Oh darn. I forgot. I have three days now to read 200 pages.
You guessed it; I am in a book club. Not one, but two. And it is the most fulfilling and rewarding groups that I get to participate in.
My qualifications: Meeting a kind-hearted woman who is well connected in the community.
It is estimated that 5 million people belong to book clubs in America, mostly women. But I wonder how this number was derived, I suspect someone made it up and we all repeated it. And this number does not include Bible study groups which are arguably a type of book club.
Book clubs have been around a long time. It can be argued that one of the first documented book clubs was a Socratic one, although it is likely that they were discussions since books were prohibitively expensive. In America, one of the earliest book clubs was founded by Anne Hutchinson, who hosted Bible study groups in her home in the 1630’s. In the 1800s, women’s groups began forming to discuss Shakespeare, news and serial publications, poetry, and nonfiction. The longest running American book club, Friends in Council, was founded in 1866. In 1996, Oprah Winfrey founded Oprah’s Book Club in to stimulate reading for her large audience.
For enslaved people, reading was a crime, so it was revolutionary when free Blacks formed book clubs as early as 1821. Some black literary societies served as catalysts for emancipation.
In fact, book clubs have been instrumental to both women’s rights and emancipation.
My book clubs are important for me for many reasons. One book club is affiliated with my church. We explore different faiths, perspectives, and philosophies weekly—one chapter at a time. Nothing is off limits, as we have studied Buddhism, Gnosticism, Muslim, and race and politics as it relates to Christianity. We are a group of seekers and the range and depth of knowledge of our members is extraordinary. Here I find community. During COVID-19 we moved online, and we have chosen to remain so. As members move away, we can still stay connected. It continues our spiritual connection; but equally important, it is a space where we can support each other through life’s challenges.
My other book club is a traditional one (for which I must finish the 200 pages). The benefits are considerable. I prefer nonfiction; but our club embraces both, so I read books that I would never have chosen. Our club is populated with highly intelligent, educated, and reflective women who bring different perspectives to each book. Fortunately, we rarely agree, which allows us to learn and remain curious. So, rather than just read a book, we get to explore it. Like my other book club, we embrace each other with respect, support, and love, through our joys and challenges. Although we only meet monthly, these are my dearest friends in the community.
So, from a few hours each month, I get knowledge, perspective, curiosity, broadening horizons, love, brain activity, and support. That’s a lot.
I better get back to reading.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.
Letters to Editor
Maggie Andersen says
Hooray for you Angela! Thank you for this!
Sheila Feldman Buckmaster says
Love this. I have never been part of a book club, but now, knowing all this backstory, I am going to look into it. Thank you, Angela!
Mary Hunt-Miller says
Loved your article, Angela!
Rebecca Forney says
Do you have any good suggestions for nonfiction that may have a broad appeal, like Boys In The Boat or Lab Girl.