Not the same old story

Book clubs offer venue for socializing, learning, growing

Deb Hurley Brobst
Posted 9/2/21

Five women gathered in the Evergreen Library community room recently to discuss why, in this case, they didn’t like the book of the month. No one had much to say that was favorable about the book, …

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Not the same old story

Book clubs offer venue for socializing, learning, growing


Five women gathered in the Evergreen Library community room recently to discuss why, in this case, they didn’t like the book of the month.

No one had much to say that was favorable about the book, “Tangerine: A Novel” by Christine Mangan, and they noted that was rare. Usually, they have mixed reactions to the plot, character development, scene-setting, writing and more, and the diverse views make for better discussion.

The women are part of the Second Chance Book Group at Evergreen Library, one of the hundreds of book clubs in the metro area and throughout the country. Libraries, bookstores and anyone who wants to organize a group can get into the book club spirit.

Whatever the reason, book clubs for all ages have become popular — both in-person and via video conferencing. Book lovers are thrilled that reading is fashionable, though they note that in-person book clubs are just restarting after being halted because of the pandemic.

“We used to have 12 to 14 people in a book group before the pandemic,” said Pam Bestall, who leads the Evergreen Library’s book groups. “Now I’m thrilled with six.”

Community, expanding horizons

According to Cindy Jaye, programming manager for Jefferson County Public Library, book clubs create community and expand people’s reading horizons.

“Oftentimes, it’s a great way to get to know people in your neighborhood,” Jaye said, “and we all need community.”

Arra Katona, JCPL’s teen services coordinator, agreed.

“(Book clubs) foster community for people with common interests,” she said. “They develop a way to deal with conflict because they have differing opinions (about the book). They learn to resolve those differences and how to keep connections with those who share or don’t share their perspective.”

Facilitators and librarians agree that book clubs can expand the types of books people will read.

“In book clubs, you get to read something you might not normally read,” Jaye said. “It’s a way to learn new things and provides you with an excuse to read something out of your comfort zone. It’s good for you and fun, and it keeps brains active.”

Bestall says her book club members help choose the books they want to read throughout the year, mixing fiction, nonfiction, biography and sometimes young adult fiction.

Better world

Reading books critically is so important, Jaye said, adding: “The more readers we have in the world, the better the world is.”

Kerri Morgan, the special events manager for Douglas County Libraries, oversees the Great Books program, a book club that can be found in many libraries nationwide. The program has adults reading the classics and discussing them — something they likely haven’t done since they were in school.

“There’s not really a format or outlet for adults to do that once you get out of an academic setting,” Morgan said. “Great Books is replicating an academic setting, but it’s less formal.”

Morgan explained that if she’s reading a book for pleasure, she reads quickly without retaining much. Reading for a book club is different.

“With book clubs, you’re reading for retention, you read slower and more closely,” she said. “(Book clubs) change how people interact with literature. It changes how you reflect on those pieces of literature because you’re being forced to read a little more deeply.”

Getting started

Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from highly academic to focusing on one genre or one author, and more. Most libraries offer at least one book club, plus there are book clubs organized by neighborhoods or by friends.

Morgan, for example, belongs to a book club in which members go for a run, and to slow the pace, they discuss a book along the way. She also belongs to a Zoom book club and another that has been meeting for 10 years.

It’s a matter of deciding the kind of club you want to join and the types of books you want to read. Area libraries provide book-club descriptions, and most meet monthly.

For those wanting to start a book club, many libraries offer book-club kits with copies of the book and discussion guides — a “super easy way to organize a book club,” Jaye said. Jefferson County Public Library, for example, has book-club kits for 325 books.

Jaye advised people wanting to start book clubs to make decisions on what kind of club they want to start, and then everything becomes easier. She also suggested selecting books that have something “discussion-worthy” about them.

Morgan suggested finding book club members with different life experiences because they bring more to the table during discussions.

“Choose folks who will be comfortable sharing feelings and ideas,” Morgan said. “Sometimes it takes time to build that level of comfort to build those deep discussions.”

Different perspectives

At the Second Chance Book Club in Evergreen, Bestall, who has been facilitating book clubs for four years, said she sees more women than men getting involved. While most of the participants are older, everyone is welcome, noting that younger participants bring a different perspective.

As they were discussing “Tangerine,” they decided it was a quick read, though it might make a better movie. They said it was a mystery to them why the book was classified as a mystery.

They brought their own anecdotes to the discussion, relating personally to parts of the plot.

“What I like about the library book club,” said Joyce Jefson of Evergreen, “is you get so many different perspectives. I have changed my opinion after hearing other perspectives.”

Bestall said as a facilitator, she was not deterred by conflict.

“Sometimes you leave book club without agreeing with other people, but you understand their point of view,” she said.

Jefson added: “If you don’t read people who disagree with you, how do you understand other points of view?”


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