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Reading Clubs 'Fill a Social Gap' for Women

Irish Independent, Tuesday, 2nd January 2007

Michael Brennan

Book clubs are springing up all over the country to fill a "social gap" in the lives of women, according to a librarian. There are now 150 book clubs in public libraries and more than 300 which are organised privately.

Frances O'Gorman, a public librarian who is organising the first ever book club festival, said they helped to fill a social gap for a lot of people. "It's a great way for people who are new to a town. If you join a book club, you're immediately going to have a circle that you meet on a regular basis".

Most book clubs have around 10 members and meet once a month to discuss their chosen book. But although the clubs are open to both sexes, they are generally a "no man's land", with up to 99 pc of members female, Ms. O'Gorman said. "It's almost like years ago, where the women met at the well to do the washing. We meet in our own homes and it swaps around every month, and there might be a glass of wine or nibbles, so it's a real social thing as well as reading a book".

The rising popularity of book clubs is an international phenomenon, which took off with the introduction of Oprah Winfrey's television book club in the United States in 1996. Her show turned struggling authors into household names overnight, and it inspired RTE's Marian Finucane and Ryan Tubridy to set up their own radio book clubs.

The books selected for reading range from such popular bestsellers as Cecelia Ahern's 'PS I love You' to such literary classics as Jane Austen or Joseph Heller's 'Catch 22'.

The Ennis Bookclub Festival, which will take place in March, will feature such guests and authors as Patrick McCabe and Edna O'Brien, as well as BBC journalist, Fergal Keane and RTE's chief news correspondent Charlie Bird.

Dolores Meaney, who runs the book club in the de Valera Library in Ennis, said that new book clubs were springing up everywhere. "There are just loads of book clubs now. With one of the girls in our club, people on her road set up a book club. They were all new arrivals to the area". Ms Meaney said that the clubs allowed people to discover new writers and to discuss the characters and themes in their books. "It is quite social and the conversation can go off in tangents. But we generally limit the club to about 10 people because if it gets beyond that, there are too many and people can't really voice an opinion.

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