This time of year, when the weather is cooler and it may not be as tempting to get outside and go, you might be filling your days more with indoor activities — like reading. If you look forward to curling up with a good book, you’re certainly not alone. Reading is one of those tried-and-true activities for seniors that may have changed in some ways over the years (think Kindle) but has never lost its appeal.
Whether you read to escape into a faraway world or learn more about a particular subject of interest, reading is good for your brain. It can even help you strengthen your memory.
Yet the act of reading is inherently a solitary activity. So what do people who love to read do when they also want to stay connected with others? One possibility is to combine the two and start (or join) a book club!
7 Excellent Reasons to Start a Book Club
- Shared experiences with like-minded people. Because everyone in the club (presumably) likes to read and is reading the same book within the allotted time frame, when you all meet to discuss the book, it’s an opportunity to share an enjoyable experience. Even if not everyone loved reading the book, chances are they’ll have a good time discussing it.
- Opportunities to gain new perspectives. Much like when you see a movie with someone and then talk about it afterward, it’s often interesting to find out how another person interpreted the plot, characters and other elements of the book. Plus, others may have picked up on nuances and details that you didn’t notice — or vice versa.
- Expanded range of reading interests. Even if your book club decides to choose only books from a certain genre, you’ll most likely still discover new authors you like. And if your club leaves the choice of books wide open, then the possibilities to expand your scope of interest are truly limitless.
- Wider/deeper social circle. Although the focus may be on the books, for many people, increased social interaction is the real goal of starting or joining a book club. Maybe your group will prefer to keep the club small and include only familiar friends. Or maybe you’ll leave it open to all who want to participate. Either way, you’ll all reap considerable benefits from connecting with one another.
- All personality types can participate. Even if you’re not a natural “joiner,” belonging to a book club can be a low-key way to socialize. Like nearly any gathering, club members who are more gregarious might dominate the discussion, but those who prefer to listen rather than talk can still feel as though they’re part of the group.
- Motivation to read more. If you’re reading this, you probably agree that reading is a worthwhile activity. Still, it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll get around to starting (or finishing) that book “one of these days.” Belonging to a book club might be the nudge you need to follow through on your intention to read more.
- No special skills needed. As long as you can read, you can be part of a book club. It doesn’t require any special talent or skill. And if your eyesight makes it difficult to read a printed book or e-reader, audiobooks are an alternative.
Ready to Start Your Own Book Club? Here’s How
You don’t have to be Oprah to start a book club. While each club is different, there are a few basic steps you’ll need to take to get yours up and running.
- Find members. Start with friends you know who enjoy reading. Ask them if they’d be interested in helping you get a book club started. They can help get the word out. After you’ve compiled a list of potential members, you can send out invitations by mail or email. You can also post a notice on whatever social media platforms you use, such as Facebook. If you live in a senior living community, you can post a notice on a community bulletin board.
- Choose a name or theme for the club. By selecting a way of identifying your new book club, you’ll set it apart from others that already exist and help people decide whether they want to join. It will help to keep in mind how broad you’d like your membership to be as you’re considering the possibilities. For example, if you were to select a name like the Wednesday History Buffs Book Club, you’re signaling when the club will meet and what type of books will be discussed.
- Decide how often the book club will meet. Once a week might work for some groups if their members have ample time to read and meet. Others might need to give members more time between meetings — say, every other week or once a month. You can always adjust the frequency to suit the majority of members. If some aren’t able to finish before the meeting, assure them that they can still participate. This should be fun, not a source of stress.
- Figure out who will host and where you’ll meet. Will the same person always host the group, or will several people take turns? If you’ll be meeting in person, will you get together in someone’s home? Or is there a clubhouse or library that would be convenient for everyone?
- Decide who will choose the books. Will members take turns choosing books for the club to read and discuss? While you’re thinking about this, it’s a good idea to establish some criteria for the selections (e.g., only mystery novels, only books by a certain author or books from the best-sellers list).
- Set some parameters. Will one person be responsible for leading the discussion? Will questions for discussion be sent out ahead of the meeting so that members can be prepared to participate in the conversation? Or will the club be less structured? (You can find lots of examples online for questions that will encourage all members to express their thoughts and opinions.)
- Plan to have snacks available. Social gatherings are more enjoyable when food and drinks are part of the occasion. For clubs that meet in the morning, coffee and doughnuts might be a welcome treat. For afternoon or evening clubs, maybe wine and cheese would be appropriate. Members can take turns providing refreshments, or everyone can pitch in a few dollars and a designated member can be in charge of bringing the goodies.
How to Start a Virtual Book Club
Most of the same steps apply if you want to start a virtual book club. Someone will still need to be in charge, even if members take turns leading (or moderating) the discussion.
You can either conduct meetings via a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or Skype, or you can set up a book club on social media so that members can participate in the discussion online when they have time.
Bear in mind that your club could be a hybrid, with some members meeting in person and others joining in remotely. This can be a great idea if you want to include friends or family members who live elsewhere.
Starting a virtual book club is also a practical strategy for those who prefer to attend social events from the safety of their home during the pandemic. You can always switch to an in-person or hybrid book club later.
Beyond the Joy of Reading: The Benefits of Belonging to a Book Club
As we noted earlier, for many people, the main purpose of starting or joining a book club is to create opportunities to socialize and connect with others.
Think about it: exchanging your thoughts and perspectives on a common topic in a relaxed setting while enjoying a beverage and some snacks. Sounds like a pretty good time, doesn’t it?
Social isolation in elderly people can lead to physical, mental and emotional health issues, such as:
- Anxiety and depression
- Cognitive decline
- Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Reduced immunity
Social isolation can also cause feelings of loneliness in the elderly. People who are lonely experience emotional pain, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Emotional pain can cause the same sort of stress response in the body as physical pain does, such as chronic inflammation and lowered immunity.
Moreover, social isolation and loneliness have been associated with poorer cognitive function, the NIA notes. Older adults who have too little social activity and spend much of their time alone may also see a decline in their ability to perform routine tasks such as driving, preparing meals and adhering to their medications.
Participating in a book club and similar activities for seniors can help ward off feelings of isolation and loneliness by providing an “event” to look forward to. That’s especially true if the club offers the possibility of connecting with friends and maybe even making some new ones.
Why Reading Books Is Good for Your Brain
Along with the social aspects of being part of a book club, reading is good for your brain and can help prevent dementia. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Alan Castel wrote that reading is “a very potent form of brain training.” He likens it to mental gymnastics for the brain.
Research indicates that when we read about characters in a book who are engaging in an activity, certain areas in our brain are activated as if we ourselves were engaged in the activity.
In addition to energizing the brain, reading also can change the way our brain works, helping us to better remember details, picture scenes in our mind more vividly, grasp complex ideas more easily and even protect our memory.
A key fact to note is that skimming articles or scrolling through information on your phone doesn’t provide the same kind or intensity of benefits you’ll derive from delving into a really great book.
If you want to increase the blood flow to the parts of your brain that control cognitive and executive function, then do this:
- Go to the library or a bookstore.
- Choose an interesting novel about characters who are very different from you or who live in a much different time or place.
- Get comfortable.
- Start reading and feel your brain being nourished!
From Book Clubs to Bocce Ball — And a Whole Lot in Between
If you’re exploring retirement communities in Washington state for yourself or a family member, we hope you’ll plan to tour Heron’s Key. Gig Harbor continues to earn the distinction of being named the best place in Washington to retire, year after year.
The residents at Heron’s Key are an active bunch, so you’ll find all kinds of interest groups here — including a book club or two. And we always encourage residents to start a new group of their own if they have a favorite hobby or an interest that isn’t already represented. For a sample of the lifestyle you can expect in our community, take a look at our video gallery.