COLUMN: Of book clubs and bandwagons

Library column

The Book Discussion Club phenomenon has, in recent years, been reaching a fever pitch. I couldn’t find Canadian stats, but in 2015 some five million Americans belonged to meet-in-person book clubs, while the Goodreads online book club has more than 40 million members. Women are the dominant demographic, but there are men’s book clubs and mixed book clubs, too.

Celebrities have done much to further the book club bandwagon. Talk show queen and possibly next president Oprah Winfrey’s book club has sent many a book soaring on the bestseller lists. It even worked in reverse: when American novelist Jonathan Franzen dared to snub an invitation to be an Oprah’s Book Club selection for The Correction, the resulting media attention made it one of the bestselling novels of the decade.

Even regular, home-grown clubs wield influence as consumers of books, evidenced in many publishers’ inclusion of book club discussion questions. Whether buying books or borrowing them from the library, book clubbers have clout!

In Nelson there are all sorts of book clubs: fiction and nonfiction, genre, classic, you-name-it. Many of them take advantage of the Kootenay Library Federation’s Book Club sets: popular titles available to borrow — even book in advance — in sets of five or 10.

The 2017/2018 Book Club Set title lists includes multi-award-winner Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Colson Whitehead’s bestseller The Underground Railroad, Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and two of my favourite novels, Everything Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and News of the World by Paulette Jiles. There are presently 37 titles to choose from.

Newcomers to town often ask the library about book clubs, and yet past pleas through this column for information have turned up nothing. Why? Because many book clubs are not open to new members. People don’t like to mess with a working dynamic, and so book clubs tend to be a bit on the secretive side. So what’s a would-be book-clubber to do?

You could start one. Reading The Book Club Bible: the Definitive Guide that Every Book Club Member Needs (11.73 BOO) is one way to begin. It’s even more savoury when paired with The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Geiman (641.5 GEL).

Alternately, the Bookies book discussion group is an open book club that has been meeting for many years. This stalwart group of book lovers meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at the Seniors’ Centre beside the Civic Theatre. February’s discussion book is Bird’s Eye View by Elinor Florence. Read the book and drop in!

The library has three “open” book clubs.

The Amnesty International Book Club offers a popular Canadian novel-of-the-month, with discussion questions and podcasts. The novels, which contain an element pertaining to human rights, are chosen by noted Canadian novelists. The AI Book Club comes to the Nelson Library every other month.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. everyone is invited to discuss David Chariandy’s award-winning novel Brother, which was chosen by Lawrence Hill (author of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal). The AI Book Club is a fun, low-key thoughtful gathering with tea, cookies, new friends, and it’s co-hosted by the library and Amnesty International Nelson.

There are two library book clubs for youth, aimed at fostering love of reading — and family bonds! Teen services librarian Melodie Rae Storey is enjoying great success with the Mother-Daughter Book Club, which next month will be reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and then meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5:15 p.m.

Newer to the scene is the Parent-Son Book Club, reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander for the next meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 5 p.m.

Teen book clubs are free, and they involve pizza! (Melodie Rae knows teens).

In this uber-digital, screen-based, short-attention-span age, it makes my heart glad to know that a book still has the power to bring us together, forge friendships, cement bonds, make us think, cry, and laugh, and possibly eat more cookies than we meant to. That’s my kind of bandwagon.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.


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