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bookclub participationWhen asked about book clubs, 31% of participants in the 2013 reader survey said they belong to one or more book clubs. Included in that number are those who belong to online book clubs.

For some, online book clubs are a poor substitute for meeting in person, relaxing over coffee or wine and a bit of food before getting down to the more serious business of debating the merits of a given book. The social aspect of physical meetings seems to augment the experience, as does the ability to watch expressions and gestures for clues to what others are thinking. Proximity brings immediacy to the exchange and a liveliness that cannot be replicated over the Internet.

Physical or virtual, as a book club newbie, individuals who refer blithely to Proust, Woolf, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and others as though they are friends might intimidate. Over time, discovering books you would never have read and enjoying the lively conversations that follow will lead to a deeper appreciation of reading as exploration, encountering characters whose life philosophies and experiences are vastly different from yours, discovering unknown places and cultures, vicariously inhabiting challenging circumstances. Book clubs demonstrate the importance of an open mind when reading and encourage you to consider character arcs, story structure, language use, underlying themes, symbolism and a host of other features that make books great. Regardless of size, with just a little effort a great discussion can ensue.

Author Shilpi Somaya Gowda had this to say about books: “Books provided both the opportunity to reflect on our lives, and to think about the larger world — to consider ourselves in the context of generations before us and cultures beyond our borders. That opportunity for reflection and connection is, in my opinion, the greatest role art can play in life.”

What better way to explore those opportunities than in a book club? Yours could be serious, academic, and scholarly, or social, therapeutic, and bonding. Discussions prompted by a book club setting will stretch your mind and take you to places of thought you haven’t been to before. Reading a book knowing you will share your perspectives with others adds depth to your experience. The benefits include community, intellectual stimulation, new books and new people, a break from everyday life, an opportunity for self-expression, the contemplation of deeper issues, and the chance to read more often.

Physical book clubs are the traditional forum for discussing books. A newer forum is social reading: the use of blogs, social media and other online sites for reading recommendations and discussion. Online book clubs mentioned above are one example. Broadly speaking, social reading involves relationships: readers with writers; readers with readers; readers with reviewers and bloggers. Social readers seek like-minded people. They enjoy the give and take of conversations that occur via social media and the ability to establish connections. Reading is no longer a solo activity.

Some refer to social reading as a synchronous activity: discussing content (i.e. books) while inside the content and there are new technologies to enable such activity. Others prefer an asynchronous view of social reading: first I read then I discuss. Variations abound. You can read-discuss-read-discuss just as you might do in a classroom setting. Or you can read-annotate-share-read-annotate-share so that others can follow along with your exploration of whatever content you’re reading. Ultimately, the separation between writer and reader blurs.

Online, in person, small group, large group, synchronous or asynchronous—it doesn’t really matter. The point is to talk about books, share your thoughts, and open your mind to different points of view.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.