Mental Health

How Book Clubs Keep Us Connected

Having to get used to living inside for the past 9 months has been strange, horrible and isolating. We’ve heard it over and over again from just about everyone because we can’t wait for things to get back to normal. One thing that I have really struggled with is having to accept that my hobbies are on hold for now. I became an avid swimmer, and that had to stop. Shopping trips with my friends, meals and evenings in the pubs all had to stop. But one afternoon, my school friends suggested that we start a book club.

As an English Literature graduate and an English Teacher, the suggestion of a book club felt like all my Christmas’ had come at once. Despite loving literature, I don’t often allow myself the chance to read for pleasure, finding it difficult to dedicate a couple of hours of my day purely to a book. TikTok and my Nintendo Switch seem like the easier option, but now I had a reason read. And my God am I happy about it!

Not only is this a hobby that can be done inside, it’s more sociable than it may appear. Although the act of reading a book is fairly singular, reading a book at the same time as a group of friends or a loved one brings a closeness that feels different to other hobbies. You enter a new world, sharing the experience with people you love and there’s just so much to discuss: characters, writing, development… the list goes on. And appreciating these aspects of a story, delving into the depths of writing just for fun is relaxing and exciting and I’ve learnt even more about my 12 year-long friendships through doing it!

Why Does Reading Feel So good?

I don’t know what it is, but the thought of reading, books themselves and the whole process of finishing a book just feels so… wholesome? Maybe it’s the romanticism of reading by candle-light on a cold winters evening, but the feeling of getting a new book or spending hours in a bookshop fills me with love and calmness that can’t be emulated by many other hobbies. It feels like capitalism doesn’t exist in a book shop, as if no one is trying to influence you or force you to do anything. You’re free to just wonder between the shelves and decide on something purely for yourself. I love it.

I’ve always felt the same way about books, and maybe that’s just it. It’s probably the only hobby that I’ve continued from childhood to now, and even made it my career. But I don’t think you have to love reading, or even be good at it to have this feeling, and I don’t believe you have to read classics either.

“Snobbery” Amongst Readers

As I got older and became an English Literature undergraduate, I realised that people really did believe that they were ‘better’ or ‘more educated’ because of the fact that they choose to read books from ‘The Canon’ or books that are typically considered classics. That is the one thing that I absolutely hate, and keep myself away from people who have such views. One of the reasons I wanted to teach English was to share my love of reading with teens and try to get them interested, but also to make a point, proving that you don’t have to read difficult books to enjoy reading or to feel the joy that a book can bring.

The Importance of Book Clubs

It’s been three months since we started our book club, meaning that we’ve read three books and FaceTimed three times to discuss each book. I can’t deny that I didn’t think we’d keep it up, but we have, and not only that, we’re all enjoying it massively. The routine and task of getting through a new book each month is exciting and is something to look forward to in a dark and dull time in our lives. Of course, we talk all the time, but having what feels like a purpose to our discussion brings fresh conversation and genuine pleasure.

I think what makes book clubs so important is that skill of developing your reading. Even as adults, reading is so important to expand the mind. We have media to do that now too, but books are still vital to our understanding of the world and give us another outlook when trying to interpret life.

At the moment especially, being able to explore new worlds from the comfort of your home is crucial to staying sane. You can do it through games, films and for me, I’m doing that through books for the first time in a long time.

I’d encourage everyone to pick up a book and read if they can. And it doesn’t have to be traditional or literal reading. Audio books are an incredibly important media form and it means that whoever you are, whatever experience you have with reading, you can enjoy a book. It takes time and patience to read, but when you do, there’s not many feelings quite like it.

If you have a group of friends, why not suggest starting a book club? It’s something worth trying during a pandemic, and it’s something that can not only prompt new thoughts and discussions amongst loved ones, but brings peace and calm to a difficult world.

Have you been reading more during the pandemic? Or are you someone who doesn’t read and wishes they did? Let me know in the comments below. See you all next week with a festive post as we get into the Christmas season.