Reflection: Why do “book clubs” still work?

Posted on February 8, 2016 | 2 comments

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Claire Norman from the Bool Belles book club that has been running for more than 20 years: why do book clubs work?

This is Claire Norman’s last book review but Claire is going nowhere: she is starting a new column for Bluestone called ‘Up Close’ where she takes a closer look at the things we may pass by every day and never really notice. You can find the first one here. In the meantime, Claire reflects on book clubs and why they work…

A book club is a many-splendoured thing.  It is a rainbow of individuals with a plethora of life’s experiences, a whole can of food worms and an empty wine bottle collection with a few books thrown in.

This rainbow meets regularly with the stated purpose of discussing ‘a particular book’. Often, it’s also a chance to share any other good reads they’ve come across.


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Over the years, there are sensational books and animated discussions that send you back to reread. There are books that open the hearts and minds of all present and create a level of connection within the group.  There are occasionally books where everyone agrees (for or against) but most often there are books where opposing views are ‘softened’ or ‘enriched’ by discussion.

Discussing ideas through books can create a strong bond between the members. It allows a freedom of speech within the group that is unique to each club. Over years it can offer a support network and a sharing of life’s experiences beyond the book club gatherings.

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Boutique bookshops like Blarney Books & Art, Port Fairy, tap into the enduring love of actual books that sustain book clubs across the south-west.

In any book club, there are strong and confident voices as well as quieter individuals who are less often heard. There are respectful disagreements over the content or vastly different outlooks on the book or beyond it. Every book club member sees the world in a unique way.

Even so, any book club might have the input of – the ‘literature guru’ (quoting related books, authors or styles), the ‘flick’ reader (doesn’t like the start so wont be finishing it or reads a few random chapters), the ‘spoiler’ (reads the last few pages before reading from the start – to reduce the tension), the ‘language lover’ (records favourite phrases and sentences), the ‘sage’ (with a throw-away phrase that somehow clarifies the whole book) or the ‘researcher’ (collected notes in hand). The ‘close-er’ role is a moving feast and rarely has everyone finished the book in time for the book club gathering.

Choosing and accessing ‘the book’ has its own challenges while discussing ‘the book’ is usually ‘book ended’ with generous chat around food and drink.

Somehow ‘food’ can be a massive issue: too much food, too much food competitiveness or too much fuss.

One local book club calls themselves after a common chocolate biscuit because that’s the only food allowed. I’ve heard of another book club with a food ‘Hitler’ (dictating all menu, recipes and ingredients for the next gathering). In Belles, we’ve seriously discussed scaling back on food but in the end, we all love food and everyone is very generous with their suppers. Wine or drink seems less of an issue in a book club as long as there is enough of it and no one is in the habit of getting drunk.



Then there is the role of book club host. Be warned – it can be daunting especially if you’ve forgotten book club is even on let alone at your place until there’s a knock at the door. (Thank you to my teenager for finding things in the pantry while my ‘oversight’ goes into book club history.)

A book club is indeed a many-splendoured thing so why not start your own. Just ask a few friends to share a cuppa over a book you’ve enjoyed. Use the local bookshop, library or internet to access copies or sign up to CAE in Melbourne. Hunt up some discussion notes or just run with the basics – setting, characters, plot, concepts covered, writing style and how you feel about any of it.

It’s a New Year, so soak up the splendour of books and start your own book club.

This is Claire Norman’s last book review column, but Claire is going nowhere: she is starting a new column for Bluestone called ‘Up Close’ where she takes a closer look at the things we may pass by every day and never really notice.

Read Claire’s new column, Up Close, here….


  1. Great pic of you our wonderful Claire! Lovely reflection of how important books & clubs can be. Glad to be part of the mish mash!

  2. Thank you, Claire. Nothing can replace the turning of the pages, the ‘I have 10 minutes, I’ll read’. Ebooks are ok when flying, but I still browse and often buy in the waiting time.
    Book clubs also introduce us to new authors.

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