In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 24


logoMolly from stops by to share her views of how book clubs are saving the world.. take it away, Molly!


Saving the World—One Book Club at a Time
Molly Lundquist

 On any day of the week, all across the US, men and women (well, mostly women) meet in homes, libraries, Y’s, churches—any where with lots of chairs—to talk about books … and just maybe to make the world safe for democracy. 

How’s that?  

bookcoverIn a 1995 essay (later book), “Bowling Alone,” Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam traced the decline of American civic life since the 1950’s.  He pointed to decreased voter turn out, lower public meeting attendance, fewer people serving on committees or working for political parties.  

He even found a decline in bowling leagues, despite the fact that the number of bowlers has actually increased!  Turns out, people are bowling alone. 

It’s because we’re staying home, according to Putnam.  We’ve have isolated ourselves in far flung suburbs, we spend evenings in front of our TVs (now computers)—and with the majority of women in the workforce, it all spells less time and energy for civic involvement.

The repercussions matter, said Putnam, especially for a country whose form of government—democracy—depends on active citizen participation. 

But lo and behold, along comes our book club movement—and it is a movement, make no mistake!  No one knows for sure, but the number of people involved in book clubs has been estimated at anywhere from 10-25 million…and the number continues to grow!

Bless Oprah!  Clearly, she has helped trigger the movement.  But it’s not just Oprah:  it’s our own yearning.  The question is…what are we yearning for? 

My take is that we’re yearning for a richer, deeper communal life.  Talking to friends about sports, the kids, the job…or our latest bargain at the mall can take us only so far—we want more substance in our discourse. 

And books give us more, especially when we TALK about them.  Book discussions spur us to ponder, out loud, our connection to the greater world.  We ask ourselves and each other:  what makes a better life, what are our dreams and expectations, what kind of world do we wish to live in…with what kind of people? All these ideas are the things book clubs talk about.

And then there’s the way books broaden our perspective, enabling us to reach out across time and space to understand other people in other cultures. Again, we explore these issues with each other, exchanging views and changing minds. 

It seems to me book clubs are helping to reverse the trend that worried Putnam.  Because of book clubs, we’re re-entering communal life, we’re talking about substantive issues, we’re engaging with ideas—and with one another.  

Not to be too cute about it—but I think book clubs are saving the world!

2 Responses

  1. Great post! I hadn’t thought about it in exactly this way before, but I DO miss “real conversations” with other people – it is one of the main reasons I enjoy my book club so much.

  2. I’m so glad books are bringing people together! I think its kind of sad that in small towns where 50 years ago everyone would know everyone by name, now they’re almost afraid to know their neighbors. What a great article!

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