Sunday, October 28, 2012

Websites offer ideas to jazz up book club meetings

Here are a couple of websites that may interest book club members, particularly if you’re hoping to go beyond the average meeting. One of them offers ideas for enriching the meeting experience (this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea), while the other delves more deeply into books and authors. Check these out.

At, there are unique ideas for meeting décor, food, dress and
discussion, all aligned with the book being discussed. For instance, Ann Patchett’s novel, “State of Wonder,” is about a pharmaceutical scientist searching in Brazil for the body of a former colleague. She encounters far more than a tropical paradise. To go with this book, the site suggests recipes for foods typically served in the region, discussion questions, the book’s various ratings, music that may bring the setting to life, and suggestions for decorating the house as a backdrop to the discussion. Thanks to Brenda Yates of Sutton’s Full Court Press book group for suggesting this site; she said the jungle noises she provided “added a nice touch to the ambiance of the party.”

For Chris Bohjalian’s “The Sandcastle Girls,” the “décor” suggestions are more than lame — I mean, how does one outfit the living room for a genocide? — but there’s a useful suggestion for Armenian folk songs and a tempting Armenian menu. The page also includes info on this popular Vermont writer and his other novels.

There is even a page for David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” (the subject of a newly released film) — journey through past and future — that suggests music and food for your meeting.

A second interesting site is dubbed “library thing.” Two words apply here: free books. Reach it by calling up and browse the interactive options — from listing your favorite books to reviewing new ones, such as J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.” There is always a long list of books available at no cost to members (free to join) interested in posting a review — a lot of readers vie for them, so add your name and see what comes up. Options range from new authors to known writers in fields like mystery, current events, women’s fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, self-help, diet, sports and more.

One of the best features of this site is its linkage to many more blogs, info sources and other book-related materials. It’s easy to find one you like and track it down. On the other hand, if you’re as busy as I am, you may want to focus on one thing and let that be enough. Sometimes, you have to know when to cut the things crying for your attention! (I marvel at some of the bloggers, who claim to read dozens of books a month — just when do they sleep and eat?)

Oh — and if you’re one of those “list makers” out there, the site provides places to list your “books read,” “books loaned,” “books reviewed,” “books owned,” books whatever … Go for it.

Worcester’s Women’s Issues Book Group, affiliated with the National Organization for Women’s Worcester chapter, will discuss works by Jeanette Walls (read either “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” or “Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel”) at its Nov. 12 meeting. Both deal with Walls’ harrowing early life and family, one through a fictional venue, and the former as a memoir. Meetings are held at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester, at 7 p.m. on the second Monday each month. The group will also hold its annual Celebration of Worcester Area Women Poets on Dec. 10. No book to read; just come and listen, or read your own work, or the work of local women poets, past or living.

Worcester Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month at 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at Past sessions are available online, and include a summary, panel members’ reactions to the book, and callers. For details, plus the archive of past programs, go to

The Reading Group at Levi Heywood Library in Gardner will discuss Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln” or James Swanson’s “Manhunt” beginning at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 28. Members may read either one.

On Nov. 6, Shrewsbury’s New Earth Book Club will discuss “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present in the Life You Have,” by Mark Nepo. Members meet at Shewsbury Public Library at 6:30 p.m.

Author David Gillham will join members of the O’Connor’s Books, Brews and Banter Reading Group at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28, for dinner and discussion of his novel, “City of Women”— think Berlin in 1943. Since the group is limited in size, membership is by invitation — members meet at O’Connors Restaurant on West Boylston Street. Find details at

Members of Lancaster’s Thayer Memorial Library writers group will read from their work at a 2 to 4 p.m. showcase Nov. 4 in the library on the Town Green. It’s free, and demonstrates how a little boost in creativity makes a writer out of many readers.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book clubs pick their Fall reading

‘Tis the season when many book groups restart their activities, sharing all of their wonderful choices in reading—and food. While we’re sure at least one or two of them will be laughing over “Fifty Shades of Gray,” selections aren’t as predictable. We asked area group leaders to share their September choices, which revealed a variety of selections for the coming season.
Edward Bergman, head of adult services at Leominster Public Library, says the library’s Brown Bag (lunchtime) Book Group will discuss “Mrs. Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, when it resumes meeting at noon on Sept. 6. Bring a lunch if you wish, and the library will provide beverages. This is a drop-in program, so no registration is necessary. Visit or call the library's Reference Desk at 978-534-7522, ext. 3, if you want to borrow a copy of the book. For more information, contact Bergman at or 978-534-7522 x 114.
Hemingway is in the air for fall in Brookfield. Brenda Metterville of Merrick Public Library  reports the Bannister Book Group will launch its season Sept. 25, with Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” a memoir of his life in 1920s Paris, as a young artist married to Hadley Richardson. On Oct. 30, the group discusses Hadley’s life among those of the artistic “Lost Generation” in Paris (think Owen Wilson in the movie, Midnight in Paris). They’re reading Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife.” Nice pairing. Meetings are held at the library from 7 to 8 p.m. Call 508-867-6339 for details.
At the Merriam-Gilbert Public Library in W. Brookfield, members will discuss Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” on Aug. 30. The group meets from 4 to 5 p.m. the last Thursday of each month. Selection for Sept. 27 is “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towels.
The Spiritual Book Club, an activity of “Fun Stuff for Singles Over 40,” in Westborough, meets weekly, discussing a few chapters at a time from the book they are reading. On Sept. 11, the group will begin a discussion of “Wishes Fulfilled,” by Wayne Dyer. The group meets the first Tuesday of each month, and every Monday in the weeks after that. Contact Jacki Rose at for further information.
Princeton readers of the Afternoon Book Group will resume meetings at 1 p.m., Sept. 12, to discuss books by or about Thomas Hardyfrom their summer reading. Wendy Pape says the Evening Group meets at 7 p.m., Sept. 20, to discuss “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. Lacks’ cells—the HeLa cells—were used to study a polio vaccine, cloning, genetic mapping, and in vitro fertilization, without her knowledge and with no remuneration. This has been named one of the best books of 2010 by countless critics. See an interview with Skloot at
Betsy Johnson of Holden says members regroup Sept. 4 to discuss what they’ve read over the summer; the plan for fall includes Booth Tarkington’s “Magnificent Ambersons,” some Balzac short stories and “Phantom of the Opera.” The group meets at Holden First Congregational Church, 41 Blossom Square. For more info, contact
Gale Free Library in Holden has two book groups. The Open Genre Book Group—which reads contemporary fiction—will meet at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, to discuss “Heft” by Liz Moore. The Clasics Book Group meets at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 20, to discuss Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Check the library website for details on the selections.
Still undecided? Perhaps there’s some help from Washington. In preparation for the Sept. 22-23 Library of Congress National Book Festival, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress has published a list of 88 books that shaped America. Clubs may want to discuss or debate the list, and select a book or more from it to read collectively during the upcoming season. The selected books are on exhibit through Sept. 29 at the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, or see it at
September releases: Zadie Smith (“On Beauty,” “White Teeth”) has a new novel, “NW.” Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) is about to release “Telegraph Avenue” and J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, releases her first novel for adults, “The Casual Vacancy,” on Sept. 27. Dark comedy set in an idyllic British town, we hear.

What is your group reading for October? What new books are you all anxiously awaiting? And – let’s put a little twist in the conversation – what popular selections have been a disappointment to your book club? Send in your comments to


Sunday, July 29, 2012

From the library pros: Summer reading

Feet out, toes wiggling by the water. A sweating glass of iced tea. The sounds of harmony all around. Ah, summer. If you have the wherewithal to enjoy it, do so abundantly. Readers usually manage to relax more with a stash of books saved for the sort of relaxation or mindfulness that isn’t as available during the busy part of the year.
To help anyone searching for the next great read—an August breather, or a book to bring to the Fall book club meeting—area librarians share their reading suggestions. Many are for a fun summer read, some are heftier. Pick your poison, folks.
“Discovery of Witches,” Deborah Harkness—Wendy Payette, director of East Brookfield Public Library, suggests this blend of “romance, intrigue, mystery, magic and paranormal, all wrapped into one series.” It’s a page-turner, she says. Book two of the “All Souls” trilogy, “Shadow of the Night,” was released July 10. Harkness also says, “Those who like mystery thrillers with a Boston setting should try “The Technologists” by Matthew Pearl.
 "Shadow of Night," Deborah E. Harkness—Sharon Bernard, director of the Fitchburg Public Library, echoes Payette on these books. “They are about a witch and a vampire; their interactions and daily life seem to be pretty normal, but there is always a hint of magic or witchcraft going on,” she says.

“A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh,” Jeff Shaara—Bernard also suggests this book, by the well-known history writer, for nonfiction fans. “During this sesquicentennial year of the Battle of Shiloh, Shaara returns to writing about the Civil War and one of its bloodiest battles.”   

“The Forgotten Garden,” Kate Morton—Edward Bergman, head of Adult Services at the Leominster Public Library, consulted with three colleagues. They couldn’t agree on one book but, coincidentally, each suggested one book with “garden” in the title. So go outside, sit in the garden and read Morton’s book, along with “Garden Spells” by Sarah Addison Allen and “The Garden of Happy Endings” by Barbara O’Neal. I’m mid-Morton right now, and enjoying its mystery and well-woven characters.
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” Laura Hillenbrand—Kelly Collins, director of the Bolton Public Library, says many Bolton book groups have chosen this nonfiction selection. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who served in the Army Air Force. When their plane was shot down over the Pacific in 1943, he and several others drifted in a life raft before being captured by the Japanese. “Summer readers will enjoy the thrills, action, and romance of Zamperini’s story,” Collins says.
“Far From the Madding Crowd,” “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”—Princeton Library’s reading group decided to spend the summer reading works of Thomas Hardy or biographies of his life. Librarian Wendy Pape chose these two, saying she prefers “a little tragedy and passion for my beach reading.”
 “Dandelion Summer,” Lisa Wingate—Members of Beaman Memorial Public Library’s book group in W. Boylston just read this novel, says Director Louise Howland. “This is a story featuring two engaging characters that, although very different from each other, share their stories and develop a meaningful friendship.” Themes, she says, are hope, redemption and the importance of family.
“The Tiger’s Wife,” Tea Obreht—This August selection by Beaman Library’s book group, takes place in the Balkans, after the Civil War, Howland says. “The author uses the voice of a young doctor, trying to find out what happened to her grandfather, to focus on the ways that people use stories to explain the unthinkable.”
“The Red Book,” Deborah Copaken Kogan—Nancy Hayes Clune, assistant director/adult services at Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, suggests Kogan’s novel. “Every five years, Harvard alumni are asked to fill out a form about the past half-decade for inclusion in a bound, crimson-colored volume known as the red book. This novel (Kogan’s second) is set at the 20th reunion of the class of 1989. The trajectory of their lives in the two decades after graduation makes for compulsive reading.” She calls it her “beachiest summer read (so far).”
“Gold: A Novel,” Chris Cleave—Jean Langley, Northborough Free Library director, has several suggestions, two of them new releases. She expects members of the library’s several book discussion groups to want this novel, by the author of “Little Bee.” Langley says “It’s going to be a hot one, about two women contending for an Olympic medal in the 2012 games.” Talk about timely! There are three library-sponsored book groups and others meet regularly at the library, so she is mindful of them as well. “The problem with new book titles, as you know, is that it’s hard to get a copy when everyone is reading it at the same time.” She’s preparing for the ones she expects to be in demand, including:
“Dog Stars,” Peter Heller—being released in August. “It’s one of those survivor stories, but with a twist,” said Langley. “A man loses everyone he knows and loves in a terrible flu pandemic, but he’s lucky enough to have his dog. They live in an airplane hangar, doing the best they can, until he picks up a radio signal distorted by static. He flies off in search of the goodness of his previous life, but with no guarantees.” Sounds intriguing.
“The Art of Fielding,” Chad Harbach—Langley recently finished Harbach’s novel, on “just about every ‘best book’ list. Yes, it’s about baseball, but as is often typical of fiction, it’s about a lot more. Great meat for discussion, such as fear of success, motivation of the actions of the characters, ethical dilemmas, choices made, etc.”
“Gone Missing,” Linda Castillo—Fran Pierce, Worcester Public Library recommends this recently published book about Amish-raised Police Chief Kate Burkholder’s encounter with evil, which, she says, “inspired me to read the first three titles in the series in  three days. This book might tempt a variety of readers outside their comfort zone.”
An American Tragedy,” Nancy Boucher, acquisitions librarian at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, digs deep into the past for this one, by Theodore Dreiser. Published in 1925, it’s always a great read. “A timeless, compelling story of love, passion, human frailty, and the ambitious thirst for social advantage—having what others have, at any cost. A classic worth reading, or rereading.”
Not a librarian, but—Head Butler blogger Jesse Kornbluth recommends “The Fault in Our Stars.” Says Kornbluth, whose blog focuses on recommendations for a life more exposed to what’s cool, novel, inviting and amazing: “The best book I’ve read this year, and I say that even though it’s a Young Adult novel about kids with cancer. Just do it, for God’s sake.”
Even a reader could not resist sending in recommendations: Ellen Grapensteter of Syracuse, N.Y., suggests “How it All Began,” by Penelope Lively and “Tender at the Bone,” by Ruth Reichl.

Ann Connery Frantz is a writer and editor blogging at She welcomes your suggestions, book club news and plans at

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer rejuvenation for readers

It's the season of summer reading, and many book clubs take a hiatus, with the intention of reading for pure fun, or future discussion, during the warm months. Gone is the imperative to finish a book before the next monthly meeting. Instead, folks will relax with a book they’ve been meaning to read for months—but couldn’t manage to squeeze between club reads. Or they’ll grab up a potboiler paperback they don’t mind getting a little wet while reading at the pool.
When your group has chosen its readings for late summer or fall, share with us by sending an e-mail to my address, at the end of this column. Let us know the reason for your selections as well, and feel free to send in club updates to be shared. New groups in the central Massachusetts region are also asked to check in!
Writer Hollis Shore of Lancaster facilitates a reading group specifically for writers. The Thayer Memorial Library sponsors this group, which meets every month, beginning in September, from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday. Members read and discuss a book chosen by Shore, looking at it from a writer’s perspective, with an eye toward writing style, effectiveness, imagery, and other writing methods. There are male and female members, who write everything from poetry to memoir, to fiction and nonfiction. Fall selection will be announced soon. For more information contact Nancy Clune, assistant director of Thayer Memorial Library at 978-368-8928, e-mail Shore at
Summer also affords time for exploring new sources of information—and books. Here are a few sources that may prove helpful to readers.
Library Thing,, is an online community rating, reviewing and passing out books. A clear list of blogs is in use on this 1.5 million-member book group site. And, since there’s power in numbers, the site includes information on where to get free books from publishers, and features giveaway contests as well. Subgroups at librarything break up into dozens of discussion groups, ranging from scifi to children’s books, history, crime, even a group for librarians.
Another innovative way to share and obtain books, for free, is available through, a site quite unlike any I’ve seen. It’s a great place to spend a little of that free time this summer. At bookcrossing, members can label a book with its own club i.d., which enables whoever gets it to log in and say where it is now. There are agreed-upon book drop sites, mail exchanges from titles listed on the site, and even something dubbed “wild release.” (We’ve all done it: leaving a book at a Starbucks or coffee house with collection space.) It’s fun to watch your book travel, and obtain some free ones yourself.
Don’t ignore publishers, either.
There are lots of free e-books out there, serving as marketing tools, but publishers’ web sites also offer innovative services to book club readers.
ENC Press ( offers downloadable pdfs of books in the public domain (copyrited before 1923). There are some gems. Currently, ENC is offering F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Life of Benjamin Bean,” (not at all like the movie starring Brad Pitt), and “The Lost World,” a classic by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. offers reading groups its own section on their site, with book excerpts, author interviews and now and then a free book. Better yet, the site offers clubs a connection to set up a phone meeting with a Vintage or Anchor Press author, including writers such as Sue Miller, Julia Glass, Ann Packer, Jane Smiley, John Vaillant.
They’re hardly alone. Random House, Penguin Books all offer author interviews, tickets to book events, freebies and chat rooms. offers many guides for book groups to use in discussion, or reading, ranging from ethnic topics to biographies, history, the classic writers, contemporary fiction, mother-daughter relationships, nonfiction, spirituality, etc.
These sites also offer free books occasionally to market an author’s latest book. At Bantam Dell, for instance, home to John Grisham, Dean Koontz and Lisa Gardner, offers a chance to win Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce (“Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”) mystery, and clues New York City area readers to a special Nov. 17 evening with noted mystery writers.
You just never know what you’ll find. Check out your favorite author’s site as well, for possibilities like free books, fun give-aways and opportunities to have that author talk with your club by Skype or phone, or even in person, next season. For example, Alexander McCall Smith, author of an intriguing (and humorous) collection of mysteries set in Botswana (“The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency” series) will appear at the Boston Book Festival Oct. 27. His site lists that and other appearances, background, interviews, and more about his popular books (
Ann Connery Frantz writes from Lancaster. Contact her at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A flub leads to book suggestions

The inspiration for this column came from clubs—and a flub.
The first is obvious: there are some interesting area groups that haven’t been mentioned, and should be. Because they may interest readers, I present them here.
The “flub” relates to a March 25 column which briefly mentioned a nonfiction book, “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much,” about a rare books thief. Unfortunately, the “thief” I named was Ken Sanders, instead a rare books dealer and former security chairman for the Antiquarian Booksellers Assn. of America—who actually helped apprehend the thief. Ah, dear. I put the mea in culpa, and couldn’t say “sorry” fast enough. I also asked Sanders, who says he’s had more than one chuckle about the mistake, to share some selections T&G area clubs might want to consider. His tips follow the club info.
The Spiritual Book Club meets in Westborough at Tatnuck Book Store, 18 Lyman St. Members are invited to meet beforehand for dinner, at 5 p.m. in the Tatnuck Café. They discuss their book from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in the events room. Members consider life-changing books that help readers gain insight on themselves, their relationships, and their spirituality. Members read one or more chapters during the meeting, then share insights and perspectives, eliminating the need to read at home. New members, both male and female, are invited, member Jacki Rose says. There are already some male members.
The group has begun Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now,” with remaining discussions slated for Tuesdays, May 29, June 5 and 12, and again on Mondays, June 18 and 25. Next, the group will begin Lynne Robinson’s book on intuition, “Listen.”
Leominster’s Reading, Sharing and Laughing meets at Chaibo, a Fitchburg coffee house. Toni Morrison’s writings will be the topic for the group’s 7 p.m., June 27 meeting. For specifics (or to join), contact Heather Munkacsy at:
Members meet the last Wednesday of the month, “except when we do field trips or movie night,” Munkacsy said. “We once read “Dark Tide,” about the molasses flood in Boston's North End. We took a tour of the North End, discussing the book while eating yummy Italian food at a North End restaurant.” They plan to read “Little Women” and tour the Alcott House in Concord, followed by discussion at a Concord café.
“We watched Eat, Pray Love at a member's house a few months after reading the book,” she said. “Attendees brought Italian, Indonesian or Indian food. We've also gone to see Water for Elephants and The Help, which we read prior to watching the movies.”

Summer reading is often light or funny in nature. An earlier read: ‘My Fair Lazy’ by Jen Lancaster (a funny account of escaping reality TV addiction).

Northborough Metaphysical Book Club, formed last month, focuses on personal growth, spiritual beliefs and teachings. The group is reading Deepak Chopra’s “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” with a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m., Tuesday, June 5, in the Northborough Free Library, 34 Main St. For details, call the library, 508-393-5025, or contact organizer Harry Kroner at
 And now, Ken Sanders’ list: “Here are just a few observations on books I've read the past few years that have stuck with me,” he writes. “No particular theme, or order; fiction and non-fiction intertwined. As I'm in the rare and used book business, I often don't stumble across an author or actually read a particular book until long after its pub (publication) date. In some instances, decades!”
Wendell Berry. “Kentucky poet farmer, essayist and novelist, Wendell Berry writes extremely well in any genre and is one of our most important authors.” He suggests: “Nathan Coulter,” “Hannah Coulter” (novels), “The Unsettling of America,” “The Gift of Good Land” (essays) and “The Mad Farmer Poems” and “Leavings” (poetry).

Charles Bowden. “Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America.” Blood Orchid is first in a trilogy as “original and hard-hitting examinations of America and Americans. Not for the faint of  heart.” Other titles include “Blues for Cannibals” and “Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing.” Sanders describes Bowden, a former Tucson-based journalist, as “the most fearless literary voice in America today.” He also suggests: “Killing the Hidden Waters,” “Red Line,” “Desierto,” and “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez.”
Peter Bowman. “Blood Red, the first anti-war novel published after the war in November of 1945. A prose poem really, this novel is written in two-page pairings, ending with an aphorism, and with each stanza intending to represent one minute in real time in a Pacific beach invasion during the war.” This book, he says, “makes Norman Mailer's ‘The Naked and the Dead’ read like a children's fairy tale. Despite being a Book of the Month Club main selection, the book has not been reprinted to date, and never appeared in paperback.” He calls it “a book ahead of its time.”

Scott Carrier. “Running After Antelope” and “A Prisoner of Zion.” Sanders says: “Quirky sometime-NPR  journalist (This American Life, The Friendly Man), has only published two slender volumes of stories, but they're worth seeking out. (He) has a voice and a viewpoint unlike any other in radio.”

Michael Chabon. “The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.” “Although a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Chabon's fictional account of the birth of the comic book industry in America, and the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s may well be the best history yet written on that subject.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón. “The Shadow of the Wind.” A Barcelona-set biblio-mystery involving a ‘forgotten’ library and an even more obscure author and his forgotten novels. Old world, romantic, mysterious, brooding and intriguing.”

What’ is your group going to read next season? Share your choices by contacting me at

This column, about  Central Massachusetts book clubs and books, is published the last Sunday of each month in the Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Clubs are welcome to comment or ask questions here or to