Finding your niche, page by page.
This is a tale of four book clubs. It started because I’ve recently fallen back in love with reading for fun. After years of reading to my children and for school, I’d started to regard books as merely utilitarian. As I challenged myself to read more just for the sake of reading, I remembered the joy of getting lost in worlds other than my own.
I also longed to talk to others about what I was reading. So I took to Google and started looking for a book club. With a little digging I found that there are countless opportunities to connect with other bibliophiles. In fact, between March 1 and May 31, there are more than one hundred public library-sponsored book club meetings in the Greater Kansas City area. More than a half-dozen groups organize through Meetup.com. There are also online book clubs–some tiny and others with hundreds of members–scattered across the globe.
Clubs exist for just about every interest: the classics, stories about vampires, romance novels, mysteries, biographies and memoir, business topics and more. In the Kansas City area, there are groups that meet during lunch and after hours; a group that incorporates a love of quilting with a love of books; groups that focus only on books written by authors of color.
This is a glimpse into four groups: two in-person and two online. The beautiful thing is this: as diverse as each club is in terms of personality and structure, every club is unified by a love of reading and a deep respect for community.
The 4th Tuesday Book Club
Caitlin Taggart, Information Specialist with Johnson County Library, runs two clubs at the Corinth Library location: one traditional, the other called An Edible Discussion.
Taggart’s traditional club follows the typical book club blueprint: each attendee reads the monthly selection prior to the meeting. Discussion starts with observations about the book. Taggart shares information about the author and researches back-up questions and discussion topics in case conversation stalls.
Taggart opts for a mix of genres to include contemporary fiction, non-fiction, young adult and biographies.
“I had many people comment they weren’t initially excited to read a young adult title when I chose OK for Now,” she says. “But after reading it, many said they were surprised at how much they enjoyed the book. It prompted them to think about their own youth, and pushed them out of their reading comfort zone.”
An Edible Discussion
“This is a book club in the loosest sense,” says Taggart. “Instead of choosing a cookbook each month, we feature a certain cuisine, technique or theme. Attendees bring a potluck dish to share, and we have a featured speaker. Sometimes that expert is a chef, sometimes it’s a cookbook author. We’ve even had dieticians and managers of local restaurants.”
The theme for March is cheese and the scheduled expert is Lincoln Broadbooks with The Better Cheddar. In April, Heather McFeely, author of Metas 1942 Meal Blog, will talk about family favorites. After food, introductions, and the presentation, Taggart opens the floor to questions.
Attendance at An Edible Discussion is greater than the typical book club, says Taggart. While there are some people who attend each month, the membership ebbs and flows depending on the topic.
The group started with an off-hand remark at a meeting, says Taggart. She loves to cook, and jokingly suggested that a cooking club-cum-book club would be fun. To her surprise, her manager agreed, and Taggart set out to find interesting experts in a wide range of topics. She works with the public relations department and creative services team to plan the events, and actively seeks out presenters.
“This group is so much fun, and interesting, because it is always different," says Taggart. "We always learn something; we’ve even been privy to a trade secret for perfect hamburgers.”
Patti Digh’s 37 Days Book Club
Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb, hosted book clubs in Asheville, North Carolina, for seven years before starting an online book club four years ago.
“In person book clubs are fabulous,” she says, “but the logistics of meeting in person can be challenging. Being online allows people from all over the world to gather together, and opens discussions that we likely wouldn’t have otherwise.”
At first, Digh contemplated using the club as an extension of her business by focusing on practical and self-help books. She settled on fiction because it’s what she loves to read.
“I like to hear what others have to say, and it’s fascinating how diverse the opinions can be on one subject. We have members from Europe, Australia and the United States, all sharing a unique point of view. It’s my job to give them a safe, respectful place to share those opinions,” says Digh.
She does that by having a monthly call, and by encouraging members to interact in a private Facebook group. Sometimes the discussions are very personal and involved, and members will suggest resources to each other. Sometimes the author of the selection participates in the monthly call.
Traveling Book Club
Freelance writer and photographer Kristen Doyle runs the popular blog Dine and Dish. Through the years, she’s shared favorite books with readers both in blog posts and through Goodreads.com. One day she offered—via Facebook—to mail anyone interested a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. So many people responded, she said, that she thought of creating a traveling book club.
“I would love nothing more than to get together in person with readers all over and talk about books every month,” she says. “But that isn’t realistic. This seemed like the next best thing: a discussion from afar, but still a way to connect.”
Doyle posts information on her blog, then picks four respondents at random to participate. She mails them each a book and requires that they commit to reading within a short time span—usually a week or two—and then be ready to discuss.
Doyle chose her first book club selection It Was Me All Along because she could personally relate to the story, and she thought that the subject matter would prompt honest conversations. She plans to pick books from a different genre each month.
For more information visit JoCoLibrary.com/Events, KCLibrary.org/book-clubs, LifeIsAVerbStore.com, DineAndDish.net.