I am asked all the time whether serious books — the sorts of books a reading group is likely to read — are in serious trouble. And that is almost always the way the question is phrased. Serious books . . . serious trouble.
Sometimes, the prophets will trot out the specifics of gloom and doom: The end of leisure, and the way the Internet and the VCR have commandeered what little time a person has left to read; the statistics that show the paltry numbers of adults who ever buy books; or the figures that suggest the vast majority of us haven't the slightest idea what the insides of our local libraries looks like.
Yet the current renaissance in reading groups seems to me to be a wondrous indication that serious books are not in serious trouble at all. Book groups have reminded us all of a fact we try and teach our preschool and elementary school children all the time, but as grownups we all too often tend to forget: Reading is meant to be fun. It is capable of evoking from us the same conversational enthusiasm as movies and music and stage plays, if we only give the notion a chance.
See also: "The Book Club Hustlers" at The Daily Beast.