The group started as a resource to help facilitate and organize meetings between likeminded booklovers. CEO Norman Hicks explains that it can be difficult to begin a book group, “usually the idea exists as an abstraction, some imagined collection of people who actually don't know one another at all. So the reality of the matter is the reading public does not exist as a body of identifiable people, and that's our work, to change that.”
The most basic function of Readerscircle.org, the non-profit portion of the organization, is to provide a network that allows area book clubs to promote upcoming meetings and events. A search of Chicago book groups pulls up over forty groups that cater to everything from comic book lovers to foodies to the romance novel-obsessed.
Although many of the groups are themed, the organization suggests a more relaxed approach: “Reader's Circle aspires to build on the traditions that sustained the coffeehouses of early modern England, the salons of Enlightenment France, and the townhall meetings of colonial America.” With the goal of creating a free-flowing exchange of literary ideas, members can form “reader’s circles” which, unlike traditional book groups, encourage participants to bring any books or materials they are currently reading or wish to discuss and simply allow the conversation to develop.
To further facilitate the conversation, Reader’s Circle even offers to connect authors directly with book groups. Available authors can agree to set up a thirty minute phone call with groups to discuss their works directly.
Users of the site report that it has been helpful in building a member base. Gwyn Smith, who runs a three and a half year old, Chicago-based “informal book club,” estimates that “probably 90% of the group has been generated from [her] posting.”
Finally, Reader’s Circle has developed a separate site that provides an option for those who wish to discuss their books in a more intimate environment. In the spring of 2009, ReadersCircle.com was launched to serve the online dating needs of literate singles. The idea began when, according to Hicks, “too many of our book groups on companion site ReadersCircle.org had reported having drop-in visitors who apparently viewed the group as a means to pick up potential dates, and it just made sense to have a separate site. We've since had a surge in registrations and literate singles are now connecting for free through a site which recognizes the unique qualities they bring to a relationship.”
With 90,000 inquiries in five countries, Reader’s Circle has come a long way in fulfilling its objective of creating a vibrant community of readers. Now that the upcoming holiday weekend is upon us, Reader’s Circle can provide a unique opportunity, whether you are looking for some new friends or a Valentine who appreciates your love of early postmodernist poets.