October is National Reading Group Month, a good time to think about books as tools for making connections among people. My mother was in a reading group for 40 years–a dozen women who met once a month in each other’s houses. They had a paid leader at the beginning, courtesy of a foundation that was promoting discussion groups in the 1930s, but they continued for many years without her, reading great books, eating (of course), and becoming fast friends. Book discussion groups do create community, there’s no doubt about that. They teach us to consider–even honor–other people’s points of view, something we could use more of in this world, right now.
I’m a member of a small nonfiction reading group–you can see our reading list. We struggle with how to pick our books, always wanting to find a great book that will promote meaningful discussion. But it turns out that even if the book doesn’t change our lives, the act of discussing it might. Getting together in someone’s kitchen or dining room and exchanging ideas, accommodating our very different approaches to literature, and our diverse life experiences turns out to be quite satisfying. Maybe it’s the particular group members, but I suspect it’s also the exchange of ideas, even on the evenings when we don’t feel inspired or brilliant. Is that your experience too?