In this interview, Jane Stein --- an Adult Services Librarian from Excelsior, Minnesota --- explains how the two different book clubs hosted by her local library differ in their approach to conducting meetings, discussing books, and choosing future selections. From observing these groups, as well as through her own book club experiences, she sheds light on how to make each meeting a success, through suggestions such as mixing things up, utilizing your local library and bookseller, and appointing a leader to prevent one person from dominating the conversation.
Q: Does your library host any book clubs? If so, are they based on a certain theme or genre (i.e., mystery)? How often do the groups meet?
A: Our library hosts a women's and a men's group, neither of which has a theme. Both groups meet once a month --- one at the library and one in a commercial business in town (as the library is closed the night they want to meet).
Q: How many members are in each group? How many men, how many women? What ages are most of the members? Are the groups open to accepting new members?
A: The men's group has 5 members, and the women's group has 8. The members of both clubs belong in the 40-70 age group, with the average age around 50. Both groups are open to the public.
Q: Who leads the book discussions? Are reading group discussion guides used?
A: The men's group has no discussion leader, and they do not use discussion guides. The women's group rotates leaders, and they do use guides, reviews and author biographies.
Q: How are books selected? Is a new one chosen at each meeting, or are they chosen for a number of meetings ahead of time?
A: The men's group votes on the titles that the members suggest. The women's group rotates leaders, and the leader for that meeting chooses the title. Both groups choose their books several months ahead of time so they can be advertised in library brochures.
Q: What were some of the best discussions or favorite books the groups have read?
A: The best discussions seem to come from books about controversial issues, or titles that not everyone "liked." Some of them are: View from Delphiby Jonathan Odell, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer, Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Waiting for White Horses by Nathan Jorgenson, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Peninsula of Lies by Edward Ball, The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Q: How are book club meetings kept interesting and fun?
A: We have spoken with authors on the phone, had authors come and visit, gone to movies of the books we've read, provided food mentioned in the books we've read, gone on a book retreat (to a cabin where we talk about several books), met in different locations (if you normally meet in homes, then meet in a coffee shop), gone to places where books are set, read several books about a place and went there, read several books about the same topic, entered book club contests, read a young adult or children's book, etc.
Q: What advice would you give to other libraries that would like to start hosting book clubs, or provide resources for ones in the community? What are the benefits to hosting book clubs at a library?
A: Librarians are a great resource as they can give "book talks" and make suggestions on titles, ways to find reading guides, reviews, and biographies of authors, award lists, etc. Librarians and bookstore owners are usually aware of author events in the area. When I start a book club, I try to suggest that someone be responsible for the discussion so it doesn't get monopolized, and each member feels valued and responsible. The local bookstore is a great resource as it is privately owned, and they help with our author programs and book clubs. The benefits of library hosting are the publicity and the possibility of getting authors to visit.
Q: What general advice would you give to book club members? Any specific ideas for making reading selections?
A: Members should try to read the book and make notes if possible while reading. They should all participate in the discussion without "taking over."
Q: Does your library offer anything special for book clubs?
A: We are always there to help locate or reserve a book, and find information (questions, reviews, and bios). Libraries/librarians and bookstore owners can also get a list of book clubs in the area and specifically invite them to author events. The local bookstore also gives a discount to book club members when they purchase a title.
Q: Do you have any horror stories, amusing anecdotes, or other tales to tell that you have heard from book clubs?
A: One member read a book on an airplane and then suggested it for a book club discussion. We each then tried to read it but decided (without other book club members knowing) that it wasn't worth it. When we met we came to the conclusion that you will read anything on an airplane, since you are "held hostage" and will read whatever is available. Andůmaybe your mind isn't working properly and you can't tell good from bad.
Q: Are you a member of a book club? If so, what do you enjoy most about the experience from a reader's perspective? Does being in a book club enable you to better suggest both titles and discussion ideas to reading groups?
A: I am a member of 2 book clubs --- one that has been around for 30+ years and the other for 5. I really enjoy everyone's perspective on their reading. I've also come to realize that people read things differently --- for plot, character development, clues, or information that influences their perspectives on the book. We all may like a book, but for very different reasons.
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