In the 1942-1943 volume of Jewish Book Annual, Louis Finkelstein lamented the lack of "creative reading" of that time. He defined creative reading as "that type of reading which through the exercise of critical faculty and the demand for continually improved standards, stimulates writers to their best efforts." It was his hope that Jewish Book Week (which soon after became Jewish Book Month) would act as a catalyst to improve the nature and prevalence of reading in the Jewish community.
In that same volume, Israel Goldstein expressed his concern that American Jewry was not engaged with books of Jewish interest, which, in turn, discouraged Jewish authors from writing. He held up Palestine as an example to strive for, where "in a Jewish population one-tenth the size of the American Jewry, the average Jewish book...has ten times as many readers as we provide." He too expressed his wish that Jewish Book Week would call attention to worthwhile Jewish literature and to "foster...a greater sense of responsibility as patrons of the Jewish book."
Seventy years later, Jewish Book Month seems to have met the expectations set out in its early years. What began as a small exhibit of Judaic books set up at the West End branch of the Boston Public Library by librarian Fanny Goldstein in 1925, quickly spread, and by 1940, Jewish Book Week was a national event across the U.S. In 1943, it had grown so popular that the week was extended to a month, and has continued as an annual celebration ever since. The Jewish Book Council, a not-for-profit organization devoted to the promotion of reading, writing and publishing books of Jewish interest which, along with Jewish Book Month, administers the National Jewish Book Awards, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, publishes a quarterly book review magazine, schedules over 800 author events in the Jewish community each year, and has an extensive online and social media presence.
Though publishing has changed considerably, and the fate of books and bookstores is a frequent source of conversation, the pleasure of reading a good book and gathering with friends for an exchange of ideas has remained constant--and helps to bolster the publishing industry. The proliferation of book clubs meeting to discuss their latest reads in living rooms or community spaces around the world and hundreds of Jewish interest books published each year seem to indicate that Louis Finkelstein's hope was not unfounded.
The rise in popularity of book clubs over the past two decades has been driving a new age of creative reading, and has also inspired the development of new resources to help stimulate conversations around a book. Do a quick internet search, and one can find hundreds of websites and blogs, reading guides from different sources, and book reviews from trusted critics, popular social media sites, and random readers.
While the wide array of material available online can be very useful, finding just what you are looking for, checking multiple sites, or parsing the information can be tiresome, especially for a book group with specific interests, like Jewish literature.
JBC Book Clubs (www.jewishbookcouncil.org/bookclub), a new program of the Jewish Book Council, offers book clubs a one-stop-shop to improve their reading experiences and enhance their conversations. In addition to compiling JBC's existing wealth of reviews, discussion questions, and author interviews into one area on the JBC website, JBC Book Clubs offers a cadre of services, tools, and resources that have been designed with them in mind. Visit JBC Book Clubs, and you can find recommended books; The Postscript blog series that gives book club bonus material straight from the authors; the opportunity to receive customized book recommendations for your book club; tips and guides to starting a book club and selecting books from both the JBC and outside sources; and JBC's Live Chat program which connects authors and book clubs through video chats. Behind the computer screen, there is a live person - a dedicated staff member - who is available to answer questions, tailor resources for your specific needs, find discussion questions for a particular book, give advice on running or starting a book club or a community read, and suggest solutions to difficulties that a book club has encountered.
Since JBC Book Clubs lives mainly online, it is available to book clubs all over the world at whatever time is convenient for them. The Internet collapses the distance between JBC's New York office and any book club, or individual reader, interested in English-language books of Jewish interest. So get a book recommendation, find a menu that correlates to a book to serve at your next book club meeting, or "host" the author of the book that you just read via video chat and ask all of the questions that came up while you were reading.
You may have joined a book club as a social activity to connect with people, a place to engage in conversation, as an intellectual or educational pursuit, or as a cultural connection--whatever the reason, book clubs are an integral part of the literary landscape. Formal or informal, book clubs are a platform to engage with one's community and inspire discussion around central ideas. As such, JBC is committed to providing book clubs with support and material to improve the reading experience and enhance the conversation.