Book clubs can be the epicenter of fierce friendships and also of enmity; a breeding ground for resentments large and small. They can be as fraught with drama as any romance, and like love, can lead to breakups, anticipated or not.
Michael Goldspiel is an inspired educator and a most cheerful fellow, a golden retriever among men. The assistant superintendent of schools in Roslyn, New York, he was describing plans for his new book club. It was going to be great, he told me. Not like his last club. His last club, forget it: “If I can’t make the occasional joke about the text or myself, I’m not interested.”
Suddenly Goldspiel’s mood darkened, though he gave no details. When it comes to the workings of his former book club, he has taken the vow of omertà. One thing, however, was clear. Like many passionate book club members before him, Goldspiel had gone rogue.
Since organizations like BookBrowse.com have been tracking them for the past decade, book clubs have risen gently in popularity. They have become a staple of a certain kind of literary life, a core part of a person’s identity: You Club, therefore you Are. Most people echo the sentiments of Gretchen Rubin, the author of “The Happiness Project,” who has founded numerous book clubs: “They are,” she says, “the joy of my life.”
For many, a book club is an oasis in an otherwise hectic life. Jonathan Burnham, the senior vice president and publisher of HarperCollins, has been in a children’s literature book club for the better part of a decade. For him, he said, “the club is enormously calming when you’re in the realm of change and unreliability. People may be going through marital or work difficulties, but in book club there is no need to divulge what is happening in your personal life.”
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