Not Part of a Book Club? Here’s What You’re Missing!

Have you ever been part of a Book Club?  And I’m not talking about those awkward high school English classes.  I’m referring to the weekly and monthly meetings adults willingly sign up for, read a prescribed text, and show up (sometimes virtually!) for group discussion.  Recent data shows over 5 million Americans are part of a regular-meeting Book Club.  Did you think it would be more people? Or less?

What is it about group discussion of the written word that attracts us?

To get to the heart of the question, I began reflecting on my own Book Club experiences.  I was surprised to identify five different times I’ve regularly participated with a consistent group of people to discuss our thoughts and reactions to the same book or material.  While each experience had its own unique purpose and outcomes, the commonalities in these experiences reminded me why I kept going back.

Yet, I couldn’t be alone in these experiences.  I wanted to know more. Quick research took me to this timeline illustrating the birth of the American book club on a ship headed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony  in 1634. Almost 100 years later, Benjamin Franklin organized a prominent Philadelphia literary society he named “Junto.”  In the 1950s, we saw the introduction of the “Book-of-the-Month Club.”   Then in 1996, Oprah Winfrey catapulted the American book club into the mainstream trend it is today when she launched “Oprah’s Book Club” a discussion segment of her daily televised talk show.

While historically thought of as a “women-only” pastime, all-male book clubs cropped up all around the country after Oprah’s club took off.   I was impressed to see how many Man Book Clubs have raised the bar with rules, criteria, websites and even themed dinners for their clubs.  Even the recently retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck has a monthly book club.

Take a peek at my five book club experiences to see why they were and are so meaningful and impactful in my journey.

Newlywed Club

Due to a military posting, my new husband and I relocated across the country far from friends and family.  After finding employment, I quickly bonded with two female co-workers. We were young and full of ideas. Wanting to advocate for the business owner to change his operating procedures and interview processes, we needed better industry knowledge and perspective of our competition’s tactics.   To influence his thinking, we needed to make our case with data and well informed recommendations. We invested over the next 9 months in reading industry expert pieces, local business histories and competitive analyses. It became our morning office ritual to discuss our findings and ponder our questions while our coffee brewed and our green screens came to life.  Right before the Holidays, we made our pitch. I remember my nervousness. My voice cracked when it was my turn to speak. At the end of the hour, he praised us. He was impressed with the thoroughness of our proposal and approved our suggestions for implementation after the new year. While it was a season of professional learning and growth for us, what I valued most was the sense of belonging.  For this newlywed 800 miles from everyone and everything familiar, it was a saving grace. 

Faith Community Clubs

Later, as a Mom of two small children with a successful early career, I experienced Book Clubs #2 and #3.  Both groups were part of our church community and a welcome respite from diapers and daycare. I had pushed, struggled, and earned for a decade.  Now it was time for something different. The first of these two clubs was a deep dive, biblical study with thought-provoking homework assignments.  It had a heavy daily reading schedule and I had to sacrifice other interests during this season to keep pace.   We had to arrive for each weekly session prepared to discuss and dissect the material.

I joined Book Club #3 a year later when the group leader advertised our first book would be Bad Women of the Bible.  I was intrigued.  Would I find I wasn’t alone in my rule-breaking, limit-testing approach to life?  This was the first club I had participated in where the weekly attendees often changed.  More of a “come when you can” culture, our leader was less concerned about imparting knowledge or deepening our faith.  Her passion was making us feel accepted and teaching us how to forgive ourselves.  Watching her facilitate our conversations, I learned how to navigate deeply personal and risky conversations.  I observed the keen way she drew parallels between the main female character of each chapter and our lives. Our group mentality morphed from “come when you can” to “this 2 hours gets me through the week.”   I recall an A-Ha moment when I realized the stories of the Bad Women of the Bible were also playing out in the lives of the women sitting around that wobbly church table. I was humbled by the life experiences my fellow participants grew comfortable revealing.  Encouraged by their support, I added my stories to the fabric of our conversation. Once again, I found community and safety in a book club.

Professional Club

Club #4 began in a third floor conference room during the staff meeting of the toughest leader I had ever experienced.  An academic at heart, our leader felt our team had knowledge gaps he wanted to help us shore up. His vision for our department called for us to be more consultative and lead in areas the company needed to progress quickly. His method of teaching would be a weekly book discussion.

Like good soldiers, my colleagues and I read assigned chapters by his favorite thought leaders.  Each week, we were subjected to rapid fire questioning to test our comprehension. In the early days, it was tense and awkward.  Our leader pushed on. Eventually, we fell into somewhat of an easy rhythm. Our meetings became more like family dinner conversation and our leader was relegated to the Dad the family picks on. We had created a safe place to test our ideas and challenge perspectives.  As our confidence grew, we found ways to appropriately challenge our “leader-Dad” too.

“Hood Girls” Club

My most recent book club adventure began this past January with my neighborhood girlfriends.  In eight short months, our club has become a beloved time for us and well known with our families.  My husband and kids often comment that “nothing gets in the way of Mom and her Book Club.”  My friends and I take turns suggesting books and we glean our ideas from our Moms and our sisters.   And our social media!  Dare I admit I’ve finally joined the stereotypical club where the wine & appetizers are debated more than the book?  We’ve read books from Oprah’s Book Club and Reese’s Book Club. We’ve devised a rotating schedule of hosting and we divvy up the work by half of us bringing an appetizer and the other half contributing wine.  The rules are lax. The purpose is social and supportive. We’ve weathered job changes, pending retirements, teenage rebellion and moving a few of our kids to college. Just last month, one of us was able to announce her husband’s “cancer free” status and no one cared that she hadn’t read that month’s book.  In this club of middle-aged Moms, we welcome you even when life gets in the way of your reading. As it turns out, Book Club has become a place we’ve all needed precisely when life gets in the way of our reading.   

So, what do Book Clubs provide that keep me coming back?  

As a leader who has spent my 20+ year career helping organizations and individuals grow, change, and transform, I only recently discovered how much my book club experiences bolstered my own growth and transformation.  We’ve heard the famous quotes:

  • “Growth and comfort do not co-exist”
  • “There’s no growth in the comfort zone.”   
  • “Great things never came from your comfort zone”    

As an executive coach and an expert in leading change, I know these statements to be true.

Yet, there is something else I also know to be true.  During every growth story and amidst every business or personal transformation, the critical moment comes when we have to take the risk.  We have to step outside our comfort zone and say yes to trying uncomfortable new things. And, that moment is scary. Each time I’ve faced that moment, the catalyst that propelled me forward was the knowledge that even if I failed, the safety net of my community would catch me.

Book Club communities provide us perspective and bolster our confidence.  They offer a sense of belonging when our environment is new and encouragement when we launch new ventures.  They are a safe place where vulnerability transitions to courage.  And courage becomes action.

Do you want to take that next leap but fear is holding you back?  Are you chartering new territory and wish you had a safe place to talk about it?  Find a group.  Join a club. You’ll find so much more than a few good books.  You’ll find the next version of yourself.

Need a facilitator for your next workplace Book Club?  Are you a Leader looking to launch your own? Call me! I work with organizations and leaders who value the power of community and want to leverage its potential for growth and change.