Once a month,my 10-year-old son attends a book club started by a mom who is trying to introduce kids of his generation to the books we grew up reading Enid Blyton,Hardy Boys and Billy Bunter. Its a valiant effort considering that city kids lives are dominated by technology and virtual reality. Village tales from the quaint English countryside dont really cut it. I have tried in vain to get my son to enjoy The Five Find Outers and my all-time favourite,Blytons The Enchanted Wood,but he still prefers modern day kids literature such as Horrid Henry,Bone and Captain Underpants. Still,the book club has somewhat roused his curiosity about an era when kids didnt own computers and phones,and literature depicted the world as a far simpler place. Similarly,in my neighbourhood,our suddenly active Resident Welfare Association,in addition to yoga and Bollywood dance classes,has started a book club,where both men and women have enthusiastically enrolled. The meetings happen once a month,in rotation,at a different members house. Last I heard,they were reading The Secret of the Nagas,part two in the Shiva trilogy. Im told many of the condominiums in Gurgaon have book clubs as well. Ive never attended any kind of book meeting but they all follow a format of a brief discussion on the book,after which they break for tea and pastries. The meeting ends with a consensus on which book they should read next.
Somehow,to me a book club conjures up images of coiffed ladies in drawing rooms pouring over Reading Lolita in Tehran. The origins of book club can be traced back to 18th century England when women with means started literary salons to cultivate their minds. In modern times,maybe a book club is an alternative to the higher education you never got or just a reason for a party with a purpose. Instead of playing cards with your friends,you read together for entertainment. Its a way to connect with others,share thoughts,ideas and opinions. I think the greatest value a book club has is that it brings a whole new range of non-readers into its fold. Because,joining a book club does not mean you are crazy about books. I think,on the contrary,it means you dont particularly like to read but since the rest of the world is raving about a particular book or the value of reading in general,you rightfully want to be part of it.
A book club,by its very nature,smacks of intellectual aspiration. To truly enjoy books,you have to read only for pleasure,not to tick mark your reading list. And that usually means lingering at a bookstore,scouring a hundred titles and choosing your book whimsically,based on your mood on that particular day. How does a disparate group of individuals,usually strangers,from completely different backgrounds and influences react to a particular book chosen by the club? Someone may like Jane Austen,another Fifty Shades of Grey. Reading celebrates loneliness novels are written alone and should be read alone. But,when a book is particularly good,we feel an overwhelming need to share it and I will forever be grateful to a friend who recently sent me a copy of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
For publishers and writers,however,book clubs carry a lot of weight and some have the power to catapult a book from obscurity to bestseller lists just by word of mouth. In the US,more than five million adults are thought to be in reading groups and thats not counting online clubs. When Oprah Winfrey recommended Leo Tolstoys Anna Karenina in 2004,it sold 79,000 copies in a week,doubling the books total US sales since its English publication in 1886. The phenomenal success of Elizabeth Gilberts Eat,Pray,Love was also attributed to book club recommendations. At present,Khaled Hosseinis And the Mountains Echoed has found favour with many book clubs. Read it and weep.