5 Reasons Why You Need to Belong to a Book Club

Filed in Boost Creativity, The Healthy Writer by on July 10, 2017 • views: 2757

Book ClubWhen writers think of book clubs, they normally think of them as potential avenues for marketing their own books.

Writers want readers, after all, and where better to find them than book clubs?

This post isn’t about marketing your book, though. This is about how book clubs can benefit writers in other ways that have nothing to do with marketing.

You may already belong to a book club, or you may not have ever considered it. Either way, you’re probably unaware of how being a member can improve your life. Believe it or not, scientists have conducted studies on this, and they’ve discovered some interesting things.

Here’s one of them: Belonging to a book club could actually help you live longer.

library-woman1. Belonging to a book club could help you live longer.

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, belonging to a book club or other similar social club that meets regularly for social interaction can reduce your risk of premature death after retirement.

Researchers studied 424 people who were transitioning from the workforce to retirement. They found that belonging to an established group or organization was key to staying healthy and alive. Results showed:

  • Participants who had two group memberships before retirement and stayed in both groups had a 2 percent risk of death in the first six years of retirement.
  • Those who lost one group had a 5 percent risk of death in the first six years of retirement.
  • Those who lost both groups had a 12 percent risk of death in the first six years of retirement.

Researchers explained that social relationships are critical for managing the transition to retirement successfully. In fact, the benefits of these groups were found to be comparable to those from physical exercise!

Combining an activity like reading with friendship creates multiple benefits because it not only lowers stress and increases social connections, but with the reading and book discussion element involved, it may even promote the growth of new brain cells.

“Companionship and intellectual stimulation—and thinking quickly during book club discussions—all of these things are very healthy,” said Michael Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic.

Book Glasses2. Book clubs keep your brain sharp.

No matter what your age, reading helps keep your brain sharp. Discussing what you’ve read with other intelligent folks can challenge your understanding, and help you make new connections that you may not have thought about before.

According to a 2016 study, reading a novel actually creates actual changes in the brain that can linger for several days. Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing to examine the brains of people who read about 30 pages of the same novel each night for nine nights. After the nine days were over, the participants returned for scans of their brains in the resting state.

Results showed that the morning after reading the novel pages, participants’ brains showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, which is the area associated with language. Lead researcher Gregory Berns noted: “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”

The scans also showed changes in the part of the brain associated with the primary motor region of the brain—the part associated with physical movement.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” Berns said. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

He added that they found the changes in the brain lasted at least a few days, which suggested that reading a novel could have “a bigger and longer-lasting effect on the biology of your brain.”

books basket3. Book clubs offer great stress relief.

Speaking of stress relief, writers need it, and book clubs offer it. This is your chance to sit back, relax, and talk about a good book, without the pressure that can come with talking about the books you’ve written.

You’re still doing something related to writing, but you’re doing it in a way that’s relaxing and stimulating at the same time. You’re stimulating your brain by talking about the book, but relaxing with friends in a stress-free environment (usually with yummy snacks!).

Book clubs encourage you to read more, too, and reading relieves stress all by itself. According to a 2009 study, even just six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by more than a two-thirds (68 percent)! And at least in this study, it seemed to work better and faster than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a nice cup of tea.

Lead researcher Dr. David Lewis stated:

“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.”

light-bulbs4. Book clubs can boost your creative powers.

Creativity is all about making new connections, and book clubs help you do that. As you listen to others’ opinions about the plot, characterizations, and settings, you’re likely to think about things you wouldn’t have thought about before. Don’t be surprised if you leave the meeting imagining new plot lines and new ways you may approach your current work in progress.

The action of debating ideas brought up by the book also exercises your brain, and forces you to make new connections to support your point of view: This setting illustrated that concept. This character embodied the theme in this way. That plot point demonstrated the conflict, which was…

Book clubs stretch your thinking beyond what you would normally experience just from reading the book. A 2013 study showed that people who were regular readers were more creative thinkers, so if you’re reading you’re already encouraging creativity. Joining a book club and discussing with others what you read takes it one step further.

self confidence5. Book clubs can increase your confidence.

If you’re a writer who would love to do some book signings, presentations, or workshops in the future, a book club can be a great training ground. As you get more and more comfortable with discussing various facets of a story with your group, you’ll gain important practice on how to give voice to your ideas, and how to help others understand your point of view.

John Coleman, co-author of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, states in his article on HBR that book clubs can make you more comfortable in professional discussions:

“While there are countless articles on better conversations, the best and surest way to be a good conversationalist who’s able to engage on substantive issues is to practice. Book clubs offer a safe space outside your professional environment to engage on content in discussion and learn to converse more productively with others.”

friends oceanThe Best Reason of All for a Writer to Belong to a Book Club

Though these are the main physical and mental health benefits writers may glean from book clubs, there are others. Writer Julie Rains describes how her book club serves as a form of therapy for its members, because they all compare and contrast their lives with the lives of the characters.

“From this dialogue,” she says, “we can gain insights into appropriate and inappropriate responses to various situations, come to terms with past mistakes, get better understanding of family and work relationships, develop courage to tackle new challenges, and more.”

Of course, there are many “writing” benefits as well, as we get a chance to hear what writers think of various types of stories, and we can gain new insights that can help us in our own work.

Bottom line is that if you’re a writer and you’re not a part of a book club, you may want to consider joining soon, preferably an in-person group. There are benefits to the virtual variety, too, but they’re not as powerful as those that require you to get out of your writing nook and actually interact with people face-to-face.

If nothing else, you can make lasting friendships talking about books, and that may be the best benefit of all.

“[A] book club is the ideal excuse to schedule some time in your life when you can just focus on books and friends and things you enjoy,” says writer and actor Charlotte Ahlin. “People are busy, and it’s nice to know that you have a guaranteed chunk of time every couple of weeks to hang with literary folks and geek out over good books.”

Do you belong to a book club?

Niklas K. Steffans, et al., “Social group memberships in retirement are associated with reduced risk of premature death: evidence from a longitudinal cohort study,” BMJ, February 2016; 6(2): e010164, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294596234_Social_group_memberships_in_retirement_are_associated_with_reduced_risk_of_premature_death_Evidence_from_a_longitudinal_cohort_study.

Rebecca Shannonhouse, “Read On…for Better Health,” Bottom Line Health, June 2017.

Berns Gregory S., et al., “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” Brain Connectivity, December 2013; 3(6):590-600, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/brain.2013.0166.

Carol Clark, “A novel look at how stories may change the brain,” eScience Commons, Emory University, December 17, 2013, http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html.

“Reading Can Help Reduce Stress,” Telegraph, March 30, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html.

Alex Greig, “Readers of literary fiction are more creative and exercise better judgment, claim scientists,” The Daily Mail, June 16, 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2342635/Readers-literary-fiction-better-thinkers-according-new-research.html.

John Coleman, “Why Business People Should Join Book Clubs,” HBR, February 23, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/02/why-businesspeople-should-join-book-clubs.

Julie Rains, “Book Clubs as Therapy,” Wise Bread, February 25, 2011, http://www.wisebread.com/book-clubs-as-therapy.

Charlotte Ahlin, “11 Reasons Every Woman Should Join a Book Club,” Bustle.com, January 29, 2016, https://www.bustle.com/articles/138281-11-reasons-every-woman-should-join-a-book-club.

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Comments (8)

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  1. I do belong to a book club, but one thing about it is hard. I end of reading too many books I’d put aside if it weren’t for the group. So it’s a way of learning what I don’t like as well as what I do like. And our dish-to-pass dinners and political conversations are always delicious.

    • Colleen says:

      The dinners sound lovely, Elaine! You bring up that issue again—reading books we don’t like. Is it worth it? Or is it a waste of time? Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this one. I tend to lean toward the former usually…

  2. Jeri says:

    I do belong to a book club, but I don’t go often. I used to make myself finish books I’m not that into, but life is too short to force my way through books I only halfway enjoy. That being said, I’ve gone a few times a year, but I’m going to be checking out a club or two in the city I live in as a way to try to avoid the drive into Boise. I’d like to start a memoir book club in Nampa, but it’s hard to say if a handful of people would commit or not. Even though I prefer structured literary discussion (must be the teacher in me) I do love writing or book clubs that take on a more friendly feel and involve potlucks and wine… lots of wine.

    • Colleen says:

      It can be difficult to find like-minded folks for a book club. I’m hearing from readers on social media too that they prefer clubs in certain genres (memoir, literary fiction, etc). I’m still on the fence about reading books I don’t really enjoy. I think it’s good for me, and I’m usually glad I get through them as I usually get “something” from them, but I understand the “wasted time” idea too. Would love other thoughts on this.

  3. Kathy says:

    I have been a part of a critique group. We do have discussions on books but not all the time. Your thoughts of joining a book club and its benefits appear to be a positive experience. I love to read as well as write, so the two interests could be a great combo!

  4. My critique group serves a dual purpose because we also discuss excellent (or not-so-excellent) books we’ve read. Although my husband and I moved across the country when we retired, we both quickly found groups to join in our own areas of interest. The social connection outside the home is extremely important to our physical and emotional health.

    • Colleen says:

      So true, Pat. I know of many retired folks who failed to do what you did and really struggled. We forget how important those connections are.