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What is it about reading groups? Never done anything to hurt anyone, but still a regular target for insult. Columnists sneer at an imagined coffee klatsch of middle-aged women, while authors veer between gratitude and suspicion. Earlier this year, Zadie Smith described the reading group as the enemy of the individual reader, a delivery mechanism for a conformist culture of ‘system reading’.

Contrary evidence doesn’t seem to dent the prejudice. A study by Jenny Hartley showed that reading groups vary enormously in make-up, reading habits and method. In a recent article updating her findings, she reported that nearly half of…

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