There’s a lot of talk about libraries being slimmed down/starved of money/cut back/turned into fast food joints. There’s also talk of independent bookshops closing and books being sold at rock bottom prices in supermarkets. Then there’s Waterstone’s who are struggling to find new ways to do business in this battlefield. And don’t mention Amazon, that distant bomber in the sky, ready to download all sorts.
It’s like we’re on the losing side of a war. Who’d have thought it? Us plucky Brits.
But there’s something out there that I believe could halt this dismal retreat and that is the onward march of the Book Group (enough of the extended metaphor re war – Ed).
Three years ago, for personal reasons, I went into my library to find out about a Book Group. I was told it was full up. Three months later I asked again and was told that it was still full up. I enquired, politely whether it might be a good idea to have TWO book groups and the librarian smiled and said that they would if they had someone to run it.
Reader, I volunteered.
I ran the book group for two and a half years. We had to turn people away. This meant there were two full book groups in the library. There could have been three.
What did it mean for me? It meant 90 minutes once a month. I read one book a month that I didn’t necessarily choose to read. I met up with a dozen people who were passionate about books. It meant a lot of talking and ‘buzz’ about reading. I coordinated it so I had to analyse the book and decide which aspects I wanted to raise. I had to deconstruct a text and see how it was put together. Wasn’t this the kind of thing I was doing all the time, for my own writing?
It was very little work for a huge amount of pleasure.
Who were the members of this Book Group? They were ordinary people (female), retired, Mums, In-between jobbers. They were not from the Book World but they were lovers of books. In these meetings we talked about a whole range of books, not just the one we were reading. We talked about book events and courses and writing and books in other mediums.
I think it is people like these who are the foot soldiers (oops, sorry) of this book war. They will win it for us with their uncomplicated love of stories and reading. They don’t read The Bookseller but they read books. Their constant use of libraries and bookshops will keep us all in business.
There should be many more of them. In libraries, book shops, community centres, workplaces, schools, colleges, hospitals, theatre foyers, art galleries. In other words, any place where people come together.
However not all libraries have even one book group. I think there is a role here for writers or people who love books. Here is a plan: read it carefully: it will self destruct in 30 seconds.
Go into your library/ independent book shop and find out if they have a book group.
• If they do not, offer to run one.
• If they do have one, offer to run a second group (at your convenience).
If we could increase the number of book groups and thereby increase the amount of interest in books it can only do us good while getting us new pals, new readers, new connections in our own areas. The people I met were hungry for new books to read. Every time I mentioned one they scribbled it down on a piece of paper. They knew I was a writer but after two and a half years they knew that I was a READER first.
The message is clear: READ for VICTORY.