Saturday, February 19, 2011

The blog for book groups and readers

This is a monthly column about books, book group members, and reading. It’s focused on what turns you on, book-wise, but not necessarily on the form that a book takes these days.

Times are changing, faster than we can fathom. Years ago, when a publisher told me our newspaper would be read on an electronic tablet someday, I didn’t realize that reality might include magazines and books. But it does. We’ll talk about them in a future column.

I cling like lint, against all reason, to the dozen or so bookcases in my home, loving each of the hundreds of books I’ve collected and — to the disgust of my children — am unwilling to part with many of them. You may be like me. There is nothing like a book group for finding friends with that shared obsession.

As I write this, 14 to 18 people, of mixed ages and genders, occupy several tables next to me in Barnes & Noble, Leominster. Nooks in hand, they punch keys, make notes and ask rather a lot of questions to an instructor who is outlining step-by-step instructions for using their new toys. Must have been a big Christmas trend.

But form isn’t everything. Whether you prefer the paper-and-ink version of best-sellers, digital books or the fading pages and moisture-stained covers of old classics, here is proof: People still love to read. To that, I say “yahoo.”

So, whether you are staring into an electronic gizmo (an e-reader) or holding a bound edition in hand, this column is for you, book fans. More specifically, I’m homing in on book group members, who’ve done so much to further the spread of book popularity, good reading, library use and thoughtful understanding in fiction and nonfiction.

Book groups — clubs, if you prefer — have done more to advance book sales than many of the former proponents: the revered newspaper best-seller lists, magazines dedicated to what’s new in fiction and nonfiction, word of mouth, and — always in style and always in front — libraries.

And right here and now, let’s thank Oprah. Oprah Winfrey has done more to boost reading and book clubs than any individual in recent history. Pooh-pooh her choices or not, many of them have been excellent. For anyone to automatically dismiss them is to ignore the many excellent classic, literary and popular choices she has introduced to the nation, among them Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance”; “House of Sand and Fog” by Andre Dubus III, Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” and many, many other well-written, top-quality books by such writers as William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Anita Shreve, Wally Lamb, Joyce Carol Oates, Tolstoy, even the embarrassingly ungrateful but astonishingly talented Jonathan Franzen, twice.

The one thing we all share is our love of reading. For some, it’s all about a good story (as well it should be); for others, the biography or memoirs of both the famous and unknown; history; how-to and inspiration. Our world is made a much bigger and more extraordinary place by books. If they have slipped from mind among the young, it’s because we’re too busy doing other things — perhaps the e-readers will help mend that situation.

This column will consider new books, top book group choices — especially from clubs in this region — and all things book group-related: area stores that encourage book groups and bring in authors; library-facilitated book groups and lectures; tips for maintaining members’ interests and growth; starting a group; online book clubs; sources of online reviews and more.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me about your group. I want to know who you are (many book groups have funny monikers); where you meet; if you’re accepting new members; what books you’re reading now or have just discussed; what questions you may have about your book group.

So send your comments or questions, your ideas, your favorite places to meet or find books, and your group’s information to me, in as much detail as you wish. This is a great way to link one group to another, sharing knowledge of favorites, and tips for groups.

Ann Connery Frantz is a lifelong newspaper writer/editor turned freelance nonfiction writer and editor. She is also the author of several short stories and a novel. Some of these columns are published in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette. She blogs at http://readitandreap.blogspot.com. Contact her at ann.frantz@gmail.com.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Ann --
    I'm a follower! & Faced with the prospect of downsizing to a smaller apt., it was heartening to read of your bond with those 11 or 12 bookshelves! ... Same here. I may have to put a lot of books in storage, but I ain't tossing them. With my notations, even those from the '80s, I can reconnect with a novel just like that. ...
    Gracias.
    Rick

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  2. We do indeed live in changing times (aren't they always) and like everything else, books and libraries and publishers and authors are feeling the pressure of tightening budgets and expanding choices. What must never change is the love of reading, be it in print or e-book format. Glad to see another voice raised in praise of a few good books.

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