When I was an undergrad English major I took a course in American Literature after World War II. On the first day of class, the professor said, “This is a rare chance to read several of the same books as a group and then discuss them.”
I realize now how right she was. Reading is such a solitary act that people usually don’t get to talk about it. That’s what makes Queens Library’s book clubs so great — they’re a special way to share, learn, and expand one’s understanding of the chosen books. We’re good at running them, too.
In 2004 I started my Queens Library career at Richmond Hill. The Friends group there had an active book club. The manager at the time asked me if I could host them and I got excited about it. Since then, I have learned a few things about running and participating in book clubs:
1.) The first rule of Book Club is, ALWAYS READ THE BOOK. One month, we chose The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich, and I had read that a few years prior, and enjoyed it. So I thought since I already read it, I didn’t have to read it again. I was lost as participants brought up details of the characters or particular scenes.
2.) It can be tough to schedule, but try to time your reading so you finish a day or two before the meeting. If you can’t contribute to the whole discussion, the other participants will know quickly.
3.) I always think carefully about what books to pick: People don’t always want to take on novels that are the size of phone books. In 2007 I got a promotion to Assistant Manager at Hillcrest Community Library, and I decided to do a Classics book club in the evenings. One month early on, I chose Of Human Bondage. For about four days prior to the meeting, I stayed up until 3 a.m. each night and was able to finish it. But no one showed up to the book club meeting!
4.) You never know what great things other participants will share with you. I remember mentioning The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at one of the Hillcrest meetings, and someone recalled how she talked to Carson McCullers several times on the phone near the time of the author’s death.
5.) It takes different approaches to engage different book clubs. My strategy is first to see if anyone had strong opinions about the book. Then I see where the conversation goes. Anywhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes we refer to discussion topics I’ve printed off the internet. My club at Seaside voted on what to read. I’d look up about twenty titles, and we simply picked three or four for a season.
6.) When people get really involved in book clubs, not even a natural disaster can stop them. I transferred to the Peninsula Library in April 2012 and started a “classics” book club there, drawing between five and 12 people regularly. Then Superstorm Sandy hit and destroyed our library. For months, the only library service was in the book bus parked out front. But three book club members came to me and insisted we keep going. In February, after a temporary trailer was set up, we started again, and we’re being ambitious. For April we scheduled The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the same meeting. In summer perhaps we’ll do Shakespeare. At the March meeting a participant came from Manhattan because she relocated there.
I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do book clubs as part of my work. It’s a great way for our customers to take reading to the next level and discuss concepts beneath the surface, and it’s a way for me to better get to know the people who use my library regularly. I’m hoping to take part in book clubs at work for the rest of my career.