 40 years. They have lived through everything, and regardless of what they are dealing with, they turn up every month to talk about books, to support each other and to be there.
Of course, the books are important, but it’s also about connection, being with like-minded people, lively discussions, a kind word, a comforting cup of tea, a much-needed glass of wine and laughter. Lots of laughter.
A social thing
Book clubs can be life-lines for people living in isolated communities, people who are new to the area, people who have moved to a country from abroad.
Book clubs have always been about women coming together. In a British mill town in the late 1840s, a group of girl operatives met at five o’clock in the morning to read Shakespeare together for an hour before work.
Some book clubs are made up of close friends, some are a group of neighbours, some are school mums, work colleagues and some are a random selection of people. But the key to a successful book club is that all members are readers.
Book clubs are fantastic at pushing you out of your reader comfort zone. A reading group gives you that opportunity. Also, a group encourages you to think a bit more about the books you read – why you like some and dislike others.
In a book club, you can discover new books that you might have otherwise completely overlooked. Also, having a deadline to have a book finished by will force you to find the time to read, despite our busy lives.
Watch out for...
Now, as lovely and cosy as this all sounds, book clubs do not always run smoothly. You need to be wary of who you invite in, what you drink, and who is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.
Beware of the Book Club Bore, the person who reads the Man Booker long list every year and bores you all to death about it.
Beware of the member who thinks it’s a monthly therapy session and never reads the book. Sure, what’s the point? All she wants is a bottle of wine and some free advice.
Beware the competitive hostess, the member who spends days planning the food and flowers and has a PowerPoint presentation ready when its her turn to host.
I love my book club. My sister set it up 20 years ago, and I’ve been a member for 15 years. There are seven members – a complete mixture of people; most of us don’t see each other much outside the book club. We all love books. But the best part is that we don’t cook. So when you host, you just put the kettle on, throw out a few chocolate biscuits and kick back. We talk about everything, but books are to the forefront of each meeting.
My advice is – join! But don’t make it difficult. Forget dinners and PowerPoint presentations – just read books and talk about them. Keep it simple, and it will survive the test of time.
Sinéad Moriarty’s new novel, Seven Letters (Penguin Ireland, €15), is out now.
Main photograph by Radu Marcusu/Unsplash