Libraries sponsor book groups. So do churches, seniors groups and social clubs. There are secular and spiritual groups, and community/neighbor groups started in a variety of ways.
Dozens of clubs, thousands of books to choose from — what’s a group to do? Turns out, plenty. Some groups specialize — history, politics (right wing, left wing and in between), the classics, poetry and biography, for instance — but many select from a combination, interweaving fiction and nonfiction with great literature, seeking variety and new knowledge. Picking selections is always fun — and may involve a luncheon, a special meeting at the nearby library or bookstore, snacks and wine at a member’s home. Those selections often sweep from mouth to mouth, club to club, town to town and state to state, occasionally creating best-sellers even before the publishers have time to tout them as such.
The book group I attend in Lancaster decides books for the year at one meeting, but sometimes makes a switch mid-stream if a better selection is suggested, or it’s felt that too many similar books have been lined up (depressing books tend to be panned over the winter months). Advantages are obvious: Books are more readily obtainable through various sources when there’s lead time, and there’s more time to read them. Deciding from month to month allows more flexibility in selecting timely choices from newer releases, but this can also force members to pay the hardcover price, since a popular new book is harder to get at the library. Sometimes the number of requests for a best-seller top 100, 200 or more — one reason it’s good to have a friend in the library.
If they know in advance, as well, most librarians will place individual holds on a book for their book club members, assisting them in the process of borrowing selected books.
Sutton’s Full Court Press book group — 12 former basketball moms who wanted to stay connected after their sons graduated — conducts cleverly themed book meetings. After reading “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” (by Helen Simonson), the group held its discussion within the format of a formal tea party. A ton of work, reported member Brenda Yates, but lots of fun. They also read actor Sidney Poitier’s autobiography, “The Measure of a Man,” and watched “Lilies of the Field” as part of that exploration. For their next book (“We wanted something silly”), they’ll read Jenn McKinlay’s mystery, “Buttercream Bumpoff,” and bake cupcakes from the book for a cupcake exchange. Then comes “Jane Eyre,” also paired with a movie.
Ideas like these keep meetings from becoming a bore, and change the usual framework, encouraging output from members who might be quiet at other meetings.
About a half-dozen Rutland-area readers attend The Cozy Book Nook group formed in September; they’d like to have tips on how to increase membership, as only four or five attend each meeting. Suggestions? The group meets monthly at Rutland’s Community Center. They’ve already discussed “Julia and Julia,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Dark Tide” (well-received by members) and “The #1 Ladies Detective Agency.”
In mid-February, I attended the Red Rock Readers group in St. George, Utah, where a group of spirited snowbirds held its February meeting at the local country club. It was quite a treat. After a perfect lunch, 15 members discussed Jodi Picoult’s novel about the impact of false accusations on innocent lives, “Salem Falls.” They also voted to invite their male partners to the next meeting, the topic being Lauren Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken,” about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who became a WWII hero through a harrowing, three-year experience after his plane crashed.
Since they’d found it would cost $10,000 to bring Mr. Zamperini to St. George, or $2,500 for a video and phone interview (an uncommon cost for author visits), they discussed alternatives common to clubs seeking authors: films, Skype interviews, documentaries. A Facebook friend and reader in Florida highly recommends Skype interviews at book discussions; we’ll have more on that on another date.
Betsey Johnson, member of a 37-year-old book club in Holden, chooses books for the group — a band of longtime friends who’ve seen each other through babies and grandchildren — and avoids most best-sellers. She made an exception for Kahled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo and Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible.” This group really mixes it up, with classics and contemporary writers.
She mentioned Granta’s book of American Short Stories, a collection of strong new fiction by writers, which can provide hints leading to great novels. The “Best of …” series are a great source of authors. I read short story collections and lit journals such as Granta, Ploughshares (at Emerson College), Glimmer Train and the Paris Review to explore unfamiliar writers as well, and it was a story by T.C. Boyle that led me to his longer fiction, “The Tortilla Curtain,” “East is East” and many more.
There’s a brand new book club in Worcester, as yet unnamed, which recently read Jeannette Walls’ nonfiction narrative to follow up the jaw-dropping story of Walls’ upbringing, “The Glass Castle.” It’s her maternal ancestor’s story, called “Half-Broke Horses.” They’re currently reading “Cutting for Stone.”
How do you conduct your meetings, and where? What are the rules? How do you build membership? Send comments or questions, ideas, favorite meeting places 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.
Contact Ann Connery Frantz at email@example.com, or write to her in care of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 20 Franklin St., Worcester, MA 01605.