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Book Discussion Groups: History and General Resources

Resources for establishing a book discussion group

About

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Talking about literature is not only about talking about literature. It is also examining one’s ideas, identities, thoughts, sense of self.”   
-- Christy Craig, PhD, assistant professor of sociology, Fort Hays State University

 

Many libraries administer one or more book discussion groups, create resources for book groups in their community, or provide meeting space for book discussions.  This guide provides general information about book groups, and resources for starting and guiding book discussion groups, as well as bibliographies on facilitating book discussion groups and selecting titles to discuss. 

General Resources

Organizations that Promote Reading Programs

Historical Note

Book groups have their origins in 18th century Parisian salons and 19th century Victorian parlors.  In The Book Group Book: A Thoughtful Guide to Forming and Enjoying a Stimulating Book Discussion Group, Ellen Slezak says in the foreword, “In book groups, like-minded souls gather; what they have in common seems to be that a) they can read, b) they like to read, and c) they like to talk about what they have read.” Helen Hooven Santmyer's ... And Ladies of the Club chronicles a 19th century study circle.

According to ALA's Brad Hooper, the oldest--and still running--book club as we know them today may be the Mattoon Women's Reading Club, founded in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1877. Jess McHugh has also outlined the historical convergence of book discussion groups and the beginnings of women's rights groups, saying "[an] avowed interest in expanding women’s freedoms was often a driving force behind these groups."

In the early 20th century - with book ownership becoming more accessible with mass-market paperbacks and mail order book subscriptions like Book of the Month Club - book discussion groups also expanded, encouraging participants to "explore big ideas through books never went away." 

In 1996, Oprah's Book Club ushered in the modern era of the book club, emphasizing "the idea of self-improvement through reading." Celebrity book clubs have since abounded, while the next generation of book discussion - celebrity and otherwise - is increasingly taking place virtually on social media platforms