Book clubs have been around since forever, as far as I can tell, but yours truly has never joined one. I tried, once, in college, to join a professor-led group discussion of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but the group dissolved after three chapters and a round of midterm exams. I joined a local book club in Maryland once and attended exactly twice--once because I really, really wanted to be in a book club and once because I was trying to keep an open mind and give it a second chance. When we spent an awkward 30 minutes staring at each other before deciding there was somehow nothing to say about A Study in Scarlet and calling it a night, I bailed for good. The lack of food (or wine) didn't help.
So of course I jumped* at the opportunity to create a Mini Long-Distance Book Club with my dear friend and fellow blogger Emily. The name, while not particularly inspired, is accurate--the two of us live several states and a time zone apart, but select books to read together and check in periodically throughout our reading to gauge reactions, highlight the important parts, and predict the outcomes.
What I love about this, besides the sheer joy of spending an hour on the phone every week talking with a friend I love about books I love, is the way that our shared reading of each book shapes the way I read them. I read more closely, looking for indications of what is important (and therefore discussion-worthy). I read more slowly, committing character names to memory (confession: I'm terrible at remembering character names, even mere minutes after completing a book). I read with her in mind, wondering what she'll think about this sentence I am underlining now or this scene I cannot believe is happening OMFG WHAT!?
I've written before about how I think books are a kind of social currency, bringing together people who might otherwise have no shared interests. But even more than talking about a book after completing it--whether it be recommending it to someone new or rehashing it with a fellow booklover--reading together is a profoundly different experience.
I've always fancied myself an introvert, recharging my batteries with some serious alone time, preferring one-on-one interactions to large groups, and all the other standard tells of the Meyers-Briggs test. But whenever I actually take the test, I score around a 0 on the introvert/extrovert scale, which basically means the test can't decide whether I am, in fact, introverted or extroverted (coincidentally, the test also reveals that I am a rather indecisive person). Perhaps my new-found love of shared reading is symptomatic of this condition; I read alone, but have simultaneously found a way to share the experience.
* I would have preferred to write "leapt" at the opportunity, but am currently battling with myself/spellcheck over whether or not it should be "leapt" or "leaped" and so have decided, temporarily at least, to proceed with a completely different word in its stead.