Books Reveal Volumes About Their Readers By MYLINH SHATTANSpecial to the Tribune Published: Sep 30, 2005
Three years ago I convinced a few friends in Lutz to come together to enjoy each other's company and some good books.
It's a diverse group, not only in life stages, but in our reading interests, which include everything from ``The Founding Brothers'' to ``The Nanny Diaries.''
We're part of a trend. Oprah revived her book club with a focus on the classics, Barnes & Nobles has one for every genre imaginable, while many moms' clubs boast their own groups.
But unfortunately, the written word has become a real lightweight in the competition for leisure time against big hitters like television. Americans spend at least 2.5 hours a day watching TV and a scant 22 minutes reading, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.
Watching too much TV can promote an unhealthy lifestyle that steals from our family time and hampers our children's education. Many would argue it's a factor in climbing obesity rates and violence as well.
By contrast, reading requires an active mind that engages the reader. And while book groups help invigorate reading, it'll be a long while before many Americans skip a favorite TV show to break out ``Don Quixote.''
Book sales in this country have essentially tracked population growth, despite Harry Potter, Amazon.com and the popularity of Oprah's book recommendations.
Women seem to make up most book groups, as I have yet to run into a men's book club. My husband contends his is called ``work.'' I explained to him that women are more educated than ever, and many of us opt to leave the paid work force, undoubtedly helping to fuel the interest in more intellectual pursuits.
One of our members moved to Tallahassee and attended a friend's reading group, only to learn later that it was really a Christian Bible study. This made me realize that Bible study is the original book group. And the ``Good Book'' continues to be the weekly selection in congregations far and wide.
Perhaps that explains the origins of the somewhat spiritual experience that can occur in a reading group. Members bond on various levels. Some share their own personal stories, successes and trials, while others remain removed by focusing their commentary on the book and its characters.
What evolves is an honest portrait of each of us, revealing our deepest thoughts and beliefs - ultimately, who we are. As one member put it, ``You see me for me,'' not as a mom, a wife or a business woman, but the real person.
And that is what sets a reading group apart from other social gatherings; it's beyond the superficial. Reading literature connects humanity across time, place and even cultures. It's our quest for what is lasting and real; through reading, we can hang out with the great, experience things we've never done or felt before, as well as identify and empathize with our own.
In a materialistic culture that judges us by the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, if you really want to know someone, check out her bookshelf.
MyLinh Shattan lives in Lutz with her husband and three children.