Whether you like fiction or autobiographies, a classic paperback or a sleek Kindle, reading is an activity that anyone can enjoy, anywhere –– and at any age. Senior Planet Book Club, an online book club for older adults aims to engage readers through social interactions.
The program is a brainchild of Senior Planet, a program from AARP’s nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), which uses technology to change the way older adults age and lead fulfilling lives in a digital world.
“We launched the book club a couple years ago as a way of promoting a channel for that sort of dialogue and it’s been very successful,” Tom Kamber, founder and executive director of OATS and Senior Planet, both of which are now charitable affiliates of AARP, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “People always come to us with a tech question, but they want more than just a class on how to use Zoom. They want an opportunity to use Zoom to share pretty cool opinions about books.”
One of the biggest draws of the Senior Planet Book Club is its accessibility. It is free and available to anyone ages 50 and older without the hassle and costs of membership fees. Rebecca Altneu, author and top trainer at Senior Planet, leads club sessions, which range from 25 to 50 people. Every month, there is a request for the next book and participants suggest different titles. Altneu reviews the titles for factors including availability for purchase and whether they are mainstream enough to gauge interest of all participants.
The book group sessions are structured in a non-rigid, fairly informal manner, giving older adults the chance to express themselves and their thoughts about the book of the month, while making meaningful social connections, Kamber said.
“People come with really interesting ideas and perceptions,” Kamber said. “Less structure leads to more comfort level for people and more social engagement. It gives people a chance to express themselves.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sessions are taking place virtually. However, Kamber noted that there will be an option for book club participants to attend the sessions in-person throughout the United States. OATS also has been testing a hybrid model — both virtual and in-person — for some of its programs. Kamber notes he envisions this as a viable option for the book club going forward, giving older adults the option to engage with others at their leisure.
“We are highly confident that it’s going to be some time this year,” Kamber said. “My guess is by the fall we’re going to have three or four more in–person book clubs going around the country where people come in face-to-face and hopefully they will be linked up to the ones online.”
Various book genres, topics
Kamber notes that Senior Planet Book Club genres and topics vary, and include writers from various ethnic and demographic backgrounds, as well as female writers. Currently, book club members are reading Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala.
Other popular book themes are family dramas, history hotels, cooking and food.
“The book club of Senior Planet is a little bit of a Rorschach into the minds of older adults,” Kamber said. “When you ask them what book do you want to read?, you’re also really activating them to say, what’s up for you lately? or where am I going in my intellectual life right now? When older adults are picking books, they are picking a pretty interesting group of nontraditional or unexpected books, so we’re not sitting here reading books about osteoporosis or healthcare. These are cool novels that you’re gonna want to talk about over the dinner table.”
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