Get Active in your Local Book Club Scene
By Anita Bowser
Winter is a great time for reading. Heck, spring, summer and fall are great, too! But, winter days seem custom made for long and leisurely escapes into a good read.
As any book lover can tell you, curling up with a trusted author and favorite hot beverage can really take the edge off these chilly January days. But, as we head into February, many of us will be longing for a bit of a break from solitary activities. Even the most dedicated homebodies can get antsy as the tail end of winter starts to wag. Punxsutawney Phil, I’m looking at you.
If cabin fever is beginning to get to you, you’re not alone. Er, well, at least you don’t have to be alone. Rather than staying sequestered in your warm winter den with a pile of books, consider a fun alternative. Why not indulge your bookish pursuits AND satisfy your social cravings?
Try merging those competing needs with a book club.
Book clubs, or discussion groups, have been around for ages and can be found in most towns. There are several clubs right here in Armstrong County. Most of these groups are open to new members, so joining is relatively simple. You don’t have to worry about being behind the curve as a newbie since most groups focus on a different book every month.
Check out these established groups:
Kittanning Public Library’s book club meets the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at the library. For details, 724-543-1383.
Apollo Memorial Library is forming two new book clubs. One is aimed at teens who read their own individual selections and come together to share. This club will meet for the first time on Feb. 20. An adult club will be forming in the coming months. For details, 724-478-4214 or facebook.com/apollolibrary/ .
Ford City Public Library’s book club meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the library. Contact Shirley for details at 724-763-3591. The library is forming a second (new) book club for history lovers. The club will be part of the Legend at the Library program and will be held at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of every other month, beginning in February. For details, contact Katie at 724-763-3591.
Freeport Library is forming a new club called Reader’s Circle. The group is geared toward adults who will bring a book of choice to share with everyone. The first meeting will be Feb. 29. For details, www.freeportlibrary.org.
If these clubs aren’t practical choices for you, starting your own club can be a fun option. For tips on starting a successful book club, we went to a local pro for advice.
Shirley Mechling has been facilitating the book club at Ford City Public Library since 2006. She started the group in response to requests from patrons and opened membership to the general book-reading public.
Aside from the obvious logistical questions (where and when to hold meetings), there are a few not-so-obvious issues to consider when you start a group.
What will you read?
Shirley has found it’s helpful to have club members involved in choosing titles for discussion. Selecting every book for discussion can become a burden if left to one person, and most members enjoy being involved in the process. For her group’s selections, Shirley assembles a list of titles, genres, or authors suggested by members.
Who is responsible for getting the books?
Being a library assistant, Shirley uses a statewide database to figure out which books on the group’s reading list are available for borrowing. She orders a lot of copies through ILL (Interlibrary Loan) from across the region and state. This process saves members some money, but does require a lot of advance planning.
Many book clubs choose to give purchasing/borrowing responsibilities to individual club members. Though it passes the cost on to members, this method makes coordinating meetings a lot easier.
Who will attend?
In the beginning, Shirley used the library’s resources to let people know about the club. She announced the group’s meetings through the local media and with flyers. Now and then, she continues to spread the word through the library’s social media accounts. Word-of-mouth has been instrumental to building membership.
Clubs sometimes start out with sparse membership, and inconsistent meeting participation. Shirley’s advice is to be patient, stick with it, and listen to what members want.
What if people get bored?
Don’t be afraid to mix it up sometimes. Even if your group leans toward a specific genre, such as true crime or romance novels, a subtle change of tone can keep people engaged.
Serious subject matter, such as memoirs and novels about dysfunctional relationships, can spark lively discussions, but sometimes readers just need a break from the intensity.
As members become more comfortable with each other, heavy topics can spark energetic discourse and friendly debates. Don’t be alarmed if members respectfully disagree about characters, stories, and themes.
That sort of discussion is why most people join book clubs and it keeps them coming back.
Readers love to talk about books.
After 13 years and nearly 150 books, there is no sign of the Ford City Library book club losing momentum. New faces show up often and many of the original members continue to attend. Each month, around 16 readers reserve a copy of the club’s chosen book. Shirley knows a dozen or so will show up for the discussion.
Everyone may not have finished the book, but that’s OK. The important thing is they’ll be connecting with like-minded friends over something they all treasure: books.
To join or start a book club, the best place to start is your local library.
Anita Bowser is a writer and blogger from Armstrong County. She’s a volunteer at Kittanning Library and has worked as a reporter, copy editor, content writer and a library director. Her favorite past times include reading, writing and avoiding arithmetic. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more at www.anitabowser.com.