October 18, 2018

Reading groups are more important than you think: they’re radical


The other day I was in a lunch meeting with a fellow marketing professional when the topic turned to book groups and reading guides.

Photo via Alexis Brown/Unsplash

It got me thinking about how important and seemingly common they are. Everyone has a book club they’ve started or at least heard about. Such groups can be big business for a publisher. Just look at Oprah’s Book Club pick as the proverbial high-water mark for that coveted seal of approval. But beyond the business side of things, reading groups began as safe spaces where its members could, without judgment, discuss a book. This hasn’t changed.

According to Tanvi Misra for CityLab: “Book clubs are subtly radical spaces. They’ve long been incubators of subversive ideas and social movements, especially for groups that have been denied participation in more public forums for discourse.” It’s true–for every book club that’s reading a long-studied classic like Crime and Punishment, there are plenty of groups that help foster both the reader and personality within. “An intoxicating exchange of ideas and emotions. This queer book club will go on forever,” wrote M. Milks for JSTOR Daily. Milks’ participation in reading groups became “a major step in coming into queerness.”

These groups are about taking the solitary act of reading and turning it into a means of exchanging, developing, and discussing ideas. We could surely keep our reading experiences to ourselves, but the response to a text is as reassuring as our initial first impression. James Atlas for the New York Times explored the burgeoning world of book clubs, from its cookie-cutter industry initiatives right on down to niche offerings. From local to online, groups become touchstones for readers under threat of losing touch with a community.

As Atlas states, “It’s harder now, given the pace of modern life, but we hunger for [reading] more.” So often on busy trains during a morning commute, you’ll see someone lost in a book. We want to escape, we want to be found. “In the end, book groups are about community.” I couldn’t agree more.

Reading groups are big business, but they are also safe spaces where big ideas still get a chance to shine.




Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.