A Warm Sofa: Book Clubs and Retirement
“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.”
One of my retirement goals is to read, read, and read some more! So, I was thrilled when I was invited to join a local book club after I moved to my new community a few years ago. Now, I’m a member of two book clubs, one in which we read a variety of books and the other for reading books written by and about women.
Why are book clubs so popular among people over sixty? According to Molly Kavanaugh, a blogger at a continuing care retirement community, books clubs meet many of the needs we older adults have:
- Book clubs offer opportunities for socializing and meeting new people from all walks of life, who share your love of reading. In my book club, we are all over sixty and come from many different backgrounds and have varied interests. It is low key, informal, and supportive. It’s a fun community where we can be ourselves and enjoy each other. When I joined, I didn’t know more than a handful of people in my community and I was eager to make new friends. After almost three years in my book club, I consider these interesting women to be my friends. A few have become close friends. One lesson learned: don’t expect instant closeness and don’t try to force it. Just relax and enjoy the moments of being together. Be mindful!
- Book clubs are a great way to expand your knowledge. During most of my adult life, I haven’t had much time for pleasure reading. I read every management text book and self-help book that made the New York Times best seller list to help me in my teaching and coaching work. But, fiction or mysteries? I could count them on one hand. The variety of books we read in my book club has opened new vistas for learning and enjoyment for me. The stimulating conversation also has a positive impact on our brains. We delve into deep discussions about emotional, spiritual, and philosophical themes explored in literature. And we relate these themes to our own life experience and self-reflection. It’s a good way to regularly exercise our brains.
- Through books, you can travel and experience other cultures, as well as learn from book club members of different backgrounds. When I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nzar Afisi, for my women-to-women book club, I knew nothing about Iranian culture, other than what I saw on the nightly news. Not only was the book enlightening but it was a wake-up call about how a totalitarian theocracy can overthrow a government and undermine the rights that women take for granted. Now I’m reading The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which describes a dystopian future of a similar nature in the United States. Reading these two books has really opened my eyes!
- One of the best lessons you can learn from books is something that teaches you more about yourself. I think the most beneficial response to each book I’ve read has been the opportunity to learn more about myself and the world around me. Ann Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, a novel about family secrets, misunderstandings, and perceived slights, made me think about my own family and how I hold onto old hurts and find it so difficult to forgive the perpetrators. Another lesson learned – it is probably unwise to turn your book club into a therapy group. Most people aren’t skilled enough to handle that well.
- Participating in book club discussions does wonders for your communication skills. Given the political events of the last year, learning to listen to different points of view and different ways of expression is something that many of us, including me, need to practice. Recently, my book club read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. We quickly discovered that some of use loved the book while others didn’t like it at all. Our collective ability to “discuss and disagree” without resorting to emotional arguments is a refreshing change from the heated political arguments many of us have experienced. By the way, my book club has a rule to not discuss politics. It’s a good idea to have ground rules regarding how to handle difficult topics, as well as group dynamics. For example, I highly recommend ground rules around listening with respect and not dominating discussion.
I hope my experience with book clubs motivates you to join one or start your own! I promise it will be well worth your time.
There is no Frigate like a Book
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –