New survey reveals reading groups offer insight into different cultures

A survey conducted by The Reading Agency to mark National Reading Group Day (20 June 2020) has revealed that 2 in 3 reading group participants (65%) feel they have a better understanding of the world because of participating in their group, with 87% reporting that they had a better understanding of other points of view because of their participation.

Key reasons cited for joining reading groups included a desire to read different types of books (78%) and discuss them with other people (85%), with many participants highlighting that the diversity within their groups often led to more interesting and varied discussions.

One participant commented: _”Our book club is our special place! … We have discussed racism, sexism, class, education, politics, food, where to go on holiday, what to wear on a night out. In fact, there is little we haven’t discussed. The book always comes first, but the whole point of the book is to pave the way for discussion and thought.” _

Reading groups were also highlighted as a supportive environment to discuss tough topics: _”I joined the group not knowing anyone and just hoping to be able to discuss some good books and discover new ones every couple of months. Instead, I have made great friends and found a space to ask questions about equalities, politics, and culture without judgement and knowing I will get an honest answer. Our group is a home for honest and respectful debate in a way I have never experienced before, I am now more ready to be challenged and to challenge others because of our discussions.” _

The recent survey also demonstrated a clear appetite from readers for books offering varied insights, particularly those which could broaden their knowledge of the world and other cultures or people’s lives. The finding is particularly relevant as the subject of differing perspectives in publishing takes centre stage – including the recent open letter from the Black Writers’ Guild to British publishers, highlighting their concerns regarding racial inequality within the industry.

The Reading Agency boasts the UK’s largest reading group network — Reading Groups for Everyone — and will be marking National Reading Group Day on Saturday 20 June with an online reading group discussion on Facebook (@readingagency) at 11am. Following a public vote, the winning book selected for discussion is The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, with the discussion open to everyone, and questions posted throughout the hour for participants to comment on and discuss.

National Reading Group Day also falls on the first day of Independent Bookshop Week (20 – 27 June) — part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association.

Christy Lefteri, author, commented: ”I’m so delighted that The Beekeeper of Aleppo has been chosen to be at the centre of discussion on The Reading Agency’s National Reading Group Day. I believe books can be agents for change and are made to be talked about and shared, which is why I couldn’t be happier that my novel will be part of so many discussions with reading groups around the country, talking about themes and issues relating to refugees, trauma, belonging, courage and hope – all of which couldn’t be more important to contemplate and talk about in the time we are currently living through.”

As well as The Beekeeper of Aleppo, reading groups surveyed also reported enjoying and recommending a wide range of books, including Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman), Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo), My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante), Becoming (Michelle Obama) and The Salt Path (Raynor Winn).

The survey of over 1,000 reading group members also found:

  • 84% feel more connected to other people because of being part of a reading group
  • 71% said their mental wellbeing has improved because of being part of a reading group
  • 95% said they read things they wouldn’t typically read since joining their reading group (e.g., different types of books, genres or authors)
  • 72% read more since joining a reading group
  • 87% talk more about books and reading since joining their reading group
  • 71% enjoy reading more when they discuss a book or text as part of the reading group

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency, commented: “It’s wonderful to see the results of our survey ahead of National Reading Group Day, clearly demonstrating how reading and discussing books provides a brilliant way to understand and appreciate different perspectives and cultures. It’s also been hugely inspiring to see the innovative ways people have used technology to keep their reading groups going, and we’re delighted to be hosting our online book discussion on 20 June.”

The Reading Agency

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