When I hear “book club” I think of those organizations where we would sign up in advance and receive, basically on approval, one book a month. One time when I was moving from one apartment to another the moving man looked at all the boxes of books and said “You must be a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club”. I may not have been at the time, but I certainly had been at various points in my life. You could lapse and then sign up again and get the premium offer (the magnifying-glass version of the Oxford English Dictionary is the one I remember best).  Now the meaning of “book club” appears to have shifted to mean those groups of like-minded people who meet once a month to discuss a book which they all agreed at their last meeting to read. The Millions brings us a description of this growing movement. Wikipedia makes the distinction between “book discussion clubs” and “book sales clubs”. According the Reader’s Circle there’s also something called a “reader’s circle” where not every member reads the same book: they just get together to discuss whatever it is they are reading at the time. A search of their database yielded 205 book clubs in response to my zip code. Rather overwhelming. They are however ranked by distance away, and this ranges from 2.2 to 98.7 miles; this latter obviously a bit further than the subway is going to take me.

The only book club (book discussion club) I’ve belonged to was in the Chesterton, part of Cambridge, England. And it was a poetry club: we’d all research poems on the agreed theme and read them to one and all. The best theme was the first I was involved in: we had to find poems on the theme “Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men”, which is Macbeth to the murderers. We never seemed to hit that height again — spring, death, parting and such like concepts seemed dull by comparison.

Germany was long a bastion of the old-fashioned book club, but now we learn that even Bertelsmann is getting out of the business (Hollywood Reporter story). “The business model of book clubs is old and has been largely superseded by online sales, where Amazon is the market leader,” Sarah Simon, senior media analyst with Berenberg Bank in London, told the Wall Street Journal. According to Publishers Lunch, Bertelsmann “will keep book clubs operational in Russia and Ukraine as well as Spain, in which the company has a 50 percent stake.” Of course Book-of-the-Month Club still operates though its clout is much reduced from its heyday. Same is true of Doubleday Book Club and The Literary Guild. Their web sites all look pretty similar, maybe just because this month they are all featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest.

In addition to these sorts of club there has long been the club for bibliophiles. Examples are The Limited Editions Club, and the poor man’s version of it, The Heritage Press (closed in 1982), and The Roxburghe Club, though that’s a more hands-on group — each member is meant to print a book for presentation to all the other members, so access to a press is obviously a requirement. The Folio Society is a step up from Heritage, and makes many beautiful books. (I recently reported on their Letterpress Shakespeare.) AbeBooks has a listing of such clubs, many of which although not in the business of regularly printing books for their members would create the occasional fine edition. Such a club was The Typophiles to which I belonged in the seventies. It seems to have a continued existence on-line, though for all I know it may continue to have lunch meeting like the ones I used to attend at The National Arts Club in Gramercy Park.

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