What do you think of when you hear the words ‘book club’? Forced social interaction? Bored housewives? Wine? Romance novels? I confess to thinking those and more. However, any pre-conceived ideas I may have had about book clubs were pleasantly disproved this year. I now strongly believe they are a marvellous way to improve social capital and mental health. But that was not always the case. To be honest, it took being on the brink of a breakdown before I considered joining one.
At the end of last year I was experiencing depression and anxiety as I struggled to decide whether I should remain at university, located a 9 hour drive from my family, (albeit in a beautiful location where making friends has proved difficult), or if I should defer and relocate. Thanks to my no-nonsense mother, I was supported to stay on and finish my final academic semester, and for various reasons I am so glad I took her advice!
I knew I needed to act to protect my mental health in the meantime. One step was setting a goal to read 30 books in 2019, and I also downloaded the Australian Meetup app. Amidst the barrage of emails and notifications the app fired at me, I found a fledgling book club. I saw that a dozen ladies had RSVP’d to the first meeting, and I was very excited to meet them, peppered with apprehension as to whether we would have anything in common.
The following Sunday, we all spent several warm minutes looking for a car parking space on a busy cafe strip and wandered shyly into a sweet-smelling tea shop, where our table was booked. As we sipped $6 cups of tea (never again!), and introduced ourselves, we discovered we had all found it difficult to make good friends, even if we had lived there for a few years and were involved in children’s school and community events. It turns out some of us had even grown up in or had lived in the same district interstate. There were school teachers, an engineer, freelancers, nurses. I knew then that we were all going to get along famously.
The founder of the group never turned up, but that didn’t deter us. Over the next few months we devoured or browsed books ranging from light-hearted chick lit to dramatic portrayals of domestic and family violence in the Alaskan wilderness. We flitted from cafe to cafe, enjoying local cuisine and supporting small businesses. We digested and reviewed, compared books, movies and interests. We became friends, we laughed, we shed tears occasionally (or maybe that was just me), and we had a wonderful time.
The group dwindled to six, but we never considered disbanding. Book Club day spent among intelligent, kind women was always the highlight of my month, and I am so thankful for it. Although I am a nomadess and have left the area, they will continue to meet, and I am determined to join a new group in my next location, or even to start one myself. The group came into my life at just the right time, and provided social interaction and a purpose that helped me focus on the positives. Plus I didn’t need any convincing to accumulate more books!
If you’ve been thinking of joining a book club or this article has piqued your interest, I highly recommend checking out your local Meetups (or similar app) or try searching on Facebook or Instagram for one. Your local library may also have contacts or even their own group. Don’t be afraid, go along, and you never know, it might just change your life!