3/31/2023 | By Terri L. Jones

Early intellectual salons offered an opportunity for people to gather and discuss ideas. These salons are often associated with the Enlightenment and discussions of burgeoning democratic ideas, with gatherings of authors and poets, and with grand cities such as Paris. Leisure reading groups offer today’s equivalent of a salon, gathering friends and even strangers to discuss books and providing access to the benefits of joining a book club. Typically, discussions center on one book that all participants read, but other variations include each person sharing recently read books. 

Top benefits of joining a book club:

1. Support brain health

It’s no surprise that reading is good for your brain. Immersing yourself in the written word helps improve your verbal and visual comprehension, information processing, memory, and vocabulary. Reading has also been shown to reduce the physical signs of dementia, which include plaques, lesions, and neural tangles. That in itself makes book clubs, which encourage you to read on a regular basis, a beneficial way to spend your time.

2. Make new friends

Seniors often find that their social circles shrink – friends move or pass away, and chances to make new friends become scarce. A book club can help you meet people who not only share an appreciation for reading but who also broaden your horizons with varied backgrounds and interests. After a few in-depth discussions about books and other topics, like favorite movies and restaurants and what your grandkids are up to, you may find people with whom you truly connect and want to extend your relationship beyond book club meetings.

women looking with surprise at a book. Image by Anna Griessel

3. See the world differently

We all process books based on our own experiences and opinions. However, discussing those stories with people of different backgrounds and generations, and with contrasting points of view can challenge our perceptions and help us see issues in a new light. For example, someone who grew up on a farm might have a different take on The Four Winds and crisis survival than someone who has never had to grow their own food. These discussion may even clarify book details that you misunderstood or reveal information that you missed.

Related: The benefits of intergenerational friendships

4. Step out of your comfort zone

Maybe you typically read mysteries, but your book club chooses historical fiction one month. While you may be doubtful that you’ll like it, give it a try. Librarians say around 50 pages is a good barometer for whether a book is for you. After reading those pages, you may decide to give up (which is OK – as we age, we learn how precious time is!), but you may instead discover that you have a passion for historical fiction. At the very least, you’ll learn something new and be more willing to reach out of your comfort zone next time.

women sitting at a kitchen table discussing a book. By Ian Allenden. Book clubs gather friends and even strangers to discuss books and ideas and provide access to the many benefits of joining a book club.

5. Gain knowledge

Continuing to learn new things is integral to maintaining cognitive function into old age. But nonfiction and historical fiction aren’t the only book genres that have a teaching element. Many other fictional books use real issues as the backdrop for their stories. In Mad Honey, you can learn about beekeeping and also (spoiler alert) about being transgender. Demon Copperhead offers an inside look at the opioid crisis in the U.S.

6. Escape the day-to-day

And last but not least, getting lost in a story – while reading and then discussing it with friends – allows you to enter a new world and leave behind issues such as bills, health, home renovations, and other stressors of everyday life. It’s almost as good as a massage – and a whole lot cheaper!

If you’re convinced of the benefits of joining a book club, do a Google search for “book club near me” or reach out to your local libraries, independent booksellers, community centers, or parks and recreation departments. Retirement communities and senior centers may offer book clubs, too. Start reading and reaping the benefits!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones