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Slices of Life... Unplug yourself - with a good book club

We are a plugged-in, Internetted, screen-watching society that doesn't have much time for old-fashioned methods of entertainment or communication. That might be changing.

We are a plugged-in, Internetted, screen-watching society that doesn't have much time for old-fashioned methods of entertainment or communication. That might be changing.

There's a pastime that is gaining popularity and challenging people to slow down and unplug as they come together to share a hobby that's been around ever since paper was invented, and probably even before that.

Believe it or not, reading - of the fiction and non-fiction variety - is emerging as a cool and trendy activity of choice. And, while it may not be making a rampant sweep across the nation, it is making steady progress - one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time.

How is reading infiltrating our society? Two words: book clubs.

The premise is simple. You get a group of friends together. Choose a book. Read it and then meet to discuss. Repeat monthly.

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If you aren't in a book club (yet) and all this sounds boring, don't be discouraged. A book club is about a whole lot more than just books.

I know this because I am a member of a book club. This means I read lots of books. I am a person who knows about novels and the bestseller list. I critique word choice and note grammatical errors. I speak intelligently about setting and plot formation.

Well, not really, but I am in a book club.

Originally, the idea came up in a discussion with a friend who was a professed "non-reader." By that I mean she could read things fine; she just chose not to.

We both knew of other friends who were in book clubs. When they talked about their experiences and the books they were reading, they sounded smart.

We decided that if other people were in book clubs, then by golly, we could be, too! We knew how to read, even though we hadn't had a lot of time to pursue the hobby since having kids - unless you consider "Go Dog Go" reading in the literary sense.

We set a few ground rules for our book club; I think they are similar for book clubs across the county.

Rule number one: No kids. It's hard to have an intelligent discussion about character development when Timmy and Stevie are wrestling, Annie's hollering for juice and little Joey needs a diaper change. Kids definitely hinder concentration and conversation, so you gotta find a way to leave 'em at home (supervised, with a good book, of course).

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Rule number two: Bring snacks. Let's face it; reading makes you hungry. Plus, munching on a corn chip or lingering over a good chunk of brownie gives you something to do while you're trying to come up with a intelligent comment on how the main character was positively influenced by his neglectful, novel-reading mother.

Rule number three: Sip slowly and savor. Whether you take pleasure in lemonade, water or a perfectly fermented grape juice, the corn chips and brownies are bound to make you thirsty. Since you are enjoying a night out without kids, you might as well imbibe in your beverage of choice (within moderation, of course). It will probably enhance the conversation.

Rule number four: Do the homework. It's beneficial, but not mandatory, that members read the selected book each month. My book club is different from some, because we actually read the books we choose. I've been told that some clubs just buy the books and pretend to read. For them it's all about the munchies. That, and the no-kids rule.

I'm not an expert, but I think a book club benefits from a variety of personalities. This isn't a rule, just a recommendation. There has to be someone who is good at making munchies. One who knows how to pick a good wine. And, of course, a literary person who picks the books.

Most groups will find an overachiever in their midst. My friend who claims she doesn't like to read? Seems she's a bit voracious. Most recently, she's completed an entire four-book series; meanwhile I'm on page 34 of book one. That's part of the magic of the book club: the surprises. Some of the best are when we surprise ourselves.

To summarize: A book club involves books, but reading isn't always mandatory. Food and beverages are required. Kids are not. Conversation and laughter are guaranteed.

I know what you might be thinking: Book club sounds like secret code for ladies' night out. You might be right, but I haven't had time to notice. I'm too busy reading.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com .

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