About a year ago, my mom texted my sister and me asking if we wanted to start a book club. We both immediately said yes. Since then we’ve taken turns picking books from a variety of genres, including literary fiction (People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks), YA (The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon), biography (The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf), memoir (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi), and essays (Upstream by Mary Oliver).
It isn’t always easy to find books we all like. We’re a disparate group of readers with vastly different tastes. My sister, a 7th grade teacher, prefers YA, while I tend to thrive on long, literary novels and my mom likes page-turners. After reading each book, eschewing any discussion questions that may be included in the back, we talk about our favorite passages, our thoughts on the main characters and themes, and whether we would read another book by that author.
Some of the books we read are connected to major issues in our society, including Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, which tells the real-life story of a Syrian-American who chose to stay in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, he was arrested without reason, accused of terrorist activities, and detained for 23 days. Or The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, which explores the life of Alexander von Humboldt, a world-renowned Prussian naturalist and one of the first people to document humans’ impact on the environment.
As it turns out, my mom’s text wasn’t unusual. In a 2015 BookBrowse survey of about 3,000 adults, 57 percent of respondents said they participate in at least one book club, up from 33 percent in 2004, and more than one in five respondents participate in an online book club. Indeed, technology may be making book clubs more interactive and easier to join for those who don’t always have time to meet in person.
Research also shows that students who participate in book clubs experience an overall increase in motivation to read, an improved self-concept as a reader, and higher reading achievement. And to make the experience more exciting, teachers can now connect students to authors through Skype, Twitter, and other online tools.
Book clubs (of all shapes and sizes) provide many benefits. I know there are books I never would have picked up if not for this book club. For families hoping to encourage reading with their kids, teachers wanting to improve their students’ reading levels, or friends looking to expand their reading habits, book clubs are a helpful way to meet a variety of needs.
If you’re thinking of starting a book club (or just looking for that next page-turner), here’s something that might help: In April, the New York Times launched a new literary advice column called Match Book, which “will connect readers with book suggestions based on their questions, their tastes, their literary needs and desires.” The column is written by Nicole Lamy, a former books editor of the Boston Globe. To come up with our next choice for our book club, my mom wrote in to Match Book and they ended up publishing her letter with suggestions from Jane Smiley, Ali Smith, and A. S. Byatt.
If you’re in a book club, let me know your favorite picks in the comments!
A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.