BOOK CLUB HISTORY AND REAL LIVES
It’s weighty, and going to be a challenge to hold while stretched out in the bed (which is my favorite way to read), but I’ve recently started “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. The heft of 818 pages has held me at bay for a while. The sheer volume of the book jolts my undisciplined reading nature. However, finally, Hamilton has found its way to the top of the list for Real Lives Book Club, and I’ve stoked the fires of my perseverance to make it all the way through.
As the organizer of the group, I’ll admit, Hamilton has been on the cusp of choices in many polls for selections. Maybe I’ve inadvertently helped nudge it to a lower position just to avoid it ;), but the book comes back as a desired read, and here we are…Hamilton in our hands.
We are a practical bunch, however, having decided to read and discuss the book over two months. We’ll convene for the first 400 pages on Wednesday, January 16, and the second half on Wednesday, February 20. Splitting the book over two months will make it more manageable, and so I begin even though I may have to sit up to read it.
HISTORY OF REAL LIVES BOOK CLUB
A true and heartfelt shout-out of gratitude to all those who are current Real Lives Book Club friends, as well as those who ebb and flow to the group, and even those who have fallen away. I have loved every opportunity to talk with interesting people who share insights about the nonfiction genre which includes autobiography, biography, and memoir.
It all began in 2015 when I sought to connect with others through books, specifically books detailing the lives of true-life people—hence the title “Real Lives Book Club.” I love the idea of reading more books but my desires are grander than my capacity. There are the unfinished books lurking under my bed, collecting dust in my psyche of unread words. I know that writers read to become better writers, but can be slow to pick up and finish books just the same so reading with others to answer to keeps me motivated.
Mostly, however, I wanted to build friendships with the book club, and enjoy hearty discussions with others about books we read together. A book is a big deal, after all. The writer expended time, skill and heart to craft ideas into words for a unified piece. In turn, the reader released time to absorb, assimilate and ponder those words. It’s a sacred circle, a transference of thought and meaning.
For me, discussion of a book is the culmination of reading. It’s the collective witness of the experience. And so, I have an abundance of gratitude to the Real Lives Book Club. They rock. They read. They discuss.
BOOK CLUB HISTORY
To be honest, it does feel somewhat noble to be a member of a book club. Any sentence I utter that starts with, “Well, in my book club we…,” feels lofty, as though I’m making a statement about my effort to be better, more knowledgeable, and better read. In fact, that aspiration of improvement is a common theme among those who have gathered in book clubs throughout history.
In Medium’s article “The Best Book Clubs in History,” we capture a brief snapshot of prominent book clubs from the past. Starting with the philosphers in 400 B.C., Socrates, Aristophanes, Xenophon and Plato communed to ask questions and discuss concepts of human nature, life, politics and reality. These became the written texts called Plato’s Dialogues.
Today, in most book groups, the Socratic Method is still employed for discussion. Questions are put forth for conversation, and perhaps opinions are challenged, but the goal is to glean new insights from others.
These days book clubs enjoy a resurgence but in large part are populated by women. Maybe it was the Oprah effect of books and book clubs during the 1990s, but there are traditions that go back further. In the mid-1800s, American women were shut out of higher education, so to continue learning they formed book clubs. Secreted to the back rooms of bookstores and candlelit gatherings in homes, these female readers were the early manifestation of the suffragettes that came after World War I.
But men have a long-standing history in book clubs as well. Benjamin Franklin convened with fellow Philadelphian tradesmen and artisans in 1727 to discuss politics, morals and the natural philosophy of the day. The Junto Group, as they were dubbed, developed many programs to aide their society including the first lending library. (Our book club read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so a score for us!)
KEEP READING AND CARRY ON
If you are the member of a book club you do carry a torch that has resonated throughout the history of mankind. We read to understand and gather to share ideas and garner further clarity. Give yourself a woot!
I formed Real Lives Book Club with the help of Meetup.com. What a great platform! People with common interests can join and then take the next step to show up and see if the group is a fit. There are numerous book groups and many others that find their tribe on Meetup.
There are also a myriad of book groups that meet online rather than in person. Of course, this permits people to look further afield for those passionate to read a particular genre. It’s a great example of the internet’s capacity to do good, which is a positive in the news these days.
I love meeting in person. It’s the mint on the pillow of my reading experience. So, I’m going to embrace the concept of self-improvement as I lug around Alexander Hamilton for the next several months with an added sense of gratitude for Real Lives Book Club members. If you care to join us you can find out more through the Meetup connection here. We also have a Facebook group where we post thoughts and questions while we are in the midst of reading a selection.