In the spring of 1999 among other classes at University of Toledo I took one called, ‘American Literature since World War II.’ This was a good class and expanded my knowledge of literature quite a bit. We read Delillo, Roth, Dillard, and others for a total of 13 novels for the semester. 13 novels in a semester was a lot for me, and early on the professor said something I remembered. Paraphrasing her thought she stated that it is rare to be able to read the same book and discuss it with a classroom or a group. Reading is a solitary thing. Most of the time you simply read what you are interested in and your thoughts on it are never expressed to other people.
With the internet and sites like goodreads.com it is easy to research a book title and see what others think of a book. You can read published reviews or fan reviews of a book you’re interested in. But I believe nothing beats a discussion of a book. People bring up observations you would not think of, and usually after a book club discussion it enhances the reading experience.
Conducting the monthly book club is one of my favorite work duties. When I first started as a librarian in a different location the librarians with more experience didn’t like to do the book club, stating that reading was too personal or other reasons. That book club was successful and it was nice to walk into that. The second location I went to we had a small group of participants. I find a small group difficult because you end up talking way too much. I think people that conduct book clubs should lead the discussion when needed, but if people are talking also let people have their turn. It’s nice when there are 5 or more people participating and that’s when interesting points get made. But if there are only 4 people in the room, and it’s just me talking, I find that very hard. My current book club at work we get about 10 regulars and usually we have about 13 people. I think that’s a good amount, and hourly usually flies by.
Over the six years of doing these at work I have learned quite a bit. A few years ago I chose a Louise Erdrich book that I read years previously. I decided not to reread it which was a big mistake. It was a dense enough story line and writing style that I had no idea what people were talking about during that book club meeting. So reading the book I think is the most important thing to a book club, especially if you are going to lead the book club. The second main thing I learned that took a couple of repeated mistakes to learn is to avoid the real literary stuff. At my second location we tried to start a second book club with the theme of classics. I remember staying up to 3 am for 3 days in a row to finish the book ‘Of Human Bondage.’ It is one of my favorite books ever and I was interested to see how the discussion would go, but no one showed up to that one. At my current book club we read ‘Beloved’ by Morrison which I had a hard time with and I think other people did too. On the other side of the coin though, people prefer a book with some substance, maybe a good story line, a good time period, or some topic that people can discuss. We had great discussions for Island Beneath the Sea by Allende, and The City of Thieves by Benioff. Both are contemporary books, well written, and are historical fiction. So we talked about the story line and the time period it took place.
To choose the books I go to the website bookmovement.com and I select about ten that seem interesting. This site ranks somehow the top 100 book club choices nation wide. I try to pick books I haven’t read to make it interesting for myself too. I print out a list of ten or so books and throw in a classic or two, and then at the end of one of discussion we’ll pick the future books to discuss. So in April we picked the summer books. I think having a vote so to speak on what to read at future meetings is part of the reason that I get a regular turn out. I also print out from online discussion questions for the book, and if I can’t find questions I make my own. My style is to have an open discussion for a little bit to see if anyone really has general opinions of the book, and then maybe ten to twenty minutes into it we start the discussion questions.
Book clubs are good things, and I think are important to the people that participate in them. Most libraries have one or they should have one. It is one of the many things that public libraries do. This is an affordable program, but the library still needs funding for something like this. Our book club meets once a month on a Monday evening, if the budget gets cut severely enough, and we lose our evening hours or staff, something good that was happening at my location will be lost. I hope to be taking part in this book club for years, and I found a folder from a previous manager that there has been a book club at my location for more than a decade.