Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Clubs are Everywhere!

Shelby Warner is a part-time Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin on May 19.

Be alert! Book clubs are everywhere. In a world where so much information is so easily obtained through electronic devices, it sometimes surprises us to realize that many people still love to read. Many of those readers have found great enjoyment and mental stimulation by joining book clubs.

Oprah Winfrey gave a boost to such clubs when she began promoting books on her show. She invited viewers to read the selected books and talk about them with friends, then watch her show at a later date when the books would be discussed. The effort not only made viewers aware of “serious contemporary novels” but also gave them the confidence and skill to tackle more “formidable titles.”

Book clubs, of course, have been around for a long time. . My husband belongs to the Fugitive Bill Literary Society which has met monthly for 22 years. Members come and go but there is a core group who were charter members. They have amassed an impressive list of books, the first being The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas and the most recent being Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro. My husband credits the long existence of this club to the fact that they have both men and women in the group. On the other hand, one of my colleagues belongs to a group which has met for 20 years and they are all women.

I am a member of the Blue/Gray Book Club, the brain child of my 17 year-old grandson who thought we should have a family book club. So, several of us said, “Choose a book.” He chose The Stranger by Albert Camus. Since then, we have read books by Faulkner, O’Connor and Hardy among others. Early in our reading, my sister in Georgia learned about the club on Facebook and asked if she could read along with us. We said, “Sure, why not?” Soon, a friend of hers in Florida asked to join, and eventually two of her friends became members. So, the Blue/Gray Book Club was born.. Much of our discussion is held online, but we have met in both the North and the South. It is great fun, especially our last meeting in Port St. Joe, Florida.

Each book club is unique and seems to develop its own personality. My sister-in-law in New York state belongs to a group brought together by a retired teacher. They meet monthly and books are chosen by concensus. Some of their recent selections have been Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. The wine and snacks they once served have become full fledged dinners based on the book. The members come from varied backgrounds and political persuasions which makes for lively discussions. The primary question for them, however, seems to be, “Which is more important, the book or the meal?”

If you are interested in reading and discussing books, you might want to bring together your own group of friends, or participate in an established club. The First Thursday Book Discussion Group which meets at the library is led by reference librarian Margot Sullivan. It meets both morning and evening on the first Thursday of the month from October to May. Margot has many stories to tell regarding this club of 23 years, one of them being about an 80 year old member who has ridden her bike from Milton for 15-20 years in order to participate. They have enjoyed “excellent discussions” on classics like The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy and contemporary novels such as A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Norwood Young Professionals Book Club also meets at the library. Meetings begin with an hour of book trivia games followed by a second hour of book discussion. The last book read was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and the next selection is The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. “This is a developing book group. Drop-ins are welcome!”

The library co-sponsors The Norwood Young Readers Award for 4th and 5th graders established seven years ago by Paula McMullen of the Norwood Schools. Books are chosen by a committee and discussed during meetings at the library. At the end of the year the children vote on their favorite book. They are enthusiastic about being a part of NYRA and, for some, participation has become a family tradition. Both teachers and librarians “feel fortunate to be a part of this annual reading program that extends and expands students’ reading interests and knowledge of different authors.” If you’d like to know more, talk to Kelly Unsworth, Children’s librarian.

As you can see, book clubs can be both fun and mentally stimulating. If this article whets your appetite for starting your own group, you can get help. Two helpful web sites are and The first includes the article “How to Start a Book Club” by Erin Miller. The second has an excerpt from Rachel Jacobsohn’s The Reading Group Handbook: “Ten Tips for Starting and Running a Successful Book Club.” Let us help you get started on this venture with books and resources available in the library and through the Minuteman Library Network. Happy Reading!!