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Women’s Book Groups: Not Only About The Book

Published: October 18, 2009 | Last Updated: November 15, 2022 By | Reply Continue Reading

Even though technology enables women to connect online, it can’t substitute for the face-to-face friendships that steep over a cup of tea or a conversation about a good book.

Local women’s book groups (also called reader groups) offer women an opportunity to get together in a cozy setting to talk, to think, to feel, and to engage with one another on many different levels. Book groups provide far more than just the opportunity to read a book: They’re forums where friendships, both close and casual, are made and nurtured.

“What we’ve discovered these past two years is that book groups are to reading what slow food is to the food industry, blogged Joan Gelfand, President of the National Women’s Book Association on The Huffington Post. “In this fast paced world, book groups give people a chance to connect, join in community and listen and learn in intimate environment,” she added.

Adding a Reader’s Group Guide to the end of my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Breakup with Your Best Friend, wasn’t an afterthought. It seemed integral to the book’s purpose: to stimulate an ongoing dialogue between friends and among women about the nature of our relationships.

Novelist Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors’ Wives’ Club and Crossing Washington Square (Penguin) recently interviewed me on the topic of The Secret Lives of Women and their Book Groups for her blog in The Huffington Post. A portion of the interview is reprinted below:

JOANNE:

Book groups are predominantly a female phenomenon. Why do you think this is the case?

IRENE:

Women will use any excuse to get together with other women. Whether it’s a trip to the nail shop, a gym class, or a book group, women seize upon opportunities to be together to share feelings and emotions.

What better stimulus than a good book, fiction or non-fiction, to get the conversation rolling, and the commitment to a book-group to provide an excuse for a regular girls’ night out? Book groups offer women a chance to take what might be a solitary hobby — reading — and use it to nurture friendships.

JOANNE:

How are books and book groups good for female friendships, in your opinion? Can they be bad? Any advice for women starting a book group with friends?

IRENE:

Sometimes your friendships get into a rut because you’re so used to ruminating about what’s wrong with your friend’s life or yours — after all, that’s what friends are for.

But a book group offers a prop (the book) that stimulates new ideas to talk about and creates a larger circle of friends with whom you can share feelings. It is also often easier to talk about fictional characters in a book than it is to talk about our selves.

You might learn new and fascinating things about other women’s interests or life experiences from reading a book together. With a book as a talking point, you’ll cover ground and topics you hadn’t thought to cover with your friend in organic conversation. Importantly too, it takes many young mothers out of the 24/7 “mommy” role so they can talk to each other as adults.

Then again, books and book groups can be as divisive as politics. People may argue about what genre to read, how much time should be allotted for small talk, or what to do about the member who always comes late and never has time to read the book.

Just like friendships, no book group is perfect. Conflicts and disagreements are to be expected and need to be worked through. And by doing so, relationships are strengthened. It’s important to maintain a lively mix of conversation that is both breezy and cerebral, with wine, cupcakes or hot cocoa around to lighten the mood in case the conversation gets too heated!

Just as a certain chemistry is essential to forge a friendship between two people, it is important to make sure that members will coalesce as a group. You want a mix of people: some who talk more and some who talk less. Nothing is as destructive to to the group as a member with an irritating personality who doesn’t quite fit in. In fact, as a precaution, you might invite someone for a “tryout” before you commit to adding a new individual.

JOANNE:

Any tips on how to deal with a book group break up?

Members of a book group can become quite attached to each other. In fact, the composition of the group may even be predicated on existing friendships, either close friends or acquaintances.

But just like friendships among women, book groups (and writers’ groups) are dynamic. Individuals are constantly changing and they may change in different directions. Other commitments come up, people go through personal angst, and have more or less time in their lives for each other as life proceeds through such stages as marriage, motherhood, career changes, and divorce or widowhood. There may no longer be a central core to hold the group together.

For these reasons, members should expect a somewhat changing cast of characters and be on the lookout for new participants (friends-to-be) to add to the mix.

They also must come to terms with the reality that not all book groups last forever! And if the group survives, but you are catapulted from the group, you may want to assess why before you join another one.

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

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