When I was about 12, I shelled out around five bucks to join a club. It was the only club I'd ever staked my own cash on. And it was so worth it.
I'm referring to the now-defunct Otherworlds Club of the now-long-since-shuttered Walden Books. Walden Books was a chain bookstore that had its heyday back in the 80's when shopping malls were still in their halcyon commercial glory. The bookstores were small, no more than 3 or 4 aisles, and usually located near one of the big corner anchors. It was pretty standard fare for what you'd see in a big box bookstore--everything broken down by genre, register near the front, signage for new releases and best sellers--only on a much smaller scale. Which, in hindsight, meant its days were surely going to be numbered.
One of the things that made Walden Books special was that it devoted a larger-than-average proportion of its space to fantasy and sci-fi books and role playing games. They really leaned into the genre; and dorky kids, such as yours truly, rewarded them by being devoted customers. What really set Walden Books apart, though, was how they went out of their way to make us feel like a community. For about five dollars (I can't remember the exact number, but it was enough, in 1980's dollars to hurt just a little bit for a kid living on a pittance of an allowance and lawn mowing money), you could become a member of Walden Books' Otherworlds Club. This got you a sweet membership card (example above) and a 10-15% discount on any fantasy, science fiction, or role playing game you bought from the store. It also got you a monthly (?) subscription to their "Xignals" newsletters, Walden Books answer to Dragon Magazine. The letter was green-tint, black, and white, as I recall, and would include recent book reviews, short story contests, announcements, and the like. I remember actually reading through them. But what I remember most was how cool it was to be a part of a group that shared the same interests as me.
Back then, in the dark ages before the internet, finding communities of common quirky interests was a lot harder than it is today. Which perhaps made it feel all the more special.
Did Walden Books make money off of selling these memberships? Who knows? (Though I suspect between the discounts they were giving, and the production and postage of the newsletters, and the administrative costs of tracking memberships, probably not). What it did, however, was create a sense of community. And that's pretty cool.
I've been thinking about the notion of community in reading and writing lately. I've been trying to get a little more active in writing groups, both with the Authors Guild and one of my publishers--while I've also by trying to engage more with readers. What I've been struck with is that, as much as writing is mostly a lonely endeavor and reading a completely solitary one, writers and readers do enjoy the times when they can come together as a community. Whether it's talking about the latest book, or which writer in a genre is better, or if the movie or the book version of a story is superior, or just spending some time together in friendship and fellowship, readers and writers can, and should, hang out together from time to time. That can be in a small group, or in a convention, or online--whatever the form, it can be a really enriching experience.
So if you're a writer, aspiring writer, reader, or gamer, make sure you're reaching out to others who share those interests. They're out there. And you don't even have to get a membership card to find them (although those can be cool, too).
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