By Chance Joyner
A group sits around a table covered with cakes, cookies, and drinks. Each of them has a copy of the same book in hand, and they are engaged in a passionate discussion about character motivation, themes, and events in the story. But they’re not in a college class. They’re in a book club.
Even though the country’s most famous book club, Oprah’s Book Club, hasn’t read a book together since September 2009, local book clubs are growing and thriving. Why are book clubs such a popular, engaging trend?
“It is a nice break from life, a way to read books that you normally wouldn’t have chosen to read, to actually read if that is something that you don’t normally do,” says Rhonda Waxman, a former school psychologist who started the monthly book club at the Book Cellar in Nashua, NH. “Getting together to discuss books and ideas is important.”
On campus, FSC’s Italian Book Club is scheduled to meet May 5 at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Hammond library to discuss “Va’dove ti porta il cuore” (“Follow Your Heart”) by Susanna Tamaro.
Off campus, the Fitchburg Public Library’s book club meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
The first rule of a book club? “I only have one rule about books,” says Mary Sargent, a graduate of Fitchburg State College and a member of five book clubs over the years. “No rules!”
“Usually we stick with fiction, with some memoirs and a few classics thrown in,” says Waxman. “We have tried biography and science fiction, but those don’t seem to go over as well. We have read a few nonfiction, which weren’t bad, and made for good discussions. I am a fiction girl. I feel the need to escape to another world for a few hours a week.”
Just because a book is fiction, however, does not make the discussions any less real.
“When we discussed “The Lovely Bones” [by Alice Sebold], we had a great discussion about everyone’s beliefs in religion, spirituality, life after death, even ghosts and angels,” says Waxman.
Sargent says, “It seems as though all the really good books are about tough issues: divorce, infidelity, orphans, dead dogs and persecution. Does that make me a sadist?”
Carolyn Belman, a technical writer, has been a member of four book clubs. She says she especially likes “learning about new – or old – books that I haven’t read or would have thought to read, and meeting interesting people who share a love of reading.”
One of the classics Belman connected with was Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.” “I had the idea that ‘old’ books had no relevance in today’s world, and were dull and boring,” Belman says. “The moderator said that people are much the same, and I would probably find some aspects of characters that I could identify with. At one point in this book, the woman wants to speak to the man in the case, and scoots along the church pew to be near the aisle to be in view as he leaves. I thought ‘I’ve done stuff like that!'”
Suzanne Flanelly, an environmental engineer, joined her first book club this year to get out and meet new people. One her favorite book-club discussions centered on Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” “Events happened in other parts of the country that I didn’t realize were going on and didn’t realize how cruel and abusive people are,” Flanelly says. “It made me think of how wrong things are in the world.”
“The Help” is a recent best-seller that owes it success to the popularity of book clubs. According to USA Today, word-of-mouth buzz generated by book clubs drove Stockett’s first novel to the top of the charts.
To persuade someone new to join a book club, Flanelly says, “Take time to read a book you would never pick. See how others read the same book but don’t view it the same way.”
“I joined [a book club] because I love to read but rarely make time to do as much of it as I should,” says Sargent. “The structure of a meeting date and stimulating conversation helps me make reading more of a priority for me.”
“I would say that it is not a huge, weighty commitment but affords you the excuse to read more,” says Sargent. “In the event that I just can’t get through a book, I don’t worry about it. I may still show up to the meeting to see how others viewed the book – and for the snacks!”