I am researching book clubs in Rome for a side project, which got me thinking as to why book clubs are such an Anglo-Saxon activity? Why don’t Italians have book clubs? They do, of course, in a trendy kind of way while posing as foreign-styled intellectuals, but not seriously and with long-term commitment.
A friend of mine, Marina, is a big reader (one of the few Italians I know that actually devours novels) and we pass away hours on the beach in the summer lost in book discussions. She always asks me about my book club and although she thinks the idea is intriguing, she can’t quite get her hands around the whole concept, the organization, planning and commitment behind it and – this is the biggest stumbling block—how you could meet with strangers to talk about books. She just couldn’t do it, open herself up and discuss a book with a stranger, even if that stranger was a fellow bookworm. There would be something very crass about sharing your intimate passions with someone you don’t intimately know.
This is the cultural moment of the day – forming groups. If an Italian was to form a book club, he or she would do so with a group of intimate friends, it would just be the extension of their regular gatherings. Most likely they would have all gone to school together and a book club would be a natural progression from their classroom years. Italians belong to groups; they don’t enter and exit them. You simply are a member of a group, your "in group". Joining a group that is based exclusively on a common interest, is odd, for them, not us. We join, participate in and leave groups regularly as individuals that choose to be a part of that group for that period of time. We probably have more associations and interest groups per capita than any other country in the world – from chamber music, to book/gardening/chess/bridge clubs, church activities now to internet forums. We love to seek out others with whom we share only one sphere of our lives through a common passion, even if they are not and never will be friends.
So although we form and participate in lots of groups, we do so as individuals and always have the choice to leave – as an individual. This is an American cultural trait, not a universal one.
Ps. if you belong to a book club in Rome, please send me an email or leave a message. I am putting together a list of clubs.