A little more than a year ago, I joined a book club.
Though I’ve been an enthusiastic life-long reader, the book club experience had seemed like a better pursuit to explore as more leisure time became available in retirement, so I’d just never joined one.
Instead, I happily listened to friends who were in book clubs talk about what they were reading and discussing. Truly, I picked up great tips about some really enjoyable books through their experiences.
As it so happens, the particular book club I was eventually invited to join has a pretty interesting pedigree: The Outlook Book Club started a little more than a century ago, in 1922. I was familiar with it because in my previous career as a journalist for the hometown newspaper I had written about the club’s milestones and activities a few times over the years.
Local historian and educator Susie Thurman is a member of the club, and for its 90th birthday she compiled a history. If I had read her account before joining the club, I might have been even more intimidated than I already was by the thought of being included in such a group.
By early accounts (and indeed reports about the Outlook club were published in The Gleaner every time they met) this was a group of very focused readers. When the club formed in October 1922 with a motto of “Onward we reach the heights,” they were planning to study the countries of the Far East through their collective reading.
At their first gathering on Nov. 5, 1922, China was the focus and members discussed the characteristics of the people, natural resources, great rivers and current events. Definitely a pursuit aimed at education rather than merely reading for fun.
Today at our book club gatherings we might learn about history (as we did recently through books about a legendary Irish potato famine ship and Alexander Hamilton) or the marvels of the world (as we did through a book about the Panama Canal), but we might also appreciate a real-life story about a journalist’s friendship with a Supreme Court Justice or read a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Maybe a best-seller.
The book club life inspires a lot of variety.
One of our members cited that very thing as the best part about the book club experience — being exposed to books, stories and information that you might not ever choose for yourself and hearing fellow club members’ perspectives on them.
Another club member echoed that thought: “Book clubs bring diverse reading, great discussions and an opportunity to learn more about the world and each other,” she said. “It’s definitely educational. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a great book.”
Yet another member, self-described as a “lifelong reader” whose teacher mother had her reading books when she was three and got her special permission to read books from the adult section of the library when she was age 7 or 8, said the friendship aspect of a book club is valuable.
She said she was a “happy hermit” during the pandemic, but when things started improving, the first activity she wanted to do was the book club. “It was the one thing I missed most,” she said.
Yes, finding — and having others find — a good book to read is addicting.
You don’t have to wait until retirement to join — or start — a book club. The Henderson County Public Library actually has approximately 100 Book Club kits in several different genres that can be checked out for use by a group. Each Book Club Kit includes at least 10 copies of each book, and many include one large print copy. You can see a list of the kits available on the library’s web site, HCPL.org, under the “Services” tab.
The library also offers a Book Club called “Plot Twist” that meets on the first Thursday of the month at Tacoholics. Check out the library calendar on the website for details.
Need a good book for winter reading?
Here are a few books recently read, reviewed or recommended by members of the century-old Outlook Book Club.
- “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver
- “The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese
- “Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships” by Nina Totenberg
- “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride
- “The Second Life of Mirielle West” by Amanda Skenadore
- “The Bullet That Missed” and “The Last Devil To Die” (Books 3 & 4) in The Thursday Murder Club Mystery Series by Richard Osman
- “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt
- “Falling” by T.K. Newman
- “Lessons In Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus
- “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks
- “Spying On the South” by Tony Horwitz
- “The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in War-Time London” by Penrose Halson
- “Agatha Christie” by Lucy Worsley
- “Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914” by David McCullogh
- “All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, Legendary Irish Potato Famine Ship” by Kathryn Miles
- “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow
- “The River We Remember” by William Kent Krueger
- “The Maid: A Novel” by Nita Prose, and its sequel “The Mystery Guest: A Maid Novel”