Why book clubs are a therapist approved form of self-care – Sydney Morning Herald

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This was published 3 months ago
Once a month, Samantha saunters up the hill to her local bar and spends the night gabbing about books. The 51-year-old has been doing this for the past three years, after she was asked by a group of friends to join the book club they were starting.
Originally, the group launched with 25 members, but it has since whittled down to around 14 regulars. They meet at the same local pub, every third Thursday of the month. As they pile in, the members mingle, order drinks, pull up a stool, then dive into discussing the nominated book.
Being absorbed in a mindful activity gives your brain a much-needed break from mental chatter and allows you to flex your imagination and think creatively.Credit:Stocksy
Everyone takes turns sharing their opinions. Occasionally, someone brings in book club questions. Other times, people simply ask each other their thoughts. Whichever way the night kicks off, Samantha says, “the conversation always flows”.
There are so many things Samantha loves about being part of her book club. She adores the added incentive to spend more time during the week with her nose in a book and laps up the breadth of genres she’s embraced through other people’s suggestions.
But the part she loves most is the social aspect, as she spends hours shooting the breeze, laughing and talking about life. “The conversations we’ve had have been wonderful,” says the mother of two. “It’s really been a beautiful way to connect with people.”
Those connections deepened last year, as the Melbourne-based club grappled with the ups and downs of 2020. As people shared their lockdown struggles, lasting connections were forged. “We really supported each other and it definitely morphed into stronger friendships.”
Bibliotherapist Sonya Tsakalakis, co-author of Reading the Seasons: Books Holding Life & Friendship Together, sings the praises of book clubs. She says gathering with like-minded individuals to discuss a common interest is a more meaningful way of connecting with others and can ignite new friendships.
“The book acts as a launching pad for learning about the people who are reading it with you,” Tsakalakis explains, adding that simply being in the company of others, and soaking in their opinions, can be inspiring.
Clinical psychologist Caitlin Sopp agrees that book club offers a wealth of benefits. She says sharing your thoughts in a group environment can build confidence and boost self-esteem, while reading itself is also beneficial for emotional wellbeing. “When you’re absorbed in a good book, you’re not worried about what happened earlier in the day, you’re not stressing about what’s coming the next day,” she says. “Reading is a form of mindfulness.”
Being absorbed in a mindful activity then gives your brain a “much-needed break” from mental chatter, Sopp says, and allows you to flex your imagination and think creatively. “And that’s really positive, mental health-wise.”
Attending book club itself also provides mental health benefits, adds Tsakalakis. She thinks of book club as an act of “self-care”, saying people draw comfort from having a planned, regular event, one in which the group is all focused on the same shared interest. “That’s the therapeutic aspect of it.”
Samantha says most weeknights she’s bogged down in the same routine of “working, cooking and going to bed”. On book club night, she relishes the opportunity to do something just for herself.
“While you’re in that conversation, that’s your own space, your own little world. For that time,
I’ve left the rest of the world behind.”
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 27. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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