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Hey Zuckerberg. You already have a social network. Leave the sanctity of book clubs alone.

Hey Mark Zuckerberg: Stop ruining all that is holy and pure about book club.

When the Facebook CEO and zion of the zeitgeist announced a few days ago that he was starting an online bookclub, there was much rejoicing from bibliophiles and book clubbers alike.

‘A man!’ they cried. ‘Starting a book club?’ ‘He’s the new Oprah’.  ‘He is a GENIUS’.

Revolutionary. 

Except it’s not, Zucks. It’s not genius or new or inventive or innovative.

Book clubs have been a happening thing since 19th century dames would get together to socialise and be like ‘yo, have you checked out Dickens’ latest? It’s cray’.

The problem I have with putting more book in Facebook is not the reading part. That is super. There are a bunch of Facebookers who could use a good injection of literature (not to mention spelling, grammar and general human decency).

It’s just that I feel like social media already has its grubby mitts all over my social life.  Can’t you leave the old fashioned loveliness of book club alone?

Zuckerberg’s book club.  Such social. 

Book club is one of the last bastions of wholesome screen-free pursuit. And while the very idea of book club is to discuss books, a lot of clubbers know, the value in a book club, it’s essence, comes not from the discussions but from the community and social aspect they foster.

Also the wine. And the cheezels.

Book club is the antithesis of Facebook. It’s a real life social network where people come together, look at each other face to face, share ideas, be real. It’s a place to hone social skills, to use your mind, to have opinions, ideas and and debates without having to check in with Facebook and see what everyone else thinks first.

Plus there’s something really nice and old-world-charmy about getting together in a small group and talking about a paper book. And it’s increasingly rare these days about being invited to someones home for a cuppa and a chat.

Book club attracts a fair whack of criticism. Girlfriends wistfully remark about joining one before listing off their fears: What if they don’t like the other people? What if they can’t commit to finishing the book? Aren’t the people pretentious? What if they’re forced to read something they don’t like? What, you mean we have to sit in someones lounge room and stare at their overflowing washing basket while being forced, exam like, to deconstruct a novel?

These are not legitimate fears. They are first world anxieties of a society that is losing the ability to connect.

We sit in the back of cabs not the front. We choose the self-serve checkout at the shops. We bank using a machine. We buy selfie sticks to avoid asking strangers to hold our phone for a photo.

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We’re losing our curiosity of people, ideas and thoughts, losing the ability to think more deeply about issues.  We’re afraid to commit to something that can be uplifting, dynamic, thought-provoking, growth-inducing because of the fear it might be boring, or hateful, or carve into our precious free time.

Yes, there is the danger that book clubs can be wanky and timewasting too.  But isn’t social media exactly that a lot of the time?

The challenge of real-life book club is to two-fold.  Firstly, it’s great to commit to a book a month, to read more widely and consider books you normally wouldn’t. But more so, the challenge is to stretch yourself socially. Connect with people and have conversations you normally wouldn’t.

My book club was one of the most deeply satisfying nights on my social calendar.  I was recruited to a group of women I didn’t really know.  I began cautiously but was shocked at the fierce honesty, the complete lack of bullshit, and the gusto directed towards Jatz and French Onion dip. It was at times jarring, but some of the best conversations I’ve had.

Sometimes we read the books. Sometimes we talked about them.  But before long it would descend into relationships, ethical conundrums, the intricacies of hair removal and blow jobs and life.There were no ads, no targeted content, no algorithms interrupting our flow or directing our attention elsewhere.  It was candid, cathartic, hilarious, and I always left feeling inflated.

That, Zuckerberg, is something your social network cannot recreate.  Especially not with 167,000 of your closest friends commenting on a Facebook page.

Encouraging people to read is a great thing. And you’re an influential guy, so to turn your magic wand to the mind-expanding pursuit of a good novel is a worthy thing. But lets just leave it at that, can we?

An encouragement of reading. Because already your book club is grumpy.

They can’t find the book. They want the whole list of books and they want them now.  They want to know the deadline. They hate the selection.  They are annoyed you don’t respond.  There are trolls lurking, self-promoters that derail the conversation, and a whole lot of irrelevant bullshit.

Facebook Book Club. You can never please anyone.

All this can happen at real life bookclub too. Because the difference is: it’s people time, not screen time, so there are social nuances that promote reaction and responses.   So keep book clubs where it belongs; in small groups that meet in loungerooms, cafes, and pubs.  And let the resulting glow come from real-life and not the computer screen.