Tea and a good book – what could be better?
I reviewed a book club for reading and literacy week in our subject, Information Programs, Products and Services. Rockhampton Regional Library runs a program of “Lively Events” for adult community members that includes monthly book clubs, mah-jong meetings, classic movies, trivia.net (in which people are taught to use the internet to find answers to trivia questions) and other activities.
I attended a book club at the library in historic Mt Morgan, a former gold mining town, located about 35 minutes from Rockhampton. The Silver Wattle Book Club is held once a month at the library, between 2:00 and 3:00 pm, and is facilitated by the Librarian, Kath. The library assistant also participates. Books are chosen collaboratively by the group. The group has a “loose” agenda of democratically going around the table to get everyone’s impressions of the book, then moves on to further discussion about the book, facilitated by the librarian. When the discussion of the selected book is finished, the group moves on to a sharing of other books that they have been enjoying recently. The group finishes up with a cup of tea, and a reminder of the next meeting.
This month’s book was “Grace’s Table” by Brisbane author, Sally Piper. (The book was very good, by the way). When I arrived, the librarian made me feel very welcome, as did the other group members; introductions were made and I was given an explanation of how the group runs. The discussion was wide ranging, from the shared cultural meaning of Arnott’s biscuits, to the unequal roles of men and women in suburban Australia in the early 1970s, to the relative merits of listening to an audio book over reading a book.
Having never been to a book club before, I turned to the literature and the internet to find out more about book clubs and how they typically run, to provide a more informed assessment.
Book clubs have been around for centuries; from promoting self-development or “self-culture” in 19th Century literate, upper-class women, through to a more inclusive focus today in which anyone and everyone, from any background, can access a book club in person, or online, to discuss books. Alvarez-Alvarez (2015) describes book clubs as consisting of individuals who are “consumers of literature”, who meet regularly to discuss an agreed-upon book they have chosen to read during an agreed-upon time-frame (usually monthly). Book clubs usually welcome diversity in age, gender, culture and education, but special interest groups also form; e.g. online feminist book clubs, which provide a forum for young women to critically discuss the depiction of women in mainstream novels and advocate for social change. I was interested to discover that Emma Watson founded a feminist book club on GoodReads , in her capacity as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. It has over 140000 members, which I think says something about the way celebrity can raise the profile of a misunderstood, controversial term like “feminism”. (I really want to read this month’s book by Carrie Brownstein, “Hunger makes me a modern girl”).
So, back to my review of the Silver Wattle Book Club. The book club conforms to the above description of book clubs provided by Alvarez-Alvarez, and the way the group was run was similar to that recommended by the American Library Association (ALA) ; so it would appear that it is a fairly conventional book club. I would also rate highly the valuable social function the Silver Wattle book club performs, by enabling library members to participate in community life, and form social relationships. This function also aligns with Council’s Community and Cultural Development goal of providing services across the region “to build a strong, inclusive and proud community” (p 12). Finally, I was welcomed to the group, felt comfortable enough to participate and contribute my opinions, and was happy to share my love of books and reading with a group of like-minded people.
I would go again.