Column: Reading — it doesn’t have to be a solitary activitySome people are passionate about politics. Some people are passionate about organic food. Some people are passionate about NASCAR racing. I am passionate about book clubs. Fortunately for this world, there are a lot of us out there.
Some people are passionate about politics. Some people are passionate about organic food. Some people are passionate about NASCAR racing. I am passionate about book clubs. Fortunately for this world, there are a lot of us out there.
My daughter inherited this pursuit. At the age of eight she realized her friends were all readers — voracious readers. We took that individual passion and turned it into a socially shared passion by creating a girls’ book club. All it took was five
girls and a parent who was willing to do the initial structuring and organizing.
I first approached parents and asked if they were interested. There is a trick here. Many parents LOVE the idea of a student book club, but book clubs work only if the participants LOVE the idea of a book club. “Mom’s making me read this book” is a death knell for pleasure reading.
Our young group met, and I asked the girls for some basic rules. They weren’t complicated: Meet once a month; take turns choosing the books; be respectful; don’t compete; and bring snacks every time. Seeking to be sensitive toward personal and parental views, we came up with some basic parameters: Read different genres, stay away from the rough stuff, and no animal cruelty or human death. It was the meekest of girls who made this rule. Her insistence and strength forced the other girls to listen and appreciate her viewpoint. This was a solid start.
Rules set. Dates set. The next task was to begin choosing books. The Duluth Public Library made this task easy through their “Book Club in a Bag” kits. The professionals have selected a variety of good reads, put
10 copies along with discussion questions
in a bag, and made them available for checking out.
For the first book club meetings I sat in as part of the group and initiated the discussion questions. Gradually
I began handing them the questions and having them take turns leading. They quickly got the feel for how to ask, listen and respond thoughtfully and considerately. It was a delight to stand in another room and hear them agree, argue, and laugh together.
Every month for five years the girls met in different locations. We moved through pre-pubescent literature, “first love” stories, fantasy, history, science fiction, mystery, nonfiction and coming-of-age stories. And every month the girls shared opinions about what is noble and admirable in life. Every month they shared conversation and snacks over a secret story. Every month there was an intellectual challenge they worked through together. They raised money to bring in an author as a guest speaker. They grew in comprehension, logic, wisdom, tact and friendship.
Unfortunately, book club couldn’t last forever. By the time the girls reached high school they began to lose time for book club. They went different directions, but all are still passionate about reading.
Later on, my sons began asking when they could get together with friends at exotic locales (like Barnes & Noble) and eat copious amounts of junk food and drink smoothies. If they had to read a book to do it … well then, maybe it’d be worth it.
So we started the Boys Book Club. I learned quickly that this beast wasn’t just of a different color. At the first meeting the boys wanted to establish officers: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, secret service agents, spies (to check on any possible infiltration from a Girls Book Club) and torturers (for anybody who DIDN’T read the assigned book). After we were asked to leave Barnes & Noble because of rowdiness and loud raucous racing, we decided that the outdoors was the best location.
Even though the Boys Book Club presented differently, the same goals were met. All the boys read the books every month and then would meet together with strong opinions. The discussions were feisty, although not lengthy, and mental horizons were broadened. What excited me about the Boys Book Club was to see how invested the boys would become in characters they liked or disliked. Frequent wrestling matches would break out in the midst of discussion, but everybody seemed okay with that (except me, and I just needed to walk away at that point).
Adult or children’s book clubs can be rich social experiences. They increase reading comprehension, strengthen conversation skills, add to world culture awareness, develop social skills and provide for shared understanding. We all need a group of friends to meet every month for a laugh or cry. Reading does the body (individual or corporate) good.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.