“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall” Roald Dahl
If you think of yourself as a reader you may well be a member of one of the book clubs which have been formed in Kippen over the years. Book groups are not a modern concept. Since the early 1600s women have been gathering to discuss literature and other topical issues. Some of the earliest “book clubs” were simple Bible study groups such as the one Anne Hutchinson of Massachusetts formed in 1634 to talk about the local minister’s sermons. In the elegant salons of Paris before the Revolution women gathered to debate Robespierre. In the 19th century, as women found themselves excluded from intellectual debate and most universities, they formed clubs to deal with professional and educational discrimination. Whatever the venue or the topic women have used book clubs as a forum for reading, learning and making their voices heard. As long as there have been books, people have gathered to discuss them though historically these groups have been dominated by women.
In the early 19th century book clubs became havens for many American women. Hannah Crocker praised her Boston reading group for “cultivating the mind”. For the educationally disadvantaged black women of this time, literary societies were a great resource for them.
Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American owned newspaper in the US advertised “a society to meet once a week to read works adapted to literary improvement”. The Female Literary Association of Philadelphia took the book club concept a stage further. Members wrote an essay (anonymous) for each gathering and these were distributed and critiqued by the group. Thankfully, our modern day book clubs don’t go this far!
The “book of the month” concept was created by Harry Scherman in 1926 and is a formula used by many book clubs today. The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union of the time issued a pamphlet with guidelines on forming a group. No more than 12 members; meeting in a woman’s home if possible; come with questions about the characters, plot, etc.; give each person a chance to speak one at a time (difficult for some of us I think when we all get going). However, this framework closely resembles the pattern that present day book clubs use.
From the early American settlers and European society women to Oprah Winfrey, book clubs have evolved. The longest book club was started in 1877 in Illinois and still thrives today. We now have online reading groups, radio book clubs and bookshop discussion groups and these have all been a positive force in women’s lives. They are an enjoyable forum for like-minded people to meet, discuss and indulge – “what’s the point of having a book club if you don’t get to eat food and drink wine?” (“The Middlesteins” by J Attenburg)